Cultural Case Study: Navigating “Inshallah”

Moving to Morocco meant lots of adjustments in our lives. One particular cultural change: discovering what “Inshallah” means in theory versus in practice. “Inshallah” translates as “If Allah wills it,” or, more generally, “God willing.” The idea brings God into even the small things in life, and imbues daily living with piety. In practice, people attach “Inshallah” to everything in ways that reflect how God’s plan and our expectations may not sync as we would like. If you make plans to meet up with someone tomorrow and then say how much you look forward to seeing them, “Inshallah” comes as the likely response. Yesterday we bought a new mattress, and in confirming the scheduled delivery date the salesman finished with “Inshallah.” Anything expected to happen in the future lies in the realm of “Inshallah.”

For two weeks we have lived “Inshallah” daily while relying for transportation on a teeny Fiat speck of an automobile. Our regular wheels ride on a Honda Pilot with room enough to match our three-bedroom apartment. As happens with vehicles well past a decade old, though, the Honda has needed engine work that we have put off for a while. Over the summer, we managed without the car for a few weeks while a mechanic took apart the engine to find the source of an oil leak, ordered a key part to fix the leak, and waited for the part to arrive. We managed fairly well, but eventually needed to get the car back (particularly after Charlotte returned from her stateside visit with family and friends and wanted mom and dad to chauffeur her to her social obligations). With the part still not received, the mechanic put the engine together and sent the car back to us in the same slow-leak condition in which he received it. We knew we would again need to turn over the car some time after the part came in, but agreed that whenever that happened we needed to get a rental car.

Fast forward a few months, after Brian’s visiting relatives have returned to the U.S. and we can make due with a smaller vehicle for a time. The person facilitating our auto repairs also set up a rental car for us so that we could still get around, shop, make off campus appointments, chauffeur Charlotte, etc., telling us that the mechanic would need the car for 10 days…Inshallah. Our monster of a vehicle (that Moroccan parking lines can barely contain) disappeared, and in its place the Fiat materialized…Well, in a small fraction of its place…a very small fraction of its place.

We actually did not have cause to drive it for several days after it arrived. Then last weekend, the end of the first of two weeks we expected to have it, we drove to Rabat for a Commissary run (see our post, from approximately two years ago, after our first Commissary run). Audrey said that when the Fiat got delivered she was told it would need gas, and it could probably benefit from putting air in the tires. Oh, and the driver-side window does not go down. No worries, we can manage such challenges. We got in — with Brian adjusting posture with lopsided shoulders and knees running a snug fit under the steering wheel — and fired it up to see that we probably had enough gas in the tank to get to a gas station, but not much more than that. Before we headed to get gas, though, Brian had to figure out how to drive this hybrid: not a gas/electric hybrid motor, but a standard/automatic hybrid transmission. The car has no clutch, but it has a stick that can go into neutral, reverse, higher gears (+) or lower gears (-), as well as slide off to the side to a spot marked “A/M” to run in automatic transmission mode (with no reverse in A/M, only in manual mode). We learned quickly that sometimes it takes a few times trying before it goes into Reverse, and that going into automatic mode requires holding the stick in the A/M spot for a while before it clicks in and the dashboard reads “auto” to indicate hands-free gear-changing success. Once Brian coaxed it into Reverse, we headed to the gas station and on to Rabat to buy Tostitos, pinto beans, bacon, and other expat delicacies.

The route to Rabat has two tolls along the way (again in reverse heading home). Because the driver’s window does not work, each time we came to a garde de péage (toll booth) Brian had to fix our trajectory in such a way that he could open the driver’s door without smashing it against the toll booth and with enough space to lean out and hand the 10 dhs or 23 dhs tolls to the toll-takers, but not so distant that he could not reach the far-outstretched hand of said toll-takers (who watched the laborious spectacle with perplexed expressions) even after unbuckling his seat belt. But we discovered the windshield wipers work very well, inshallah, because we have skipped Autumn and run straight into Winter’s rains that dumped buckets several times during our trip to Rabat and back. On the other hand, during yesterday’s mattress-buying quest, we discovered amid a suddenly and unexpectedly warm day that the red light indicating the fan’s air conditioning mode provided the only difference from mere blower mode because the air conditioner emitted no conditioned air. Audrey enjoyed rolling down the passenger window, but Brian endured the sun baking him through the driver window that does not go down.

We look forward to getting our gigantic Honda Pilot back with a leak-free engine, with ample space for shoulders and knees, with the ability to put down windows on both sides of the vehicle, and even with the option to leave windows closed and blast conditioned cold air out of the vents while driving on a warm day (even though Moroccans tend to eschew a/c, insisting that it makes people sick). Yet, we also know the expectation of such things is a luxury, and we are most fortunate to be able to enjoy them when we have them, inshallah. Meanwhile, unlike the shoehorning we have to do trying to park the Honda either on the curb or within the lines of a parking lot or garage not meant for so large a vehicle, we can park the Fiat pretty much anywhere. It reminds us to keep our expectations in check, that everything carries a mix of both more and less desirable qualities, and that whether those qualities seem more or less desirable often comes back to our expectations. Something GWA emphasizes with new expat faculty and staff during our newbie orientation is the line, “It’s not bad; it’s just different,” when encountering things here unlike how things exist in life somewhere else.

The Fiat speck-of-a-car came to us for 10 days…Inshallah. As we neared the end of Week Two, Audrey inquired as to when we might get our giant Honda back.

One more week…Inshallah.

On your mark…get set…here we go!