Brian NEVER leaves home without his International Driver’s License and Moroccan residency paperwork. Except today. Of all days, these rather significant documents did not make the transition into a change of clothes before we headed out for a shopping trip today. That will not happen again.
Today was among the worst traffic days we have seen since we first started driving. A half-marathon had roads closed all over, so that our intended quick jaunt for this week’s groceries became a chapter of Kafka. After trying in vain to reach our close-to-home shopping spots, we changed plans and decided we would get everything we needed at Carrefour, the Walmart-like Hypermarche across town from our home and school.
Had we gone straight there from home, we would have taken the highway around town and gotten there within half an hour. Instead, we spent a while longer rerouting from a spot in town and Google Mapped our way there. Finally getting close, but still with a few final turns to make through Casablanca’s labyrinth of streets, we turned right onto a divided arterial and started toward an intersection where we could pull a u-turn and shoot back to the Carrefour entrance.
Then we saw a policeman walking out into the street and indicating that we should pull over. We know an American expat who claims to have been pulled over nearly 200 times during his eight years in Morocco, with the inference that profiling happens here. Not sure why he pulled us over, and not knowing how his English would be, Brian rolled down the window as the cop approached and asked him, “May I help you?”
The cop made a sour a face and replied, “May you help me?…I am POLICEMAN!!! (as if that is his DC Comics superhero name). “Why you ask me if you can help me? I am Policeman! I am Policeman! You know Policeman?” Yes, volume IV, issue 7 of the Hall Of Justice series. “I am Policeman. You do not help me. I help YOU! You understand me? You do not help me. I HELP YOU. I am Policeman!”
Yes, we understand. And we are glad that you are here to help us.
“You understand, because I speak very good English. I studied English four years at university. My English very good and you understand. So why you say, ‘May I help you?’”
Yes, your English is very excellent. I just want to be helpful to you, and I did not know why you wanted me to stop.
“I am Policeman. I make you stop because you make mistake. Back there where you turn there is stop, but you not stop. You make mistake because you stop. And you cannot stop when you make turn. You make mistake. You cannot make mistake.”
Despite Policeman’s very good English, Brian was getting confused as to whether he should have stopped but did not, or should not have stopped but did. Because Policeman has very good English, though, Brian tried feebly to hide his confusion.
“You understand? You make mistake because you not stop when you turn but there is sign to stop.”
Ah, got it now.
Brian apologized, explaining he was just tying to get to Carrefour in our friend’s car to shop, and he did not see the sign.
“You MUST see sign. It tells you to stop. But you made mistake. You cannot make mistake!” He pulled out his well-thumbed centimeter thick book of laws with one hand and pointed to it with the other, saying again, “You cannot make mistake.”
So Policeman asked for Brian’s license. As Brian reached for his pocket, Audrey saw a nanosecond of consternation wash across his face. His license was not there.
Brilliantly, Audrey reached into the glove compartment and pulled out various pieces of official-looking paperwork as Brian told Policeman that the car belongs to a friend. In his orientation to renting the car in the summer, the friend from whom we are renting the car said if we ever get pulled over just say that our friend let us borrow his car (rather than try to explain that we are renting the car without any official auto rental paperwork). Brian fumbled with the documents that Audrey handed him, and Policeman – tired of waiting – finally reached in and grabbed the one he wanted to see for auto registration. Pulling out the registration card, he asked if the name on the card was that of our friend. Yes, that is our friend.
Being American can be an asset here. Being French, not so much. (It has something to do with that whole French colony thing in the first half of the 20th Century before independence in 1956). Policeman asked if we speak French in addition to English. Brian said no. Audrey said, “Un petit peu.” Then he asked how long we have been in Morocco, and we told him that we moved here in July to work at our school. What school? We told him, and the name registered.
“American school…Is very, very good school.” His inclination to hold Brian accountable for his mistake fell off his face like a loose mask, and suddenly he smiled and asked, “From what town in America you come?”
Somehow, that was a good town to name, and Policeman brightened even more. Then it started getting REALLY interesting. “There is big river there.”
Brian nodded. Sure, the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. But before Brian could ask if he liked the Grand Canyon, Policeman blurted out, “ANACONDA!”
Brian did a double-take and failed at hiding his synapses refusing to fire on that, while Audrey kept smiling from the passenger seat as she delighted in wondering how Brian would respond.
Policeman said again, “ANACONDA! Arizona has big river.”
Yes, the Colorado River, and the Grand Canyon.
“You know anaconda? In the water, very big.”
“YES, yes, snake. Big snake.”
Brian, while impressed by Policeman’s very good English but unclear about the significance of anaconda, said, “Ahhhh, anaconda! The big snake swimming in the water, and it grabs people and wraps around them and squeezes.” Policeman was delighted by this and chortled at Brian’s snakelike anaconda gesticulations.
“Yes, big snake, it grabs you and squeeze!”
There you have it: Anaconda, the big snake swimming and grabbing and squeezing…we have no idea what that has to do with Arizona, but it got us out of a ticket for missing a stop sign, and Policeman never asked again to see Brian’s license that was at home in the pocket of a different pair of pants.
One last piece of business. Policeman said Audrey must punish Brian for his mistake. Audrey seemed to relish that role and started talking excitedly with Policeman across Brian in the driver seat. Policeman pulled on his ear, demonstrating how Audrey should punish Brian. “Yes,” Audrey said with too much excitement, “I will punish him as soon as we get to Carrefour.” Suddenly, Policeman got very serious, while still pulling in his own ear, and said to Audrey, “At home. Punish him at home, not here. Not at Carrefour. At home.” In other words, wives do not punish their husbands in public. That would shame the husband. Policeman truly is here to help Brian, protecting him from being shamed in public by his wife. Audrey realized the cultural faux pas and insisted, “Yes, at home; I will punish him at home, not here and not at Carrefour.” Policeman smiled at this, halfway between another chortle and enjoying the satisfaction of knowing that American Brian who knows anaconda will be punished by his wife…but not shamed in public.
Lastly, Policeman wanted to help further. That is why he was there, you understand. So he gave directions for how to turn around in half a block and find the Carrefour entrance another block behind us. Then he said, “You make mistake not stop at sign again, 1400 dirhams.” Roughly a $140 fine for missing a stop sign, but we did not have to pay it today. We have no idea what sort of fine we would have had to pay for Brian driving without his license.
After an effusive thank you from each of us, we made a u-turn half a block away and started back toward the entrance to Carrefour to shop. As we passed by the spot of our encounter we saw that Policeman had already leapt across the median and three lanes on the other side (presumably in a single bound) and pulled over someone else. Nearly two hours later, after emerging from Carrefour with groceries and a couple new space heaters (because winter is coming to our apartment that has no heat or a/c), we drove down that block again on our way to Amoud Boulangerie et Patisserie, and Policeman was still in that spot pulling people over to tell them of their mistakes.
On your mark…get set…here we go!