Friday, January 06, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Tinghir

How many Moroccan men does it take to change a flat tire?

Sarah and Mamma Fatima. Nobody was injured in the making of this photograph.

I would like to take a little time and explain the transportation system in Morocco. There are several ways in which a Peace Corps volunteer, not permitted to drive a car, can get around in this country: taxi, bus, transit, bicycle (with a helmet) or, in rare cases, donkey or camel. I have yet to travel via donkey or camel but I'm sure my day will come. Larger cities have petite taxis, small taxis that can carry up to three people, and can take you to your destination within that city. Grand taxis, taxis carrying 6 people, travel from city to city. How can one taxi carry 6 people, not including the driver? That's simple. They shove 4 people in the back seat of the taxi and 2 people in the front seat. It is the most uncomfortable traveling experience and to my astonishment, not illegal. I think the only person that is comfortable during the ride is the taxi driver because he gets his own seat. Buses aren't that bad to travel in, though it might take forever to get anywhere because of the constant stops. If you're lucky enough to travel in a nice bus, the trip can be rather enjoyable. However, if you aren't so fortunate and must travel in a souq bus, well, now that's a different story. Traveling on a souq bus is like being on Ol' McDonald's Farm. You could quite possibly be sitting next to a sheep or a chicken for the duration of the trip. Transits, small vans, are used to transport people to and from villages. Generally, transits are built to carry 12-15 people. The most people in one transit I've counted so far is 24. Although not my chosen mode of transportation, this is what I have to use on a regular basis.
Two days a week, I catch a transit out of my site to take me to Tinghir. Tinghir, population 36,000, is where I do all my shopping, use the internet and where I spend 7 dirhams to take a really long, hot shower at the public "douche". My ride to Tinghir takes approximately 30-45 minutes, depending on how many times the driver stops and picks up other passengers. I say approximately because I never really know what's going to happen. In fact, just last week, not on one of the days but on BOTH of the days I was coming into Tinghir, my transits got flat tires. I couldn't believe it. The first time it happened, all the passengers got out of the transit and waited patiently until the men changed the tire. I, also patiently waiting, sat on the side of the road and read my book. The second time it happened, just two days after the first incident, I got out of the transit and could do nothing but shake my head and start laughing. Those around me couldn't quite pinpoint what was so funny but I knew this was going to be one of many transportation incidents during my stay in Morocco. I mean, what else could I do but laugh?
As far as bicycles go, each Peace Corps volunteer is issued one upon swearing in. Well, it's actually not that simple. We don't hold up our right hand, swear to uphold all the Peace Corps stuff that we have to uphold and then they say "here's your bike." After swearing in, we go to our final site and then at some point within the next few months, Peace Corps stops by and gives you your bike. Sarah, a volunteer near my site, and I were fortunate enough to get our bikes a couple of weeks ago. The first day I had my bike, I decided to ride to the post office and check my mail. My site has no paved roads and it had been raining all week so my bike was covered in mud by the time I returned to my host family. Upon returning, I set my bicycle inside of the house and went across the street to have dinner at the neighbors house. When I came back to my host family's house, I found my host Grandmother standing in the doorway with mud all over her face and hands. I was taken aback because I didn't know why she was covered in mud. I thought that because my host Grandmother is religious woman, that it had something to do with a Muslim ritual I was unaware of. Not questioning it, I, along with my host cousin, continued talking to my host Grandmother. That is, until curiosity got to me and I just had to ask why she had mud all over her. Well, come to realize, my host Grandmother, who I must mention is also almost completely blind, was rummaging around the house and came to an unidentifiable object. At that point, she felt around the object to try and identify it. She pressed her hands and, yes, her face to this object and finally realized that someone had left a bicycle in the house. The mud on her hands and face was a result of me leaving my newly issued Peace Corps bicycle in the house and not telling her that I had put it there. No harm done though. She got a kick out of the whole thing but still asks me everyday where I left my bicycle.
Sarah's host mom also had a run in with her newly issued Peace Corps bicycle. I was with Sarah when she got her bike. We had the bike propped up on its kickstand while we were trying to figure out how the safety lock worked and while Sarah was trying on her new helmet. Next thing we know, we turn around and Sarah's host mom is climbing on the bike. We don't know whether it was the anticipation or the sheer excitement of getting on a new bike but Sarah's host mom just started laughing. She laughed so hard that she and the bike both fell to the ground. At first, Sarah and I were worried that she was hurt but after seeing that she was still laughing, we started laughing too. Once again, what else can you do but laugh.
As for the donkey and the camel ... Inshalla, yan wes ... God willing, one day.


At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. it's been a very long time. as i suspected you're changing the world. i can't tell you who this is but congratulations on all of this you are doing. it's truly phenomenal. stay away from those warthogs i here they're real bad.

At 2:21 AM, Blogger Sara said...

I know exactly who this is! It has been a long time. How are you doing? How did you find this site? I tried e-mailing you a while back but old e-mail not working? No warthogs in this neck of the woods but we do have camels!

At 6:48 PM, Blogger atl said...

i have no idea how i found this site. both my emails i have i never use. erin uses them. i bet you could imagine if erin catches wind. try
it's good to here from you. how long are you over there for? we'll talk soon.


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