Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our first take on Morocco

Two gate changes and a two hour delay later, we found ourselves on a plane bound for Casablanca, Morocco. I was really sad to be leaving the "Western" world, as I find Europe suits my need to be pampered a little better than the "Arab" world. I'm spoiled I know, but I like things clean. I like drinking water right out of the tap. I like eating vegetables without having to bleach them to death first. I like my hot water to be hot. I like a lot of things that I just don't get in the Middle East.

However, I do like the sense of adventure I feel in the Middle East that I just don't get in Europe.

We landed in Casablanca and I could tell, right away, that we were back. There are no indoor smoking laws here--oh, how I wish there were--and we were overpowered by the smell of cigarette smoke almost immediately. I had to use the washroom and nothing was automatic--in Spain everything was: the toilet, the sinks, the hand dryers...even the garbage cans opened with a wave of your hand. Here I had to do everything manually. We've started using hand sanitizer again.

There weren't very many people on our plane, perhaps a dozen or so besides us, and since we seemed to be the only people who stopped to use the restroom, everyone was gone by the time we got to customs.

I know I said there was nothing "automatic" in Casablanca, but that isn't entirely true because there were these doors that you had to walk through to get to customs and they were automatic. Apparently they close between each person that uses them, but I didn't know that until they slammed in my face. I was walking right behind Andrew and the door opened for him. He walked through pushing Rachel in the stroller and I started to follow him through but the doors closed immediately after he was through.

It was amazing! There was seriously only 6 inches or so between us. The doors closed so fast that I didn't even have time to stop walking and walked right into them setting off some stupid alarm. Then, in order to get through the door I had to back up a few feet and approach them again so that the motion sensor would remember I was there and open the door for me.

I wonder if they didn't install those doors just so that they could laugh at people because although there were security officers everywhere no one offered to help me. They just stood around ominously snickering at me. Wonderful. As soon as the doors opened I ran through and caught up with Andrew. He was quite a ways in front of me.

Getting through customs should have been a piece of cake. You don't have to buy a visa to visit Morocco, so we just had to fill out some forms they gave us on the plane and get our passports stamped.

Besides a Moroccan family, we were alone in customs. True to the Arab world there were 10 or so guards standing around drinking tea and watching us while 1 guard went through our passports. The fuller they get the more time it takes us to get through customs. Rachel has 3 visas for Egypt, we have 4 or 5, and it's all very confusing.

Eventually we were able to show the guard which visa for Egypt was still valid, and he stamped our passports and let us through.

We started walking towards the escalators leading to the train station but were stopped by yet another guard who wanted to look at our passports. Hello, bureaucracy! We surrendered our passports and this guard pored over them for a few minutes until he found that we did, indeed, get them stamped. It would have been a little less ridiculous had he not watched us get our passports stamped seconds before.

After that we were pretty much hassle free. We rode the train from the airport to the train station and after about an hour later left for Fez. It was a long ride with our little monkey, Rachel. She was climbing all over Andrew, hanging from the luggage rack, and just being crazy in general. Just when we thought she was settling down and might take a nap, two little kids walked into our compartment with their mother. No nap for Rachel! She played the whole way to Fez.

It was interesting to talk with the people in our car. Their Arabic was a little rusty--they speak a strange mix of French/Arabic/Berber. The man we were talking with spoke Arabic with a French accent and admitted that his Arabic was horrible. It was a little sad, really, to think that Arabic here is almost like a second language. Or third, depending on whether or not you grow up speaking a Berber dialect.

They apparently use Arabic in K-12 and then their universities are in French. Everyone here speaks French, it seems. It's kind of nice because I can actually understand what's going on a little better than when everything is in Arabic. Still, though, it is not a French I am very familiar with. Everyone just sounds funny when they talk.

We were glad to have some locals in our compartment with us because otherwise we'd never had known when to get off the train. The train seemed to stop in the middle of nowhere. We got off and couldn't even see the platform; we were dropped off in a pile of dirt and had to carry our suitcase because the ground was so rocky that it wouldn't roll.

The man on the train with us insisted on walking us all the way to our hotel, which was very nice of him. He said it was on the way to where he was going. On the way we got stopped by some undercover police who accused our "friend" of being an unlicensed tour guide and demanded paperwork. He showed Andrew his ID and questioned Andrew about his relationship with the poor man, and asked if we were paying him for his services and where he was taking us.

After he was satisfied that nothing shifty was going on, he let us on our way. Truthfully, the cop seemed a little more shady than the man from the train, who cheerfully dropped us off at our hotel and bid us a wonderful stay in Morocco.

We decided that we really liked Moroccans, but found Morocco itself to be rather dirty and underdeveloped. Dirtier, even, than Cairo (although I never can quite decide which is dirtier so it might be a toss up).

We aren't sure if all of Morocco is this...third world...or if it is just Fez. Perhaps we are visiting the equivalent to a backwards city in the Appalachian mountains. I don't know, but it doesn't seem very urban here. Not yet. Perhaps in the daytime it will. Everything looks better in the daytime.

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