Little by Little

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The challenges we faced in getting from Birmingham to Morocco this trip appeared not too different from what many of you have experienced. Evidently my whining about our bad luck evoked memories in the travel history that many of you have that share similar characteristics. I appreciated the fact you empathized with us enough to email us. I decided to update you on what has occurred in the seven days or so since Wednesday of last week to let you know that things are getting better, little by little.

I use the phrase little by little, since that is a phrase quite familiar to all of us who have attempted to learn the Moroccan dialect of Arabic referred to as “Darija.” Darija is the spoken language of daily life here, while the official language, Modern Standard Arabic, used in official written communications is not spoken in informal conversations. For example, the Modern Standard Arabic of Egypt is the same as in Morocco; however non-educated citizens of the two countries would have a lot of difficulty understanding each other even though they are both speaking Arabic. The situation is not too different from the time a clerk in a shop in St. Andrews, Scotland thought I must be speaking some alien language when he heard my southeastern Alabama drawl. Of course, I had a similar view of the Scottish brogue he employed.

Every person studying Darija very quickly learns to say “schweea buh schweea” or little by little. It is the response to the question, “Are you learning Arabic”?; or perhaps to a query such as “Are you beginning to understand the culture”? Similarly, over the past few days things are getting better, schweea buh schweea!

I cite a couple of examples to make the point, but first I whine just a bit more before making the argument. Once we got the apartment back in order last week we noticed that the refrigerator we purchased less than a year ago did not seem to be cooling; the water in the ice trays was not freezing. Since we purchased the appliance October 19th last year, it was obviously still under warranty but presented another obstacle to an easy transition back to life here in Fes. Neither my Arabic nor my French is good enough to make handling such a situation easy, nevertheless by Friday a Samsung technician arrived to assess what needed to be done. You might be surprised to learn that the refrigerator had to be taken to their shop where it was repaired and returned to us day before yesterday in good working order. One thing is a little better!

We also have recovered all three of the suitcases that spent a few days wandering around Europe before they arrived in North Africa. I had been able to monitor their progress toward recovery a little easier since the representative at the airport with whom I spoke knew English. Though delayed longer than we were initially told they would be, Wednesday evening of last week the person at the airport in Casablanca confirmed that two of the bags were there. Two out of three was close enough that I decided I would prefer to travel back to Casablanca and retrieve them myself as opposed to hoping that they would be sent on to Fes on an another flight. That meant a long day of train travel there and back, but we needed the contents of those bags and decided the potential “return on investment” was worth the time and money. Upon arrival at the office at the airport that handles the return, I discovered that all three of the bags were there. The customs official handling the “Nothing to Declare” line waved me through without opening any of the three. Another thing that was more than a little better!

I might add a couple of other notes about the trip itself that indicates how our life here is often enriched by experiences that are insignificant when considered individually, but when viewed in a larger scheme are more important.

I asked Hassan to accompany me on the trip to Casablanca. He is the grandson of Zoubida, Denise’s former house-helper, whose family I write about so often since they are indeed part of our extended family since we have known them since 1986. I went to the hospital in Fes in 1988 and brought Hassan and his twin brother Hussein home from the hospital less than 24 hours after their birth. Their father showed up at our house that morning and asked if I could take him to get them home since otherwise he would have to get a taxi. I still remember that I loaned him about $25 to pay the remaining costs at the hospital, and we packed all the sheets, towels, clothes and other materials they had been required to furnish for the brief hospital stay. Denise and I have seen Hassan and his brother grow up over the years and had the chance to be engaged with them on a personal level most of the intervening years.

Of course I wanted a healthy, strong 25 year old along for selfish reasons. I did not want to have to handle three large suitcases as I changed trains from the airport to the train from Casablanca, and then from the train at Fes to the taxi to bring us back to the apartment. Most assuredly I did not want to carry them up three flights of stairs. Plus I was able to observe Hassan interact with the other passengers in our compartment. An extrovert, he maintained a lively conversation with whoever happened to be sitting with us and though I understood very little of their repartee at times, I hoped that my comprehension was improving, a schweea at least.

An elderly gentleman and his wife entered our compartment when the train stopped in Meknes. Before too many miles had passed I heard the man ask Hassan about me. When he discovered I was an American, he began speaking to me in very fluent English. As fate would have it he was a college professor as well, a plant biologist who had received a Master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1969 and then gone to a university in Sheffield, England where he received a doctorate.

Even more interesting was the fact that he was a Libyan, married to a Moroccan, who had lived and taught at the University of Tripoli his whole career. He and his wife were on their way home after visiting her family in the Moroccan town of Khemisset. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to ask about life in Libya, how an academic had weathered life all those ears under Ghadaffi, what did he think about the prospects for the future for his country, and several other topics as well. That helped to make a tiring day much more interesting and enlightening.

I think what the past ten days have demonstrated is that life’s circumstances are often challenging and frustrating. But, persevering in efforts to resolve difficulties often present opportunities for making life even more enjoyable. And, schweea buh schweea, things just might get a little better.


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