Never underestimate the Moroccan gift for complicating travel. Last time I was here I took a train from Casablanca to Tangier and my fellow passengers were amazed that the train was only four hours late.
My flight from Marrakech to Casablanca (the first of four flights to get back to Lisbon) today was about 40 minutes late, When I got to the Casa airport, I went to a desk to get a boarding pass (they couln't check me all the way through in Marrakech). The agent told me that the plane from Casa to Madrid would be too late for me to get the connection to Lisbon. The computers were down as well, but he went to a supervisor's office where they were working and came back and told me I could go ahead and go to Madrid or they'd put me up in a hotel in Casa and put me on a direct flight the next morning. I said I'd stay the night (even though Casablanca is quite unappealing) and the agent went back to the supervisor's office to book it for me, then came back and said that actually I was booked on an Iberia flight operated by Royal Air Moroc, not a RAM flight, which somehow meant I could go ahead with my original plan. I'd spent about half an hour with him trying to help me so I had to rush to get to my orginally planned second flight, which of course I'm waiting for now, 30 minutes late and it will be at least another 30. In the meantime, the display monitor has started to say a different gate, but no one seems to know for sure.
There doesn't seem to be many people here, maybe because it's the first day of Ramadan. We found one guy who wouldn't help us because he was only there to help VIPs, which seems like a pretty risky thing to say to a bunch of angry Spaniards. (The Moroccans, for the most part, are keeping quiet.)
Meanwhile, since it's Ramadan, there are people in traditional garb kneeling and facing east all over the place, which I'm not proud to say is an alarming sight in an airport for a New Yorker – something like a TV movie that I'd turn off.
The plane is now two hours late and isn't anticipated for another 4½. By way of apology, Royal Air Maroc is giving me a free sandwich. I had hoped I would have enough time on my layover in Madrid to go downtown – the airport is very close to the city. The Casablanca airport is far from town, even if I wanted to go. But now I won't do either.
The airport is also out of milk. I am having sugar with my espresso. I'd usually take it without, but I've developed a taste for sweetened caffeine while I've been here.
The airport has reduced me to having nothing to write about. I am avoiding reading my book because I'm too close to the end and I fear finishing before I get back to Lisbon. I'd rather choose not to read now than have nothing to read later. I wonder if I'll bother to type this part up.
Discovered that the bookstore here has a small section of books in English! A fair number of vampire stories, a lot of stuff I didn't know, a few things I didn't care to know. (And one Paul Auster I hadn't read, but in French.) Selected two paperbacks by authors I didn't know but they looked interesting enough – an Egyptian novel about gender selection and a Japanese book about a man with no short term memory. Took them to the register: €18 each! So I put them back and went to the music store where I picked up a Berber CD, a Malhoune CD and something else the woman working there recommended, all for €14 total.
I am writing this very step-by-step, blow-by-blow, just like the Driss Ben Hamed Charahi book I'm (not) reading. One phrase he uses a lot that I like: for something that is the same day after day, he says “today and tomorrow, today and tomorrow.”
I see a sign that says “hotel / cyber-center.” I don't know if the cyber-center is for hotel guests only. The hotel has its own elevator and is on a separate floor, but the woman at the desk doesn't ask me for a room number and did take my money so I guess it's OK. Better than OK. Quiet and air-conditioned. The rest of the airport is hot with human frustration. Then went for me $5 worth of free food. Moroccan pizza is nice, like what's sometimes called “pita pizza” in the States, I guess. The vegetarienne comes with black olives that still have the pits, plus a side of yogurt and a pre-made salad with a scoop of tuna stinking the joint up. Morocco is one of those places that thinks you're not really vegetarian, you're just saying that. I notice a cat walking around the food court, so I scoop the tuna out of my salad, use the lid as a dish and give it to him.
This airport has gone insane. Another gate has declared mutiny, passengers chanting in Arabic something similar to the “Hell no, we won't go” cadence (although surely their demands are the opposite). Children have climbed up on the agent's counter and are screaming and singing little melodies into the microphone, which is then being broadcast throughout the terminal. Being children, untrained in intercom use, their songs and messages cut in and out as they jockey for turns. Around them is a ring of other passengers taking photos and videos. This goes on uninterrupted for 90 minutes or so. No airline personnel were around. I don't know if they were frightened or just uninterested. I wonder if any of the video will show up on YouTube.
I've spent the last couple hours hanging with a guy who was born in Morocco but lives in Italy. It was he who clued me in to the meal voucher. I saw him eat so I knew he wasn't observing Ramadan. I said to him, “May I ask you a question? I do not mean any disrepect, but do people get crazy and angry because they are fasting?” He looked very serious and thought for a few minutes and then said, “Yes.”
A man blocks a security cart, refusing to let it pass until his questions are answered. Two more agents come over, for a total of four, and surround him. They pull him aside to talk, then move his suitcase, get back in the cart and try to escape. He gets in their way again, but immediately after resigns his post, letting the cart pass. There have been other scrimmages and shouting matches in the last few hours as well.
It's dark, but I don't think the fast can be broken until 21:30. Maybe I'm wrong about that. It is quieter now. People are also no longer concerned about reserving their smoking for the smoking area (which isn't even enclosed). A frustrating full day in an airport where smoking is allowed. I’m having trouble recalling why I quit. I take out my bag of figs and go to sit by the wall.
Another man loses his shit, starts screaming and throwing the stanchions that support the line dividers. He gets applause, which soon turns to people clapping in rhythm, which then turns to four or five men and one woman all pounding the floor with the metal stands. An announcement is made (in French) over the intercom, they stop to listen then start again. Repeatedly starting and stopping. An airline employee walks past, glances and keeps going. Ten men run after him, them more follow, including a couple of women. The airline employee laughs and shrugs like there's nothing he can do.
Some black men in Arabic garb begin passing out oranges. I guess the fast ends at 21:00. A group continues speaking with the airline employee off to the side. There is no effort to quiet the others or to pick up the posts they've thrown around. Two more employees have joined the first one. Given the choice, I guess they'd rather help the crowd that's talking than the crowd that's throwing heavy things.
The post-throwing begins again. Two employees lock themselves behind a gate door.
The crowd heads en masse down the terminal. I try to ask the Moroc Italiam what's going on but he forgets to reply to me in English and sits down on the floor. I don't know a word anyone has said, but I decide to go with the crowd. I am starting to get nervous about taking notes, given the Moroccan attitudes on journalists. The crowd – 100 people or so – surround another cart, a female guard driving, a woman and child in the back. After a minute of screaming, the guard throws her hands up, exits the care and walks away. The woman grabs her terrified child and exits the cart in the other direction. Soon there will be real property damage but nobody has tried to hurt anyone yet – not even close. A few start to turn the abandoned care over but others stop them. The mob has rules. Instead they return to the post pounding in the greatest cacophony they've made yet.
A man pulls a seat cushion off the care and stomps on it, breaking an arm rest. A girl, 12 years old at most, films the whole thing.
A new legion of official has been brought out: woman in red blazer.
I still don't know anything anyone is saying, of course, but I imagine it's fairly predictable. “An outrage!” “Nothing I can do.”
I saw a French woman I spoke with earlier this afternoon pounding a stanchion on the floor. I'm trying to find her to translate for me. I think she spoke Arabic as well.
An actual gendarme walks through now. I ask someone to verify. He is police (although he's dressed like how I picture the dress uniforms for the French Foreign Legion).
He is police and he was telling people not to take photos, so I put my notebook away. We've just gotten on the plane. There's a weird sense of camaraderie among us – or some of us, anyway. Smiles and nods and sarcastic bon soirs are exchanged. I tap on the newspaper being read by one of the most vociferous post pounders and when he looks up I give him a thumbs up. If we had a common language – guess I'm assuming we don't, but if we had opportunity to speak, I don't know what I'd say really, but I did want him to know that I support someone not putting up with something they don't want to put up with, anyway.
On both flights today women in hijab clothing have taken my window seat.
So, why I don't want Moroccan police to think I'm a journalist:
Three years ago in Tangier I happened upon a concert on a crowded beach. It was clearly a big event, a mix of traditional (or as the woman at the airport CD store said today, “typical.” I asked her for traditional Berber music and she said “oh, you want typical” which might not reflect my musical tastes in general but in this case it was spot on) songs with synth pop. The singer was playing his violin balanced vertically on his knee the way the Moroccans do, but there was also a horrible keyboard and programmed percussion. It wasn't great but still I wanted to know who I was seeing because, hell, here I was on the beach in Tangier seeing it. So I tried asking a few people and, getting nowhere, decided to go and ask a group of police officers standing to the side. Surely they'd help. None of them spoke English. They called some other officers over as if they spoke English, but they didn't either. I was saying “nom de musician' and pantomiming violin and pointing and doing everything I could think of and they kept telling me the name of the telephone company, which I could see from the signs everywhere was the sponsor. They must know what I'm asking, I thought. How could they not? They just think I'm asking something other than the obvious. So finally I say, “I am very curious. Je suis un journaliste.”
With that they backed away and refused to look at me again. I later told this to an American I met who worked for the embassy in Rabat and he laughed. Saying you're a journalist won't get you anywhere with the police, he told me. No good can come from talking to a journalist.
So today, when the police officer told the crowd not to take photos at something much more volatile than a pop concert, I decided not to look like an American journalist.
The pilot is speaking. I can't understand him but I can only assume he's saying “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and motherfucking girls. This is your captain with no name speaking and I'm here to rock your world.”
Watching the three attendants in the aisle giving the safety instructions is a lot like watching the Supremes. Soon I'll be in Madrid and will start figuring out how it is I'm to get back to Lisbon. But that's a different notebook.