I know, I know. It’s been awhile since my last post but I’ve been busy. With life. One of our businesses has been taking off these last few months I am happy to say. So while I mused on this and that, there was really not a lot to write about when I was mostly spending my days in cafes doing work. Its a rough life but I have managed to lean into it. HA.
And then I moved. As I have been working through this move I have been composing in my head and keeping track of the highlights to share with y’all. Among those highlights was what was quickly becoming my love / hate relationship with Marrakech taxis. I had almost a whole paragraph completed in my head. Then today came along and I realized immediately a paragraph will not exorcise my demons on this subject – only a post will do.
Moroccan taxis. If you are a follower of this blog, this subject will ring a bell. How Laura and I enjoyed a ride in a grand taxi in Casablanca on our way to visit Jennifer last October. With 5 other passengers. While loading in the middle of a goat field. You might remember my mentioning that they are fairly inexpensive but are prone to asking higher prices of white people, so I try to speak a little Darija to save 10 or 15 cents. How they like to pile people in for multiple destinations so they will stop with 2 fares already on board and take you only if you are going the right direction. Like a job interview but with a faster outcome. I think I’ve mentioned that it is most often easier to walk even a great distance than it is to communicate where you want to go and how its best to prepare your instructions in advance of the “encounter” to be most effective. You may even remember the time the taxi drove backwards a great distance when I was looking for my last place with Redoun. Much to our mutual confusion.
All these things continue to occur. You have to be prepared. But because I have been moving, and clocking close to 20,000 steps on my Fitbit every day, sometimes expediancy rules and sometimes I am carting a load, so I have been taking an unusual amount of taxis in the last few days. Here is what I have learned.
There are a gajillion taxis in Marrakech. Its like New York. The majority do not own cars so we depend on the mighty taxi for short hops. They are everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. Until the exact moment I need one. And then POOF. I can not even explain how disgruntled and personally offensed I have become in the last 4 days by the utter lack of taxis exactly when I need one. I’m serious. They line up 10 deep in the opposite direction sometimes. But when I need one? Nope. No where. I have learned to just walk a bit, then cut my losses and go by foot, or stand patiently muttering under my breath in utter disbelief at the consistency of this phenomenon.
I have come to learn that the people in the taxis already when you get in are sometimes other fares and about 50% of the time family or friend of the driver. The conversations are animated, wild, there is yelling and hand waving. Sometimes they are very obviously talking about me. Sometimes I even get introduced, “Madame, this is my wife.” “Mademoiselle, please this my brother.” Of course. It’s Morocco. I expect nothing else.
I have come to learn lately that there is a whole hand signal system of which I am utterly unaware and unprepared to participate in. As they drive towards you for the initial meet and greet to see if your destination is accepted, they usually flash their lights to indicate “coming in hot – look alive lady.” But sometimes they just making a hand motion at you. I watch other people, Moroccans, and the exchange goes something like this:
Taxi man – leans forward against the wheel while driving, makes eye contact and does a little point and shake to indicate straight ahead.
Potential fare – waves finger and indicates “no not straight, maybe this way or that.”
Taxi driver – hand on heart or additional hand shake to indicate “no hard feelings, I’m not stopping, B’smallah”
What the? First of all, what language is this hand motion taking place in and thirdly how does it make sense to wave indicate “I am going to continue travelling straight down this road, are you also?” Of course you are going to continue going straight. Its a long damn street. How is this helpful? And if you indicate left or right by some vague ass flick of the wrist, what is the cutoff distance for this magic “turn” that needs to happen? Two blocks up and right or twelve? I give up on this logic and have literally raised my hands so often and ended up just giving my own hand a totally confused look as if to say, “What? What did you think you were going to communicate dumbass? Back in the pocket you go.”
Then there is my handy trick that I learned when I first moved here and had to take a taxi. My BB said “just tell them heads bombia”. Near the fire station. Worked like a charm for 6 entire months. Every time I needed a cab home I leaned in the front window, said “heada bombia” got the nod and then said “leeman” when we got to the palm tree by the fire station. Bob was in fact my Uncle. Every time.
Then I moved and I looked for the next great landmark. I wrote about this before. The place where the mosque and the church….and then I stopped because coexist is not a common word. So I learned to say “uh, heada mosque et kaneesa/elgisse” (church in Darija and French). Seemed to work about 75% of the time. I learned today on my last trip there that adding “Hivernage” was the clincher because that area is on the boarder of the quarters Gueliz and Hivernage. But whatevs. I moved.
So now that I am in a new place, I looked immediately for the closest landmark. That, dear readers, is the prison. You see, my building is directly across the street from the only prison in Marrakech. And it is no longer a prison. And it never really was an actual prison. Its a detention centre. For short term stays. Every so often the vans filled with prisoners would go by with their lights on and everyone would stare. Ladies lined up in the morning en masse to deliver much needed personal items. They didn’t take away your shoe laces, they took your shoes, as I learned by watching a barefoot man one morning put his shoes back on. And all this I gleened just by living in Marrakech. So I did learn recently from my friend Kate, that the prison has been closed and it is slated to become a cultural centre. Apropos of nothing. But it’s still there now and it’s only very recently closed and its a major landmark. So instead of saying “please take me to the Residence Nakhil III on who the hell knows the street name” in two or three languages, I learned to say this, “heada habss” or “Boulmhabss” or “prison” (french) or “ceassion” (high Arabic). Whatever. Just take me there. Please. You can see in the accompanying photographic evidence that the apartment is directly across from the prison as indicated by the encircled watchtower. I am not being unreasonable.
So now, we hold our meet and greet on the road side.
Me : “heada habss?”
Him : “huh?”
Me : “habss” hold my wrists together as if handcuffed.
Him : “huh?”
Person in the front seat “where you want to go?”
Me : “Habss”
Both of them “Habss????”
And they indicate that I can get in.
I realized quite quickly that this exchange EVERY time I stopped a cab was less about my bad Arabic accent and more about their judgement and incredulity that someone as white and rich as I clearly am could possibly want to go TO the prison. OK. I said HEADA. Nearby. Enface. Across from. Jesus
One time I did this and there was a man in the front seat. They talked about me the entire way. I’m not kidding. It was all Darija but you know when two men are talking about you. Looks into the rear view mirror. We arrive and the passenger (who was obviously the cabbies cousin) says in French “do you work here?” And points to the entrance. I reply (in French), “No sir, I live in the apartment across the street” and point at the giant vestige to expatriate living…..
This has happened a few times. They laugh. Or look at me funny. Whatever. I will never apologize for doing something if it is not offensive and it works. Call me crazy but it gets me home so…..
So today you ask. What happened today to make this whole post come together instead of a paragraph.
Well. I had my BB call to my landlord and explain that I would be dropping by his office at 3 pm to return the key. He called twice in fact. Once to make sure that was ok, and then once again at my urging to ensure we were clear that I was going his office and he was not meeting me across town at my apartment because I had some last bags to carry over and I enjoy an efficient route not a Moroccan route, whilst hauling luggage.
So there I am in Asswam Aassalak buying a shower curtain, and my phone rings. A lovely gentle voice that offers no introduction, speaking all French. “Pardon?” Then another voice, “Bonjour Kaytee, can you bring the key to the office maintenant?” It’s 11:30. No. I really can’t. So we arrange to meet in one hour, all the while I am holding a shower curtain, a shower curtain rod, my phone and things start to fall so a lovely lady helps me. (So embarrassing).
Then they call back. “Kaytee, can Mr. Abdou meet you at your apartment now? There are people to view it.” I reply, “Yes yes, give me 20 minutes. I’ll be there.”I pay and then grab a taxi. This is where I learned that saying “Hivernage” is the trick (after 3 failed attempts at being accepted). So off I go quick quick and hand over my key. I grab all the last bits and prepare to go to my new place to drop them. Now it’s important to note that unless you actually call a taxi (is that even a thing here?) not one will pass by my building. The only chance of getting a taxi there is to time it right and get one after prayers are done. Not my luck this time. So I take my things and I head up the street and then over one to the main road. Mohamed V is one of the most major roads in Marrakech. It’s COP22, and the city is CRAWLING with taxis. I haul my stuff across the street to the sunny side, and look back down the street. Bowling alley. Crickets. Not a freaking car in sight. Of course.
So I put down three of the bags I am carrying in my hands, the others are affixed to my body. I wait. I see some cars go by. Nothing. A big taxi (which I have been told 1,000 times to ignore) stops across this 4 land street in other direction and makes a hand signal to me. “Habss” I yell at the top of my lungs. “Habss” I get back a confused hand signal, of course, then a no way lady hand signal. Then I start talking to myself about how its probably unwise for a tall blonde woman with a giant diamond and a ton of luggage to yell PRISON at the top of my lungs on a major street in Morocco. So there’s that.
Did I mention I was on the sunny side of the street. If I had a dime for every black Mercedes sedan that went buy I could have bought one. A motorcade passed at one point. Taxis finally starting coming by. Some were loaded. Some wanted to play the hand signal game with me. (I refused). Some stopped and just shook their heads and left (admittedly my destination was not a straight forward route). At one point, a man SCREAMED in my ear. I SCREAMED back at the top of my lungs, jumped 15 feet in the air, hand on my dying heart and turned on him. I almost smacked him. He had pulled up RIGHT behind me on his scooter and was trying to talk on the phone over the noise of Mohamed V traffic and his scooter. Scared the living daylights of me. He apologized profusely when he realized and drove off. I just stood there wondering if I needed a change of underroos.
Finally a man in a taxi van stops. By the time he pulled over he was at least 3 cars down the road. So here I am, 20 minutes in the sun with a purse, backpack and gym bag wrapped around my body, muttering about leaving the rest of my bags to walk down to where he is stopped to ask he will take me to the prison with my luggage and then I’ll walk back to get the luggage to go back to the van IF I am successful which is not guaranteed at this point. He gets out and approaches me thank goodness. “Where are you going?” “Habss” “What?” “Habss” He laughs. “Yes, the prison, I live across the street.”
Then he says this, “How many people?” I am so over this whole taxi thing by now I just stare. I mean really. Do I look like I’m hiding a family of midgets?” What do you mean how many people? ONE. How many do you see here? Then says, “oh, one person, it’ll be 40 dhs” ($5.30) as if I might turn him down at this point. “Fine, no problem, lets go, chop chop, prontosaurus, load em up.”
And the entire time he is laughing. Head rolled back, belly laughing. “Habss” he is a saying aloud. “Habss. Encroyable.”
I haven’t even slept there yet. Clearly I need to learn how the other 5 blocks of apartments get home. Because “habss” is not working for me.
My burden :