Rolling at the fastest pace of the day. Through the eastern desert of Morocco.Tinerhal to Erfoud. The taxi, all other taxis in the country, is the color of the sky, old, noisy, rattly, worn down, but strong. None of the guages work, show no movement, quantity or charge. Needles on zero, on strike, low wages, poor working conditions.
Randomly small towns, villages, buildings, cars, trucks, other taxis (both grand and petit), boys standing off in a field learning from the cars that pass, a burro, a donkey, a horse, palm trees with tendrils of immature date vines dangling from the tops, a woman covered from head to foot in black with only a small slit for her eyes, men, women and children riding donkeys appear on either side of the road, lots of space between them all, and then fade quickly away.
The driver stops the car and Nordeen, our guide, drives on ahead. The driver says something in Arabic, gets out, leaves it running, walks back to talk to three men in dusty business suits across the road. There are no buildings, cars, bikes or animals near. Boys in the fields divide their attention between the rows of seedlings and the traffic and keeping their hats from blowing away in the constant wind.
This is a dry place. Like home, though we are outsiders here. People who belong, but only if you forget where you are, warped cardboard puzzle pieces whose pictures almost match, but don’t fit together. I think about the process of becoming local, growing to fit in, knowing how that works with schools, jobs, athletic clubs, neighborhoods. Gradational process, moving through an unfamiliar country, the paradox of an infinite number of steps.
The driver gets in the car, closes the door, pulls back out into the traffic, though the traffic is only the five of us and this car. Wooly sheepskin cut as a dashboard cover slides back, he reaches over me, pushes it back up. The vents don’t work. I crack my window, the sun creeps down, reflects off the side mirror into my eyes. I hold up my camera, point it over my shoulder, blindly push the button.
Danielle is behind me, afraid, nervous and so looks mad. We don’t really know where we’re going, dark is only an hour away, maybe less. Thiago and Nelma are next to her in the back seat of this grand taxi. We are on guard. People are coming to meet us somewhere down the road in a town we won’t know when we see it, people we don’t necessarily trust.
I snap pictures in the front seat, our driver navigates the road and turns and small villages between where we got off the bus and wherever it is we are headed. He chainsmokes Marlboros with the windows up. The three in the back seat are uncomfortable and hold daypacks on their laps, nervously finger the straps, look forward at me and the driver and the dead instrument cluster and the undecipherable landscape beyond with trepidation and mistrust.