This week was our fall break and I had the extreme pleasure of crossing continents and spending three days in Belgium!
The special thing about Morocco is it’s notorious “pace of life”. And this cultural aspect was truly exemplified in our travels in and out of the country. I was travelling with my roommate, Alahna, to Rabat via train to our to catch our plane to Brussels. From the train station Gare Ville to the airport Rabat Salle, it’s about a 12 minute drive. So, I approached a taxi and he agreed to take us there – but after about two minutes in the car, he had already pulled over to chat with someone on the side of the road, and tried to demand 200 dirhams for the trip (about $35).
After 5 minutes in the car, he stopped in a small residential avenue, where a school was just getting out of session. He told us that we would have to wait 5 minutes for his brother to arrive. I told him no, and tried to use the bit of Arabic I knew to let him know that he cannot pull one over on us. He then asked me if I would marry him – to which I replied absolutely not. Seeing no other cabs, Alahna and I had to wait it out for the brother, and I quickly checked the top of the cab to see if the “Petit Taxi” sign was on top. The driver assured me he was not a voleur, and showed me his I.D. card. The brother then arrived and we had to get into his taxi. After we got into the car, he took down his “Petit Taxi” sign and requested one of us sit in the front seat. At this point, we had experienced every red flag and warning sign that we had learned about in our orientation, and both Alahna and I were mentally formulating escape plans.
However, we did make it to the airport – for the price of 300 dirhams ($40).
Being in Brussels was truly amazing. I saw a little bit of everything – the Palace and government buildings, the Manneken Pis, ULB – the university in Brussels, the Autonium, and so much more.
But what was maybe even better than that was that I was hosted by my friend Nathalie, who was a foreign exchange student in my high school when I was a senior. We haven’t seen each other in three years, but honestly it was as if we had not stopped hanging out. I met her lovely parents – her mom had made a quiche for our arrival (quiche is my favorite food. I was so happy) – and cooked a Belgian meal that was kind of like Shepard’s Pie for dinner one night. Probably the best thing about travelling and study abroad is the people you meet and grow to love all over the world. I’ve found that, maybe even more so than when I’m at home, connections are more lasting, or maybe more deep when you meet people abroad.
Coming back to Morocco, Alahna and I were immediately indoctrinated back into the pace of life. We knew better than to take the Petit Taxi from Rabat Salle to Gare Ville; we caught the bus this time and then hopped on the first train back to Meknes, our host town. One stop away from Meknes, the train lingered at the station.. and didn’t start again. There was an announcement over the intercom, first in Arabic and then in French, with a vague reassuring message that everything was okay. After two hours at the same stop, we had still heard no word about was going on, and decided to approach the station guard. I said “Salam” from across the tracks, and he responded with a “shwiya“. Luckily, there was a helpful fellow train rider who let us know that they had to fix the train and it would be leaving in 10, or maybe 15 minutes.
These things can be unnerving for me as an American, because I have grown up with schedules, order, and a lot of control over my environment and movement. But it was funny to observe the Moroccan family who we shared the train car with that night – they were completely unfazed by the fact that the ride was more than doubled by this unexplained and unexpected delay. They smiled, played cards, and had the Arabic playlist on blast the entire time.