Our arrival in Casablanca seemed quite familiar. We had in fact rehearsed the scenario five or six times in the past few years. The long day and night of travel ended with the successful passage through passport control and the recovery of our checked baggage. With assistance from an available porter, the suitcases were schlepped down to the train station at the airport. The tickets to the Casa Voyageurs train station were purchased and we disembarked right next to the Ibis Hotel, its location being an important selling point in making it our residence of choice in Casablanca. We had departed Birmingham Sunday at 1:15 p.m. and checked into the hotel about 6:00 p.m. local time. Given the time difference, that’s almost exactly 24 hours from wheels up in Alabama to suitcases down at the hotel in Morocco. Part of the 24 hours was a five hour layover at the lovely Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
A good night’s sleep restored enough energy that Tuesday we made a trip to visit friends who live in Settat, a fairly large city located about an hour’s distance by train from Casablanca. Rosemary, our traveling companion from Auburn, who lived and worked in Casablanca at the George Washington Academy from 2004 – 2008, introduced us to this family in the spring of 2012. They are an exceptional family in many ways, having endured some very difficult circumstances over the years, including persecution. Their spirit of forgiveness and serenity in the midst of their trials is an admirable model of redemptive living. Denise and I feel fortunate to have encountered them through our mutual friends.
We had our first Moroccan meal this trip during the visit, a nice tagine of beef and prunes. Served with homemade bread and accented with the traditional mint tea, we practiced the required phrases and sentences that accompany such events. Usually the responses are culturally appropriate ways to say things such as “I’ve had plenty” or “it was delicious, but really, that’s enough.” Rejecting those admonitions motivated by genuine hospitality without causing offense is an acquired skill that language, even our limited Arabic, facilitates dramatically.
A promise to visit again in a couple of weeks enabled us to make our exit, even against the protests that we really had not stayed very long. I queued up at the ticket window at the “gare” to purchase our return tickets only to be told that the first class compartments were “complet” as they say in French. Translated that meant in colloquial terms, “I hope you don’t mind standing up for an hour on the trip.”
First however, we had to stand for about twenty minutes as the train we were to take arrived late from Marrakech. Not only were there no seats in First Class, all of the Second Class cars were full as well. But a minute or two after leaving the station a very nice thing happened. A woman motioned for Rosemary to come forward in the car, there was an available seat in a group of four seats. As soon as Rosemary sat down, another woman sitting across from her seemed determined to find Denise a seat as well. She persuaded the mother of a child about 18 months old to let the child sit in her lap, thus freeing up a seat for Denise. Nice people can be found anywhere is a discovery we have made in our travels.
I made myself as comfortable as possible, standing next to a luggage rack in the rear of the car, bracing myself against the luggage to handle the swaying, bumps, and twists that were inevitable. Though less than comfortable, I even managed to finish a Sudoku, one classified as a Tricky Mind-teaser, while standing. Doing so enabled me to fill that parent-induced feeling that I should almost always be engaged in productive activity.
About 10 or 15 minutes from Casablanca we stopped at Berrechid and a number of people exited, including the person sitting next to Denise. I grabbed the seat and thus, my discomfort lasted only about 45 minutes. On the plus side, we did save about $2.50 per ticket traveling second class. That would have made my parents, children of the great depression, proud as well.