Welcome to Morocco!

We made it!

One week ago from this exact time of writing we were at SeaTac Airport with 25 bags and boxes, trying to check in for a JetBlue flight taking us to our Casablanca-bound Royal Air Maroc connection at JFK.

We had checked things out online in advance, and we had called both JetBlue and Royal Air Maroc to get a crystal clear understanding of all guidelines and restrictions regarding what we could and could not bring with us on the flight. We had been advised by numerous sources not to ship anything over to our destination; but, instead, bring with us on the plane whatever we wanted as we start our life in Morocco. Better to pay the extra baggage fee, people at the school had counseled us, and pick up what you check upon arrival than not get your things for weeks or months…or maybe at all. Bottom line for our flights: each passenger gets to check two bags (not to exceed a specified length-width-height limit and a little over 50lbs), and any extra bags would be charged $150. As such, Brian had spent many hours weighing and redistributing the loads of each item to check until all were at or below 50lbs. A later post will run through the anxieties that plagued us (Brian) in our final prep time. Suffice it to say now, that “What if they refuse to check all our stuff?” question was a doozie. Audrey kept reassuring Brian that nothing we had been told prevented us from checking 25 bags/boxes; Brian kept worrying about “What if…?” anyway.

What transpired at SeaTac was a two-hour battle with the JetBlue check-in people who, we can only presume, simply did not want to check in all we had with us. First they told us they could not check any boxes – and 19 of our 25 items to check were boxes that Brian had carefully and thoroughly taped to withstand hurricane-force winds, an elephant sitting on them, or a random drop from the cargo bay at 38,000 feet. As one JetBlue agent kept telling us that they absolutely, positively DO NOT CHECK BOXES, another one kept slapping baggage tags on boxes of frozen fish and other assorted boxes of things that people in line behind us were taking with them on our flight. Hmmmm. Next they said that, amazingly, they actually COULD take our boxes, but they would charge us $350 per each item beyond the six free bags the three of us could check. Pointing out that Royal Air Maroc’s website said $150 and we had been told $150 by both airlines, they acknowledged that online it said $150, but insisted nonetheless that they would charge $350 because they could. Enter Supervisor. After much discussion, it was next explained to us that we actually needed to pay $150 for Royal Air Maroc to get our things to Morocco and an ADDITIONAL $200 for JetBlue to get our bags to JFK. This, of course, made even less sense, because JetBlue’s extra bag policy is to charge $100, not $200. Eventually, a GM got in the mix and told the check-in folks to take our bags (AND boxes) and charge us the $150 extra per bag we had been told. They did, but not before the agent told us, “Next time, call us at the airport instead of the corporate number. We know what the real policy is. The people at the corporate number don’t really know what we do at the airports.” I bet!  Veni, vidi, vici.

So on we went with otherwise uneventful flights to JFK and to Casablanca. (Uneventful, if you do not count the brief moment of terror our daughter Charlotte suffered when an ICE K-9 Unit German Shepherd on the JFK jetway suddenly zeroed in on her carry-on bag and its handler asked her, “How much money are you carrying in that bag?”) Leaving SeaTac around 10pm Seattle time last Tuesday, we landed in Casablanca around 10pm Morocco time on Wednesday. You know you have passed your young and carefree days when you are pleased to have traveled so many hours with compression socks.

Upon deplaning, several things hit us.

First, compared to domestic U.S. flights and other international flights we have taken, the plane was fairly well trashed by the time we got off. Each row was strewn with rubbish and discarded items, as if passengers believed there would be no trash receptacles available anywhere in the airport to dispose of their unnecessaries. This was not wholly surprising, as all the plane’s bathrooms were trashed not long into the trans-Atlantic flight. It may also reflect the environmental cultural norms that led the Moroccan government to institute a ban, effective earlier this month, on plastic bags in grocery stores and elsewhere. More time here may illuminate this better for us.

Second, after three years living in arid Arizona, the humidity walloped us as soon as we reached the airplane’s door and started down the stairs toward the buses that took us from the Tarmac to the terminal. We would soon learn that not since we lived in Louisiana – when towels from Monday’s shower would still be wet on Tuesday – could bathing feel so good. Yet, after a week, we still do not know whether it is better to shower at night before bed or in the morning before starting the day. Maybe both. That said, we have also been reminded that all such things are relative, as another family new to our school came from Taiwan and commented to us about what a relief from humidity they are enjoying here.

Third, the U.S. infatuation with smoke-free environs is very much a U.S. thing. While no one smoked on our trans-Atlantic flight, along with humidity hitting us squarely was the acrid pungency of cigarette smoke from airplane door to transport buses to terminal. We have continued to encounter this through our first week, nearly everywhere we go in and around Casablanca.

Fourth, Casablanca is a gateway hub conducting a diverse set of travelers. Our gate at JFK was full of many languages, colors, clothing, and more. When we deplaned in Casablanca, we saw much of this diversity fork left to connecting flights to destinations around Africa while we forked right toward Moroccan Customs. It is a big world. It is a small world.

In the end, we made it to Casablanca, as did ALL of our 25 bags and boxes. We were met at the airport with a school bus by a Moroccan staff member of our new school. (We had warned them in advance that we would need a bus. No joke: we filled it. The next day the school’s Director of Operations told us that we had set a dubious new school record.) We rode about 45 minutes to our new home on campus, unloaded the lives we had brought with us, and crashed in our beds after thanking those who helped us unload. Our intentional adventure is underway, and we could not be more happy with how it is turning out!

Our desire was to post long before a week had passed from our arrival. Each day leading up to departure ended up filled with more preparations and more goodbyes, and each day after arrival has been another adventure. In our nascent understanding of the Moroccan way, we chose not to rush something that would come properly in time. Now we have a store of initial experiences and observations we can share, and so we plan to make a series of posts in the next several days before our new administrator orientation begins next week. Check back regularly to stay abreast of things. Better still, “Like” the blog on FaceBook and “follow” it on WordPress so you do not miss any posts.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

4 thoughts on “Welcome to Morocco!

  1. Barbara and I are glad Family Menard successfully negotiated the initial TV audition for “Three Year Survivor: Morocco.” Triumphing over all the baggage BS slung by those Jet Blue scammers was particularly impressive, and we empathized greatly when you got the reward of a restorative shower. You’re off to an epic start, and we can’t wait for the next content-rich episode.


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