Changing Conditions

The recalcitrant suitcase rejoined the family yesterday a little before noon. The reunion effected a change in our mood and as soon as I returned to the hotel in Casablanca, we quickly made our way over to the train station for the journey to Fes. Though we remained in Casa longer than we originally intended, the time there did allow for some rest and restoration. We took the time to shop and locate a lumbar gel cushion that will serve Denise’s needs well.

We struggle with the notion that every day must be “productive” and at least a couple of the planned activities on the itinerary must be checked off before going to bed. On Wednesday we did manage to visit a family who live in Settat, a town located about 50 miles south of Casablanca. We were introduced to this family last year by Rosemary, the former teacher at George Washington Academy here in town, that traveled with us last year. We plan to spend another day with this family before we leave; perhaps I can share more of their incredible story later.

After getting the news Thursday that we would have to wait at least another day to recover the luggage, Denise and I decided to avail ourselves of the opportunity to do some exploring utilizing the new Tramway light rail system that began operation since we were here last year. It is a remarkable achievement and the scale of the project is staggering. Casablanca has a population of about four million people, without huge blocks of high-rise residences, and thus covers a tremendous geographic area. We boarded the tram in front of the hotel, the 16th stop on the line, and rode to the final stop located at the beach. The trip one way required about forty-five minutes, even though compared to street traffic, it is more efficient, quieter, and much less stressful.

The most noticeable change due to the installation of the system can be observed in the very center of town, Place Mohamed V. Previously, this juncture of several major thoroughfares in this one area produced a chaotic situation involving perpetual traffic jams, an incredible level of noise from the unceasing blaring of horns, and life-threatening attempts to get from one side of any of the boulevards to the other. The Tramway design essentially closed this central area to traffic and created a large, attractive pedestrian area that is accessible to all, but particularly to the tram riders who frequent this area while changing from one line to another in a different direction.

One group not too pleased with this change is the taxi drivers’ union. Not only are the trams more comfortable but they are also much less expensive. Denise and two friends took a Petite Taxi last year to essentially the same place we traveled Wednesday and paid a fare of sixty dirhams. It cost us fourteen dirhams, about one third the cost per person. However, if I traveled alone, in a taxi I would still pay the sixty dirhams, but only seven for the tram. We made the mistake of asking a taxi driver to take us to one of the tram stops. Based on his reaction, we did not do much to improve American/Moroccan relations.

There are a number of other changes we have observed over the years that affected society in dramatic ways. Probably the most important has been the communication system with the introduction of cell phones. However, I have not seen anything make such a profound improvement in the quality of urban life in the country’s largest city as the new transportation system, particularly the working class who need reliable, economical and fast transportation.

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