Ringtones are universal. I’d say they bind us together as one united global population of techno douchebags. Not me though. I vibrate… On the train into Casablanca the cabins are filled with rushed Arabic mobile conversations. They seem hostile and loud, yet end pleasantly. “OK, bye bye, beep…”
We’re on the train from Aeroport Mohamed V to Casablanca, via Ain Sbaa, though we don’t have the train schedule, know any of the stops or really understand where the conductor told us to transfer.
Out the window.
Men playing soccer by a small hut in a dirt field; a farm windmill nearby, sun setting over hazy farmland. So far people have been nicer to us, on the whole, than they are back home. Bryan Adams is playing on the train into Casablanca. This won’t be the last time on this trip we hear American music when no one else speaks English, nor Bryan Adams for that matter.
We get off the train at Casa Port and walk with the crowd through the station to the street. It is crowded. Many people are trying to buy tickets to get back on the train. Many people are trying to leave the station. We have backpacks on our backs and daypacks looped over out shoulders hanging on our chests. It is our first walk with this weight of the trip, and it is heavy and uncomfortable. It will get easier.
I go back into the station and push up to the bureau de billet. Try to ask the agent for a map of the train route to plan the rest of our trip. I ask for a cart du la train. What the French phrasebook tells me is a map. But the request gets me nothing but confused looks. I try several times. I say it with different accents and pronunciations. I try the word “schedule” with a French accent not wanting to check the phrasebook and hoping it is a cognate like so many others.
The next guy in line understands. “You want a schedule” he asks in halted English. “yes,” I answer. He leans in and makes the request for me in Arabic. The teller nods and reaches under the counter and grabs me a schedule and hands it over. I thank them both and head back out to the busy dark street.
We work our way into the Casablanca Ville Nouvelle, the new city, though it is pretty old by our standards. It is rushed, and crowded and intimidating. We rush around not wanting to look too much at the map in the guide book. A self-consciousness we will lose in the coming days.
We round corners, search for street signs which are only posted at the corners of buildings. Look for hotel signs which we don’t see. We go in circles. We argue about where we are. We try not to look lost. We arguer about whether we look like tourists or not. We argue about whether that matters. We find a hotel and go in and ask the price. Une chabre pur deux? C’est combine?
trois cents soixante-dix, 370, I say that’s too much, c’est trop cher. That is the price, he says. We leave. And proceed on to the one I’d picked out of the guide book and looked up online. Danielle takes the lead, we round a corner, argue about which way to go, which way we have been, which way might be a street that is on the map, or one which was omitted. I tear the map out of the guide book to save time. I later loose this torn out piece of map.
We come down Rue el-Oraibi Jilai and we see it. Hotel Foucauld. We go in and ask the same set of questions we would ask for the next 17 days. C’est combien, est- ce que je peux la voir, seel vous plait. 160 dh, fourth floor (third by our reckoning). It is acceptable, we pay, we unload, we stumble out, find a place to eat, take some photos, stumble back, shower, sleep…