Eric: Bonjour Maroc

June 17, 2010

Today was definitely a long day, mostly spent trying to get to Fes. First of all, my flight from Rome to Casablanca was delayed, so I waited at the gate for 1 hour before they finally let people onto the bus that took us to the plane. It was the first time I flew Alitalia. At first I wasn’t impressed about the airline but felt better when I found out there was an empty seat between me and another man (more leg room!). Then we were served lunch, which I wasn’t expecting, and it didn’t taste that bad. With no movie playing and practically no entertainment system, I spent the rest of the flight listening to Harry Potter 7 audio book on my MP3 player, napping, and looking at the clouds and the Mediterranean Sea.

When the plane finally reached Africa, I took my first glance of Morocco. From high above, it looked like a huge brownish yellow (color of sand) with dots of green here and there and roads that lead to cities. When the plane started to descend, I also saw mountains, more green area, and divided area of land that resembles farmland in the US.

Upon landing, I got off the plane, walked into the massive yet empty Mohammed V Airport of Casablanca. At the passport control, the officer asked whether this is the first time I have been to Morocco, and I, gotten so used to being in Italy, answered in Italian (“Si”). The officer looked at me skeptically, and then asked if I speak English. I realized other people were passing the passport control a lot faster than me, but I got through. I went to get my luggage, and I have to say that it was the first time the luggage almost beat me to the baggage claim. I got my suitcase, and was stopped at customs, where this lady opened my bag and asked me pretty much what everything in my suitcase and backpack is. I don’t think she understood what vinegar is, and I had no other ways to explain to her what balsamic vinegar is. She let me through though.

The first thing I did after going through customs was change money, or at least tried to. Apparently they really don’t appreciate small coins and bills, as none of the exchange places would take my small amount of euro, and I had to take out US dollar bills from my wallet to get some Moroccan Dirham (approximately 1 USD = 9 Moroccan Dirham). Good thing I didn’t spend those greenbacks in Europe.

To get to Fes, I had to first take a train from the airport to the Casa Voyageurs station in Casablanca, and then catch another train that would go to Fes. The person selling the ticket was not very happy with my slow reaction toward him asking me whether I speak French or English (at least that’s what I think he asked) and threw me two tickets after I paid. I found the right platform, got on the right train, fell asleep on the old-fashion train where there was little air conditioning and the window at my seat wouldn’t open. I woke up just in time to get off. I then tried to find a sign that would tell me which train goes to Fes, and I couldn’t find one. Speaking neither French nor Arabic, while Moroccans aren’t particularly fluent at English (pretty much only younger people know it), I used the only few French words I know to find the right train, which thankfully was a lot newer and air-conditioned.

The trip from Casablanca to Fes took a little more than 4 hours. I was surprised at how similar roadside Morocco looks like Tuscany. A little yellower, but there was fields of crops, mountains covered with trees, and different farm animals. I really didn’t know what to expect before I actually got here. I know Africa isn’t entirely desert, I just didn’t realize how similar it would be to other places I have been to. I spent the 4 hours napping (again), listening to my MP3 player, and looking out the window. I was very glad the ride was over when I got to Fes, as I pretty much had been sitting the entire day.

Since I arrived before the study abroad program (Arabic Language and Culture in Morocco) starts, the Arabic Language Institute in Fez (where I will be studying) reserved a room for me in a hotel in Ville Nouvelle—the newer part of the city built by the French. How to get to the hotel was my main problem. I didn’t want to take the bus because I don’t know the routes. I was going to take a taxi, but the hotel wasn’t really that far, and all the people in front of the train station were charging a lot more than what the ride should cost (a man told me he would take me to the hotel for 20 euro, I said no). So I started walking. The roads weren’t confusing, and I found the place without getting lost, but hauling my suitcase with me did give me quite the workout.

At the hotel, I found out that my reservation was only for 1 night, instead of the originally planned 2. Tired as I was, I told them I would ask ALIF tomorrow. The room was nice, and was a double, with TV, air conditioning (even though it really isn’t that hot here), a bathtub, and running hot water. I went out on to the street to get a sandwich, and went back to the hotel trying to use Internet, which didn’t work and I was directed to a cyber café. I later found out it was a good thing I didn’t use Internet at the hotel, as they charge 40 dirham per hour while at the cyber café it was only 4 dirham per hour. Through e-mail, I found out that I am actually going to meet and join my host-family tomorrow (hence the only 1 night at the hotel), and I fell asleep watching the World Cup (pretty amazing that North Korea scored on Brazil).


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