Picking up from where we left off in Part One, with the successful start of Online School on March 18, we had no time to rest on our laurels. As in so many corners of the world, things changed daily for us in Casablanca and across Morocco. On Thursday the 19th the government declared that a State of Emergency quarantine would take effect the following evening, Friday the 20th, at 6:00 pm. After Friday morning’s Crisis Management Team meeting, Audrey messaged out to parents and staff that we would relax Online School activity that day so families and GWA staff could provision themselves for an uncertain quarantine of undetermined length.
We spent the next few hours coordinating with school teams to keep Online School on the rails while providing flexibility for people to get what they needed, and working with the HR team to answer questions from staff as best we could. Meanwhile, Charlotte made plans to visit us from her Oulfa house 10 minutes away so we could see her before the quarantine started, and so Brian could take her with him to the local pharmacy to get meds we might need resupplied over the coming weeks. When she arrived, she told us that she and Zak were not sure if they wanted to weather the quarantine at their home with Zak’s family or shift over to her old room in our apartment, a scenario we had offered previously. It made us happy to think they considered it, but we presumed they would prefer to stay at home with Zak’s family. Then, while Audrey kept working with HR to manage pre-curfew issues arising for staff, Charlotte and Brian went to the pharmacy at 3:00 pm in two cars so that she could return to Oulfa and he could go to the Marjane grocery store in the nearby Morocco Mall for final pre-quarantine supplies.
After getting meds for Charlotte, Audrey, and Brian, they said goodbye. Talking through the open driver’s window of Charlotte’s car, Brian stood on the street outside Pharmacy Badiaa and felt a knot of helplessness in his stomach as he thought how surreal things had become, and how this simple goodbye meant not knowing how long it would be before he would see our daughter again. Then he climbed into our car and they drove off in different directions.
Arriving at Morocco Mall, the beachside shopping center that is Africa’s largest mall, Brian thought the gray sky and stormy waves across the sand fit the suddenly-changed aura of the moment as mask-wearing people hurriedly pushed heavily-loaded carts toward the parking lot. Entering the mall, security had put up cattle gates to block anyone from going anywhere except Marjane. Understanding intellectually this pandemic’s place in history differs from registering the experience existentially. For a moment, things slowed down for Brian as he processed the scene. Then, checking his watch and seeing it was just 4:00 pm, he felt assured he could shop, pick up some extra things for Charlotte and Zak, drive to Oulfa to drop off their provisions, and get back home before the 6:00 pm curfew with plenty of time to spare.
Having brought disinfecting wipes, Brian wiped down the shopping cart handle and inside, then pushed it into Marjane. Having read about bare shelves in stores back in the U.S. due to hysterical people hoarding supplies (and others seeking to take advantage of the times as profiteers trying to sell thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer online through Amazon, Ebay, etc.) and having heard from a Moroccan during a Carrefour supply run a few weeks before (see our March 22 post “Dealing with Pandemics: COVID-19 Comes to Morocco”) that before too long Morocco’s stores would be as crazy as those in the U.S., Brian found Marjane to be rather well-stocked and not terribly over-run with people. We have noted through blizzard and hurricane hysteria from years living in areas prone to such, that people in the U.S. shopping for armageddon often tend to hit ailes with toilet paper, bread, milk, chips and other snacks, frozen food, and meat; Americans find security in grabbing prepared foods and things they can put in the freezer. Moroccans appeared to prepare for the sky falling by clearing out staples they can prepare like flour, sugar, and oil – all empty aisles – with a rather decent hit on produce and the butcher as well. Brian rolled through aisles and got the supplemental stock he sought for him and for Charlotte, then went to check out. As the clock kept ticking toward 6:00 there seemed more people queued at the cashiers than were roaming the aisles. Still, most people’s carts did not overflow with five-year supplies of everything. Everything and everyone operated in a pretty orderly fashion.
Brian paid and rolled the cart through Morocco Mall’s oceanside doors and along the walkway to the parking lot, checking his watch again while noting a few more daring people – some masked and some not – passed in the opposite direction to start their pre-curfew shopping as the clocked ticked to the one-hour mark. Getting to our car, he pulled out the key and hit the fob’s “unlock” button.
He pushed it again, holding it down because the fob’s old battery had been wearing down over time.
Nothing happened again.
We had encountered this before, so Brian knew that sometimes it took a few presses before the doors would finally unlock. At the same time, he also knew that if it did not work he had a problem. The 15 year old black Honda Pilot we drove for the last few years as the Head of School car had recently moved into automotive assisted living, and we had been driving another school vehicle – another 15 year old white Honda Pilot – to get us through our departure to Panama at the end of the school year. This other Pilot, in addition to having an old fob battery, had an engine key but no door key…which increased significantly the importance of the fob’s “unlock” button working.
And now with a pandemic-initiated curfew and quarantine starting in less than an hour, the importance of the fob “unlock” button working raced well beyond a merely significant increase.
Brian pressed once more…twice more…many times more. Not that he started feeling frantic at all; just a little bit frenzied…okay, a lot a bit frenzied…but not panicked. He could, after all, call Audrey and she could take one of the vehicles designated for apartment residents to come get him and the groceries; then they could worry about getting the car some time when the quarantine rules (still unclear how much clamp down we would encounter after 6:00) would allow. The detour to Oulfa was out, but he could get home and work on some way to get Charlotte’s groceries to her subsequently when circumstances allowed it.
He called Audrey to put that contingency plan into action.
She answered and said, “Brian, I’m in the middle of dealing with a mess right now and can’t talk.” Click.
Now he felt a little frantic…still not panicked, but definitely a smidgeon frantic. Oh, and his phone battery was dying. Not the best time for that.
He texted Audrey to tell her what was wrong, that the fob’s battery was dead, and asked her to please call him ASAP. In another minute, she called. Signal was bad, hard to hear each other and kept cutting out, but Brian laid out what he needed her to do. Despite holes in the conversation, Audrey said she would get on it and get back to him shortly.
Brian waited. Brian looked at his watch: 5:15 pm…45 minutes until curfew and who knew how serious authorities would be about people still out after 6:00 pm. As minutes ticked by, he left the cart by the car and walked to the edge of the parking lot to look out at the ocean. The stormy waters and gray sky that had foreshadowed things on his way into Marjane now signaled clearly that it was about to rain. Hmmm…locked car, cart of groceries, and rain do not play nicely together. Brian called Audrey again as the first few drops started to fall.
“I’m on my way with Abdellah,” she said, referring to GWA’s Transportation Manager, “And he wants to know if you have jumper cables in the car.” Since this was a regular call, not FaceTime, Audrey could not see the befuddled look on Brian’s visage. “We don’t need jumper cables,” he told her. “I can start the car if I can get into it, but the battery in the fob is dead.”
“I couldn’t really hear you, but we’ll be there shortly,” she assured him as their conversation continued to chop in and out.
Tic tic tic tic…
Normally it is five minutes from our apartment to Marjane, and at least 10 minutes had passed. Just as Brian was about to call Audrey again with his diminished phone battery and remind her that it was only due to luck that the raindrops so far had been only scattered, he saw the black Pilot – recalled from its furlough for a grand rescue mission – leading the cavalry as it coasted down the ramp from the road and across the parking lot to where Brian stood with the cart behind the white Pilot. In the black Pilot with Audrey was one of GWA’s bus drivers, and behind the black Pilot was Abdullah in his own car. Abdullah and the driver hopped out and asked Brian again if he had jumper cables in the car. Apparently the bad phone signal had let Audrey hear only “dead…battery” instead of “dead fob battery,” so they thought all the white Pilot needed was a jump instead of needing keys to get into it so Brian could drive it away. After a moment to explain that it was the fob’s battery instead of the car’s battery that was dead, Abdullah suggested we just load the groceries into the black Pilot and we head back home while he and the driver go back to school, get the other set of keys (that actually had a door key and working fob) from the HR office, bring them back to the white Pilot, and drive the white Pilot back to campus before heading home themselves to start the quarantine. We transferred the cart contents into the black Pilot, passed police on the streets on the way home, and drove through the gates of GWA with 20 minutes to spare.
On the way, Audrey told Brian that Charlotte and Zak had actually decided to spend the quarantine with us after all. So Brian’s extra shopping for them would not be for nought. When we got home and started bringing up groceries though, we found they had not yet arrived. We lugged everything from the back of the car up three flights to our apartment, and Brian looked at his watch: 5:52 pm. Just as he started to text Charlotte to tell her she had eight minutes to arrive before the curfew started, she and Zak walked through the front door with clothes and some other supplies to stay for the long haul.
So much had happened over just a couple days, and we had so many questions about what would happen going forward and how long it would all last. Still, we were safe, we had provisions, and we were together. We looked forward to having time to bond as an extended family with Charlotte and Zak living with us instead of in the home where they have lived since last June. And we were ready to discover what life under quarantine would be like for us, and for our school and the good people of the GWA community.
On your mark, get set, here we go!