Being at an international school overseas, we have a lot of holidays. In addition to school being closed during major American holidays, we also are closed for the more numerous Moroccan holidays that fall during the school year. One this week, on January 11, marked Moroccan Proclamation Day, or Takdim Watikat Al-Istiqlal. Morocco celebrates Independence Day each year two months prior on November 18, commemorating the day in 1956 when Morocco secured its independence from Spain and France. Moroccan Proclamation Day, by contrast, commemorates the day in 1944 that began the 12 year long struggle for that independence with the Istiqlal (Independence) Party’s presentation of a manifesto seeking full independence from foreign powers; national reunification after centuries of foreign intervention had carved Morocco into pieces; and a democratic constitution to govern the nation. In our household, though, it also seemed an apt occasion to proclaim independence of a different kind.
Six months after arriving, Audrey finally got behind the wheel of our Honda CRV and took to the streets of Casablanca. With Brian preparing for a solo trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for a workshop this weekend, Audrey needed transport that would let her do our weekly shopping back home despite the absence of her regular chauffeur-husband. Because the celebration of Proclamation Day meant we did not have school, this seemed the ideal occasion to test her driving acumen against our manual transmission vehicle and the Moroccan roadway challenge.
“Should we do a post on this?” Brian asked as we got underway.
“Hopefully it will be uneventful enough that it is not worth posting,” Audrey replied. Yet we find, time and again, the most post-worthy curious things in our uneventful daily lives here.
Tooling around on campus, Audrey quickly and easily remastered the art of driving with a clutch. As expected, it is like riding a bike.
And so we hit the streets to run some errands. With one car drifting in front of us from the right and another car drifting in front of us from the left simultaneously, Brian asked, “Do you want me to point out dangers or would that be annoying?” Audrey assured him that his calling out bogies was a good thing. “Watch out for left turners,” he cautioned as we approached a break in the median with a driver from the other side nosing his car through the gap to obstruct ½ of our left lane. Audrey responded calmly and with no hesitation, “I am watching out for everything: cows, goats, scooters, donkeys, people just walking out in front of me…EVERYTHING!”
Our first intended destination was the pharmacy to pick up some OTC meds that would be available as prescription-only in the U.S. We found traffic on Boulevard Abdelhadi Boutaleb, the main drag from our school past the King’s summer palace and into town, fairly light and (as Charlotte would say) organized. With a green light at the traffic circle leading toward the pharmacy, Audrey asked, “Should I go into the right lane to turn left?” Brian recommended, “No, stay in the left lane and use the right lane people turning left as blockers for you against oncoming traffic.” Audrey made her first left turn in Morocco without major incident, and without too many cars in the right lane trying to turn left in front of her. Two blocks from the pharmacy, the driver of a Jaguar honked obnoxiously as he tried unsuccessfully to pass us on a residential street with cars parked on both sides. Then, after a sixth month driving hiatus, Audrey exclaimed proudly, “I drove to the Pharmacy!”
But it was closed. After all, it was Moroccan Proclamation Day.
Our next stop was the Morocco Mall to get cash from an ATM at a local branch of our bank. Along the way, Audrey almost took out a parking guardian who jumped into the road to stop traffic for someone pulling out from the curb. We encountered traffic so busy that after creeping past the mall to a traffic circle where we normally turn around and work back toward the two mall parking entrances, police had placed a barricade to keep people from making U-turns. We had to drive another kilometer down the road and turn around at the entrance to the Sindibad (not Sinbad: same guy, different spelling) amusement park. Reverse direction accomplished, heading back toward the mall alongside the beach and boardwalk of Boulevard de l’Océan Atlantique – with all manner of obstacles and dangers from pedestrians and parked/parking cars and parking guardians and vendors and goats and donkeys and more spilling over from the curb into the right lane – provided Audrey an experiential opportunity to learn why Brian always drives this road in the left lane. Finally we made it back to the Morocco Mall. Our pharmacy may have been closed, but the mall was so busy with people that could not go to the closed pharmacy that all parking lot entrances were blocked. “So sorry, no parking. The mall is too full.” After all, it was Moroccan Proclamation Day. Next stop?
Unable to get to the mall, we backtracked past what we call Snail Corner – the collection of over three dozen snail soup stands that come alive each evening – to Boulevard Abdelhadi Boutaleb, and turned left toward town. We drove past the place on the road that always smells like an outhouse, and Audrey – forgetting we were passing by the place on the road that always smells like an outhouse and thinking instead that the aroma inside had come from her passenger and not some external nastiness – rolled down her window to flood the car with the olfactory stimulus. Eww.
Everyone who rides in a car in Casablanca knows the infamy of its drivers for their multi-lane driving (among other things). When we hit an almost-finished section of replaced road, the smooth new asphalt having no white lane lines painted to pretend they would organize cars into distinct lanes, Brian commented, “This may be Morocco’s most honest and accurate segment of road.”
Continuing on, Audrey came to a stop at a red light intersection. In an instant, scooter gnats swarmed around our car, then whined away with their 2-cycle lawn mower engines carrying them into traffic. Of course, no sooner did the light turn green than cars behind us began to honk their impatience. Further along we went, with Audrey’s interjections streaming as we did, “Hey, Buddy, pick a lane!…There’s no room for you to turn…Oh, my Lord!” Finally we came upon another bank branch for our ATM stop, and – like a Moroccan Bonnie and Clyde – Brian hopped out to get a wad of Dirham while Audrey kept the car running. Audrey would have cash to shop this weekend and the wheels to get her there, while Brian practiced curriculum mapping software in Dubai. Pulling a U-turn on the tram road, sitting on the tram tracks and actively not thinking of the tram a few blocks away, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so she could complete a U-turn and start toward home, Audrey said, “Oh, look at the donkey,” followed by a more focused, “I hope this is an uneventful trip.”
And it was, relatively speaking. Commenting on her surroundings as we worked our way back, Audrey sounded schizophrenic as she blurted out, “Scooters going the wrong way diagonally across the road…Donkeys…Here’s a horse.” All just another day driving in Casablanca. She capped our arrival back home with a triumphant, “Alright, I made it through my maiden voyage!” to signal her readiness for the task ahead.
Epilogue: Today Audrey found success and freedom driving to the CIL to shop at our produce and meat Souks and at O’Self French Market while Brian attended his workshop far away on the Persian Gulf in Dubai. After finishing her shopping, she then found her freedom dashed as she discovered our car got a wheel boot for failing to pay for parking at the parking machine. No worries: She found the guy who booted her, and our car was set free after she paid a nominal fine. Hamdulillah!
On your mark…get set…here we go!