Last Friday we traveled to Casablanca, intending to stay until Monday and planning to complete a fairly demanding itinerary while we were there. Included among the activities were trips on Saturday and Sunday out to a neighboring town to visit a family we became acquainted with two years ago, and making contact with some other Americans who live and/or work in Casablanca. Rosemary traveled with us from Rabat, and had worked with and knew all the people we hoped to engage on this trip. We had high hopes that some future projects that had been envisioned for some time might get advanced as a result of our visit.
As it turned out, we were a bit disappointed in what we were able to accomplish. However, after getting back to Fes and reflecting on the entire chain of events we discovered some reasons for a more optimistic interpretation of what had transpired, and sensed the need to express a personal feeling of gratitude for blessings both great and small, that we have had the good fortune to experience since our arrival.
I traveled to a nearby town by train on Saturday to visit the family I alluded to in the first paragraph. The wife’s mother is being treated for cancer in the town where her parents live, and as a result only three of the family members were present. The wife and one daughter are care-givers, staying essentially all the time in the town where the mother is being treated. My friend, his father and one sister were present when I arrived.
In addition, a Moroccan who works with a foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) that drills wells in underserved areas had arrived the day before. He had traveled to some property the father owns about forty kilometers from Casablanca to make an assessment as to whether that particular location might be a good site for them to explore, and to give a formal estimate of what the costs might be were the project to go forward. I enjoyed talking to him, hearing his stories of past successes, and their hopeful expectations for the chance to make the lives of people in many of these isolated villages much easier and more productive by making water accessible.
Sunday morning Denise awoke very early with a migraine headache, a problem that too often accompanies stressful activities such as traveling and meeting in people’s homes. Medication and being able to sleep another hour or so diminished the headache considerably, but upon arising Denise recognized immediately the symptoms of a urinary tract infection and knew that the planned events would be almost impossible for her to attend. We did not count among our blessings these medical setbacks.
We had planned to return to Fes late Sunday afternoon and I had already purchased on Saturday evening our tickets for the 6:15 train. Our plans were to visit some folks on Sunday morning, staying until mid-afternoon and making sure we arrived back in Casablanca before 5:30 p.m. As we pondered the options, we decided that Denise’s condition required that we get back to Fes as early as possible, perhaps leaving on the 11:15 train. I went to the train station ticket window but the clerk told me I would have to talk to the “Chef de Gare” to get the tickets changed since they were first-class tickets and thus reserved seats. With my limited French (and even more limited Arabic) I explained how my wife had “fallen ill” and that she needed to get home. He finally acquiesced and wrote 11:15 on the back of the tickets, but told us if the seats we claimed were reserved for someone else we would have to give them up and sit in the “Deuxieme Class” car, assuming there were seats available.
A text on Denise’s phone about 9:30 informed us that the scheduled meeting had been delayed from 12:30 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Thus we would have been unable to attend anyway, given that we had already purchased tickets for 6:15 p.m. Though we regretted not being able to be a part of a potentially positive meeting, in a strange way it affirmed us in the decision we made to depart early.
The train we took originated at our “home” station, Casa Voyageurs, and we were able to board the train about thirty minutes before the scheduled departure. We decided to choose seats in a compartment near the middle of the train, hoping that if the train were not too crowded, we would not be asked to give up our seats. From Casablanca to the first stop in Rabat, no one else entered. We noticed that the two window seats, the ones we had chosen, were numbered 75 and 76, the assigned seats we had originally been assigned, but in a different train of course. In Rabat, three young women, probably college students, and then a fourth entered our compartment. However, none of them asked us to give up our seats. They never told us the actual seats they had been assigned, but obviously we were pleased that we did not have to move luggage, try to find other vacant seats and hope that we could make it to Fes without additional frustration.
Denise continued to feel quite uncomfortable the entire trip, and the air conditioning seemed the most efficient we had ever observed on a Moroccan train. Perhaps she had some fever and because she genuinely felt lousy, the last half of the journey she just about froze. Nonetheless, we arrived at our destination on time in pretty good shape. The traveling companions in our compartment were very courteous and sociable, and we escaped the embarrassment of having to admit that we actually had claimed someone’s reserved seats.
After a ten minute ride, we entered the apartment that we rented only a week or so ago. It is sparsely furnished, with hardly more than the bare essentials. Denise felt blessed that she had been able to manage the trip as well as she did, thankful that we had a pleasant experience with the other travelers and that we were able to remain in our original places. But as we put our things away and Denise prepared to get some rest, we both said “traveling is nice, but there’s no place like home.” We counted that a blessing as well, to think that a continent away from our real home, we were happy and content to be in a place we had never seen even one month ago. Unexpected, but still welcomed.