2. WHERE IS MY LUGGAGE
How To Navigate A Crowded Train While Hauling Forty-Seven Pounds and A Carry-On
We were sitting on the floor crosslegged with our carry-ons besides us – Mika, S, E, and I (Carrie). We had met in Canada and were now in Morocco together, and about an hour and a half ago, we were all very excited to get the adventure started. There were palm trees besides the roads, Arabic and French on the signs, and I had been relieved that the air didn’t smell weird when I got off the plane. Of course, it has now been quite a while that we have been camping in front of the luggage conveyor belt at the Casablanca airport with at least twelve other people. Many sets of eyes, mostly brown, stared listlessly at the rotating luggage, which eventually just stopped and sat there. None of it was being claimed.
Even the screaming child was confused and silent, though every once in a while, he would remember his identity and let out a single-toned scream from his stroller that would make everyone cringe.
We had missed the first two possible trains that would have allowed us to arrive at the Fez train station at the time we gave for the school. With no words being exchanged and everyone holding a silent vigil for their lost luggage, we were about to give up and file missing luggage claims – then suddenly, the conveyor belt shuttered into motion again and new baggage materialized from the abyss. I am relieved that I do not have to continue my story with the details of filing a missing luggage claim. When my eyes locked on to my beastly gray suitcase, I jumped up and repossessed it with much fervor.
Everyone was suddenly energized. We moved across the airport in our little foreign pack and located the money exchange center and the ATM, and within minutes, I was stuffing Moroccan dirhams (MAD) into my wallet.
We were in Morocco.
After finding the train station and purchasing first class tickets, we camped out in the seating area of what seemed to be a closed cafe, in view of the boarding area and train tracks. We all reapplied deodorant and tried to clean up with baby wipes as best we could, all the while ignoring the stares of people at another cafe across the building. Everything seemed to be going smoothly when suddenly, a Moroccan lady jumped up from behind the cafe counter, switched on the lights, and demanded in French that we had to buy something or leave. We shrugged. Water sounded great at the moment. Four bottles were purchased, each around 13 MA. We were too tired to argue with the lady when she did not give us back the correct change.
It was our first foreigner rip-off and it was certainly quenching, I can’t lie.
Now, I want everyone to take the time to imagine a train station, the boarding platforms. You have your luggage and your backpack. You are tired and they are heavy. There are people. They don’t speak English, but they do stare at you and turn to their associates and say something. There is a small child somewhere letting out little bird-like screams. Every other person that passes you smells terrible. You realize you are actually one of those people. The odor wafting off of your body simultaneously reminds you of a dirty hospital and the chicken that you ate on the overnight flight here. The train has not been sighted yet, but everyone stirs at the distant rumble and squeak of breaks. Your ticket is already wrinkled in seven different ways. You review the plan, step by step, on how you are going to grab the handle of your luggage, pull it behind you while you walk steadily forward, confident; how you are going to get in the line behind the people that you know, and board the train on the first class car, where it is unquestionably comfy and you can relax; and everything will be as smooth as butter.
Of course, this was all very nice to plan in my head, but a complete waste of time.
It happened that the instant the train was in eyesight, everyone surged forward with their luggage and luggage carts, babies, grandparents, and small squirming children. There were no lines. There was no room to navigate. I was very self-conscious of accidentally bumping someone with my own luggage, my terrible weakness, so every time I stopped to not hit someone, another person would squeeze into the opening and block me from continuing forward. When I finally got into the train car behind Mika, S, and E, we were so disoriented that we went a random direction and found ourselves in second class cars instead of the ones we paid for. The isles were only about two feet wide and there were people already collecting behind us and even some trying to squeeze past, so through vigorous dragging, kneeing, and lifting, we found a decently empty car to store our stuff in. Somewhere along the way, I almost smashed my pinkie toe and ended up with a big bruise on the top of my knee.
Everyone was slightly out of breath after we sat down, and when the ticket man came through to punch holes in our tickets, he tsked at us and our non-first-class seats. We didn’t try to correct the situation. We were just happy to be on the train.
The next thirty minutes involved gazing out the windows and trying to see as many little glimpses of Casablanca as we could, though quite a bit of it (from where we were on the train tracks and slightly outside of the more developed area) included clumps of trash, railroad workers, construction, and walls. The tops of palm trees, flat and square roofs, and the tall, slender towers of mosques. Of course, this is not the full extent of Casablanca, but it was my first sights of the city, of Morocco, of what my upcoming environments might contain.
After all, we went straight from the airport into the train station into a train, and the rest of the traveling that took us to the school would involve more train-window gazing, train station and airport camping.
As I write this now, I have officially been in Morocco for a week, and there are so many sights to be had.
The last little installment of my arrival will be next: Ifrane and Al Akhawayn.