Thursday, January 29, 2009

Return to Rabat

After a day and a half of traveling, here I am, in Rabat, at an apartment that promises to fulfill all my expectations. I have arrived earlier than either the Nimar or I expected – I discovered late last week that I was leaving Chicago on Wednesday instead of Thursday – and so the apartment is still in its last stages of build-up: living room furniture was just being cut out of its plastic wrap when I arrived, the fridge has not yet been unpacked and plugged in, and here and there a door or lighting fixture has yet to be installed.

But I have a bright and spacious room with a door that locks, ample closet space just for me, a bed ready for a long night’s sleep and… a private bathroom. I’m not sure yet if this will be a private bathroom for the entire month I will be staying here, but at least for the weekend, it is all mine. And it has a shower with hot water. I cannot convey to you how blown away I am by the fact that I am being given all this, here in Morocco. I mean: I knew that this level of comfort and luxury exists here, but the fact that it is all mine, that I can enjoy it all without feeling like I am imposing on someone, is quite unbelievably nice.

If only I could stay here for all four months…

But I’m going to enjoy myself utterly in the next four weeks. The apartment is large: surrounding a large living room are a double room, two single rooms (one of which is mine), a kitchen, dining area, and two and a half bathrooms. We even have a spacious terrace.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. Despite a bit of delay in Madrid, I still arrived in Casablanca in time to catch the 13.00 train I needed to get to the Nimar before it closed. And as I had hoped, I received help with my bags at all stages; never once did I have to carry them on or off a train and up or down a single flight of stairs myself. Sometimes they were helpful fellow travelers, at other times more official porter-types who spend their days helping with bags at train stations. I’ve learned that the idea is to give these men a few Dirhams when they help you. Usually this indeed goes over well – until today. A man in uniform at the airport approached me as soon as the train rode into the station, asked me with a business-tone of voice whether I had a first or second class ticket, and headed for the train with my bags. I followed him up the steps into the front-most second-class compartment, where he put my bags down next to a seat and pointed to where I could sit. I thanked him, found three Dirhams in my pocket to my great relief, and handed them to him. He looked at the coins in his hand, and then looked back at me with a slightly offended air in his eyes. I felt bad: should I have given him more? I was about to explain that I didn’t have any more when it became clear that wasn’t the issue. With the tone of a mother that tells her child it should really have known better, he said to me: “Euros!” A little incredulous I looked back into his offended eyes. “Ma‘andish,” I responded truthfully, ‘I don’t have any!’ He gave me an indignant look, glanced down with disgust at the coins in his hand one more time, and stomped off.

I had to laugh. Why the presumption that I would have Euros? And why did this man prefer Euros over Dirhams anyway? Did he think I’d give him more if I paid in European tender? Is he expecting the Euro to gain on the Dirham any time soon? Would he perhaps have wanted the fifty American cents that I still had in my back pocket? Or would he have wanted to hear me explain that even I wished I had had Euros when I walked around Barajas airport for three hours with nothing to do?

After a cup of tea at the Nimar, I am now sitting at my desk in my new room. I have unpacked, have taken a scalding hot shower, and am now contemplating a trip outside for some sustenance. I’m a little nervous and I have a headache. I no longer have the energy I did when I boarded the flight to Madrid. I’m enjoying the sense of familiarity Morocco is giving me for the first time upon an arrival here (as I looked out the train window at the passing towns, I could still tell what used to strike me as so foreign and exotic, and reveled in the fact that it no longer felt that way. The faces and buildings that passed me by now seemed tangible, real, understood), but now that I am here I cannot help but feel a little overwhelmed that I am back here, in this place where most daily activities take a lot more thought and effort for me than they do at home, because it all works so differently, and requires the use of these languages I am still trying to learn. And no matter how good the French and Arabic sounded in my head, neither came out as well as I had wanted when addressed by customs officials, train ticket vendors, and taxi drivers. I feel a bit more nervousness about the upcoming four-month adventure, and a bit of loneliness – but I will call that jet lag or fatigue and get myself to bed early.

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