Deemah Shee Haja

I am sure you have all been waiting assiduously to learn another Arabic phrase, cluttering your mind with useless information that even in the most unlikely situation you will never need. The title is the phrase which translates literally into “always something.” As in English, the meaning is the something that happens is almost guaranteed to be negative. My Sunday afternoon activity unfurled in such a way that I found myself repeating the phrase more than once.

Two Moroccan friends visited us this weekend, brothers who live about five hours from here by train. Though their visit was short, we had a very good weekend together. However, they felt they needed to leave early afternoon due to some sickness in their family and decided to depart from Fes on the 1:40 p.m. train. A sister of theirs had called and wanted a couple of souvenirs from Fes since she had never been here, so we enlisted Houssine again to accompany them to an area of town where he felt there would be a lot of choices for them. They all left the apartment about 12:10 after we had gone through the good-bye ritual that is culturally appropriate.

Denise had packed a lunch for them to carry on the train but not long after they left realized she had failed to give them a bag containing some cookies and other sweets that she purchased yesterday. “No problem,” I said. I assured her I could handle that with little difficulty.

I telephoned them, telling them I would meet them at the train station at 1:30 to bring them a bag that we failed to give them before they left. Thus I had about 90 minutes before they would be at the train station for their departure. I have no idea what happened in the subsequent hour and a half, but somehow I managed to allow distractions to consume a large part of it. Denise later confided that she thought I was cutting the time a little bit short, but assumed that I should be able to figure out when I needed to leave.

I left the apartment with 20 minutes to spare, neglecting to compute the five minutes or so it would take to walk to the taxi stand, and that just because it is Sunday, there is no guarantee that there will be optimal traffic conditions. Within the first mile or so, there is a large round-about at the intersection of two streets. I noticed two guys on a Peugeot mo-ped pass us on the right side, the passenger traveling with an 8-foot stepladder resting on his shoulder. After getting through the intersection the mo-ped was traveling at a higher rate of speed than the taxi and took the left lane next to the median. He was about 75 to 100 yards in front of us when the helmet of the passenger flew off and started skittering at an angle across the street, moving from left to right.

The driver of my taxi slammed on the brakes, and in behavior somewhat unusual, managed to slow down enough that he did not run over the helmet now on the extreme right side of the street. He also sat there until the person had gotten off the moped, left his ladder with the driver, and retrieved his helmet. He thanked the driver who replied “no problem.” Not for you I thought as I begin to think about the minute or two of time we had lost. The driver turned out to be one of the few drivers that is very risk averse, courteous to others, and even patient with the other drivers that often jockey for position. I found myself growing a bit impatient, but angry with myself for being upset with a person who in normal circumstances would have been a preferred driver as opposed to the many reckless drivers that sometimes inspire us to expressions of gratitude when we arrive safely at our destination.

Sunday is normally a much lighter traffic day with much less congestion between our apartment and the train station. I had no inkling that a big bicycle race was being held on Avenue Hassan II, the main drag in the center of the city. That resulted in a couple of deviations from the normal route which cost even more time. You would not be surprised to learn that we missed most of the lights as well, causing even more anxiety.

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Finally, he dropped me off at 1:37 in front of the train station. I paid my fare and then discovered that I can actually run on my two new knees. There is a wide “esplanade” in front of the station and I managed to cover it more quickly than would have been possible last fall. My friends were there waiting, and immediately began apologizing that they had caused me to have to make that extra trip downtown. I was of course, apologizing for causing them the anxiety of waiting for me when their train was a minute or two at most from departure. I convinced them that things were fine but implored them to hurry since I did not want to be the reason for their delay. They hurried out to the platform and joined the queue that still had not managed to actually board the train.

I felt compelled to wait and make sure they did indeed depart. The conductor’s whistle sounded just as they were going up the steps to enter the car. About that time a group of fifteen or so people came rushing up to the gate leading out to the platform, just as the security guards slammed them shut. There were several older teen-age boys in the front and they began pushing against the guards, all the time engaged in a shouting match. Finally, the train began to move and the people pushing the gate became more agitated. Just as the last car cleared the area even with the gate, the guards moved back and the gates were opened. Five or six of the people who had been trying to get them to let them out on the platform, burst through the door, jumped two sets of tracks, and started sprinting in pursuit of the train. I have no idea if they were able to run alongside and eventually jump onto the last car or not. It was something I had never seen before.

By that time it was almost 1:45 so I decided that since I had not gotten my walk in for the day, I would just walk back to the apartment. I thought perhaps that might help we get over my anxiety and anger at myself for having malingered as long as I had before leaving home. I especially wanted to think about why I had harbored negative feelings toward a cab driver who drove patiently rather than recklessly, and why I would think that for a person riding on the back of a moped with a ladder on his shoulder, not using a helmet might be considered a good idea. The fact that the driver acted kindly, rather than complacently or with disregard, suggests I should have had positive rather than negative feelings toward him.

The walk back required almost an hour and a half. By the time I arrived I did feel a lot less anxious. However, I did feel hot. I noticed a lot of perspiration and that my shirt was wet. I checked to see what the temperature was at the moment. They reported 95 degrees, but that it felt like 95 degrees. That’s the hottest day we have had since we arrived April 7th. As they say, “deemah shee haja”!

Pictures by Denise

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