A Grand Taxi Adventure

I dedicate this story to a hero... my mother.

"The plane was scheduled to depart at 8 am. A quick 40 minute flight and it would land in Fes. Cristel's temporary home was only 20 minutes from the airport, and her passport lay on the upper shelf of the room's only cupboard. Of course, there would be time to pack all her belongings into three suitcases, and drag these to the neighboring language center for safekeeping, until she returned in full health a few weeks later. And Amy, her roommate was warned of my arrival, probably already waiting for me at their doorstep.

It was nine, and the ominous clouds hanging above the Casa airport did not seem eager to move. An occasional voice in a loudspeaker would encourage us to wait, but I noticed the people dwindling, until there were only three by my side. A businesslike looking man, and a young woman with her newborn child. That's when the attendant chose to make her move- perhaps she had waited until there were only a few of us left; surely she had known all along that the flight would be canceled.

The proposition sounded decent- a privately chartered taxi to drive us to Fes, only three hours away. I would be there by noon, one at the latest- still plenty of time to catch that 8 PM return flight, and tend to Cristel's business in the afternoon. So I followed the amiable attendant, the busy man and the wailing child to the front of the airport.

A quick look at our vehicle convinced me that this would not be the most comfortable of rides: the ancient Mercedes sedan, unrecognizably white, had an air of survival- as if it had been 'surviving' the Moroccan roads for half a century. I had assumed 'grand taxi' meant mini-van, or some other luxury connotation. Looking over at the close-by 'petit taxi' stand made me realize that 'grand' was meant in its literal meaning: a bit bigger than the egg crate rides of 'petit taxi'!

We squeezed in. The busy man in front, the mother, child and myself in back. Our luggage in the trunk.

A half an hour later, I noticed distinct signs of fatigue in our driver. Somewhat curious, I tapped the busy man's shoulder, and asked him if he agreed with my diagnostic. He worriedly turned back and nodded his head, adding: "I have been laboring to keep him awake since we started". Whatever he had been doing to keep our driver awake did not involve verbal injunctions, and I decided to innovate.

"Monsieur, je pense que nous devrions nous arreter pour un cafe, ou un petit remontant. Vous me semblez un peu fatigue" [Sir, would you mind if we stopped for a cup of coffe, you seem a bit tired]

What anger had I unleashed!!

Our driver was fasting today, fasting in support of the Palestinians, whose cause was being brutally neglected in Israel (October 2000 had been a bloody month in Israel/Palestine). No one would convince him to break his fast. No, not in defiance of solidarity in the Muslim world!

I reverted to the busy man's strategy of occasional noises, and kicks in the chair- stealthily keeping our driver alert. Once in a while the child would erupt in stringent wails- temporarily relieving us of our exhausting duty.

We approached Meknes, a city on the way to Fes, only an hour away. It was noon, and I was glad to be on schedule. Then it happened, in the middle of a desert road, one of those near-dirt paths, where a passing car can be a true event. We broke down, there, in the middle of nowhere. Smoke just appeared from beneath the hood, and next thing I knew the car was shaking, the woman's handbag was leaking honey, and we were all caught in a sweet, smoky, broken car.

We stepped out- our driver cursing the Israelis' for his bad luck. I pulled out my cell phone, naively, asking the busy man for a taxi number- that we should get out of here as soon as possible. The busy man did not look so busy anymore. And here I thought he had an important meeting in Meknes at 1:00. He didn't have any numbers to share, "that's not the way it works in Morocco".

"So what do we do?"

"Oh, nothing, just hitchhike".

"Here? but there isn't a living soul for miles"

"Yes, here"

So we waited. And it came. The Egg crate. The small taxi I had so indignantly judged in the Casa airport. A red box of a car, already full of passengers. And somehow we fit in- wailing baby, patient mother, busy man and myself. Not to forget our luggage... and the seeping honey pot. We drove to Meknes. The busy man got off at his busy spot. The woman, child and I were unloaded at another Grand Taxi Stand- and we continued our journey to Fes.

I scrambled up Cristel's apartment's stairs, and darted for the bathroom. 20 minutes later, at 4:00 , I emerged, clean as a bug, in my daughter's clothes, and packed her life away, just in time, beneath the bewildered gazes of two smiling roommates.

The 8 PM flight was not canceled....."

This story is based on my 54 year old Mom's very true adventure through the roads of Morocco, as she had set out one stormy morning to fetch my passport in Fes, so that I could be brought back to France the following day!