I was warned, when I first moved to Morocco, that I should not expect to accomplish more than one, or maybe two things on any given day. One could, for instance, go to the doctor or to the bank, but not on the same day. Or even the same weekend. You see, businesses close when they’re not supposed to be closed, or the roads to said businesses close, or the parking lots close, or the place you think you need to go turns out to be entirely the wrong place altogether. Street addresses, if they exist at all, are not always chronological (this I learned on a five-hour dermatology expedition). And, if you do manage to a) find, b) access, c) park near, and d) enter your establishment of choice, it’s entirely likely that whoever’s inside won’t be able to help you anyway. You need to go to the other location, they say, or bring some obscure document, or (most commonly) COME BACK TOMORROW.
I had a small taste of this just a few weeks ago, when I attempted to go to the doctor and the bank on the same day. I got to the clinic (a different dermatologist, because I’m certain I could never find the first one again), and they told me I was an hour late.
“Your appointment was at 11,” they said.
“No, it was at 12:00,” I said, “and it’s now 11:50.”
“You must wait.”
“Could I leave and come back in a few minutes?” (anxious, of course, that the bank will close).
I waited. I dermatologized. And then I roared to the bank, and got there ten minutes early, only to find that it had already closed. No matter, I thought, I’ll try for Bank #2. It’s kind of on the way home. Kind of. And I can get there in five minutes, I’m sure.
But I should have known better than to think I could actually accomplish two separate tasks in the same day. It was the parking guy who clued me in. “Bon courage!” he grinned as I made my way from my precarious parking job to the imposing doors of the bank.
Really, I should have been thankful that I’d even made it to the clinic.
Perhaps that little mini-story will provide some context for today’s saga, in which I attempted to Accomplish Many Things on a Saturday.
First, I went to the gym. I did a yoga class and my whole head turned red from being upside-down too much. Then I went for a swim (my first of the season, because we are finally having the tiniest of heat waves). After my swim, I sat by the pool and read a chapter of The Jungle Book. I drank tea, had a shower, and bought a bottle of fancy juice. All of this, however, only counts as one Thing, because I was on the same property the whole time.
Normally, my Saturday outing would end here. If I were feeling ambitious, I’d stop at the mall on the way home and buy water, or some other dire necessity. But not today. No, today, I was going to plunge even deeper into the city, and attempt to have my photo taken for my Chinese visa application.
Success! Can you believe it? I found the photo place, found a parking spot, entered the photo place, had my photo taken, paid for my photo, and communicated, en français, that I would be back later in the day to pick it up.
There. Two errands. I have already exceeded expectations. I should call it a day, right?
No. I had another appointment, you see. I do a language exchange from time to time with the son of a friend. He practices his English on me, and I practice my French on him. This, too, I accomplished, with only a few stupid wrong turns (linguistic and otherwise).
You see, I was fascinated when my young scholar told me that he had visited an orphanage for Sikh children in Fez. Really? There are Sikh children in Fez? I’ve never seen a single Sikh person in this entire country. I wonder how they all came to be orphaned in Fez?
No, Natasha. Sick children. Malade. There is no short “i” sound in French.
Thus illuminated, off I went, ready to embark on a gutsy Errand #4.
This next task would bring me even deeper into the dreaded City, to an oasis of a neighbourhood that harbours fresh fruit, European groceries, a liquor store, a bookstore, a hardware store, and the ever-popular Nut Guy.
Once again, I located the neighbourhood, parked the car, and set about my tasks. At the quaint little hardware store, I got not one, but two new watch batteries for two separate watches. This, in itself, is an accomplishment. Both my regular watch and my back-up watch stopped about a month ago, and I’ve probably looked in a dozen stores for teeny, tiny batteries, with no success. Even the guy at FNAC (our little mini-Futureshop) was useless. He couldn’t get the watch open to begin with, and scowled at me when his feeble attempt resulted in a scratched fingernail.
So, the little hardware store in CIL (which is pronounced “CL” for who-knows-what-reason) was my last and best hope for ever being able to tell the time again. And sure enough, they did it. By “they,” I mean two beaming guys, who opened Watch #1 effortlessly (they used a knife, you see), rummaged through two Tupperware bins of miscellaneous loose batteries, and (after much squinting and a few trips outdoors) located precisely the miniscule battery that I needed. I used the knife to open Watch #2 myself, and they searched the bins with equal success. Glory be! I don’t have to wait until I’m back in Canada to know if I am running late! Fantastique!
What was my errand count now? Four? I was feeling giddy.
The Fruit Guy was there, so I bought bananas, oranges, pears, apples (two kinds of apples!), and an avocado. The Nut Guy was there, so I bought almonds and dates. Because that is what one does when the Nut Guy is there. And he is always there.
And then, laden with produce, I marched into the liquor store (if you can call it that), and stocked up on those ex-pat beverages that will be utterly inaccessible in a week when Ramadan starts.
I walked back to the car, where I bought moldy strawberries from a guy I had previously evaded with a little half-truth (“Après, inchallah”) – but of course these guys never forget, and there he was, waiting on the curb to thrust not one or two, but three packages into my hands (and a fourth, which was gratuit). A year ago I would have put my foot down. But what the heck. The guy’s just trying to make a living. It won’t kill me to buy $3 worth of berries.
Now. I have so far achieved a decent downward dog, a dip in the pool, a photo shoot, a language lesson, a battery exchange, a produce bonanza, and a wine run. I should stop, right? I should just go home. I have already set some freak cosmic event in motion with this unprecedented string of successes. I should go home, before the ground opens up and swallows me and my berries whole.
But no. I am so close to this other neighbourhood that I’ve been meaning to check out. It’s just a few blocks away. I just want to drive through it. I’m not going to stop. Just drive up and down a few streets to see if, hypothetically, I could ever see myself living in this beast of a City.
Oh, darn. I can’t turn left here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Shoot. Now what? Oh, here’s a bigger intersection. I’ll turn here. If I don’t, who knows where I’ll end up? Yeah, yeah, quit your honking, everyone. Just let me in. Easy, easy, there. I did it. This is going so well. One more left turn and I’ll be in the hypothetical neighbourhood of my choosing.
Or, maybe not. In general, I find the gestures of traffic cops maddeningly vague in this country, but this guy is waving me over with impeccable clarity. Oh, boy. Here we go.
Now, about the same time that I was warned to never try and accomplish more than one thing on any given day, I was given three pointers for dealing with officers of the law: 1) Speak English. 2) Ask for a ticket. 3) If you have blond hair, wave it.
The latter I could not do, because I have been trying (in vain) to blend in with the masses by darkening my hair. But “Speak English”? That I can do. Play dumb. Pretend I don’t understand a word he’s saying. Wait, that’s not so hard. I don’t even need to fake a look of dazed incomprehension. I practice it every single day here. It just comes naturally.
Apparently I have committed not one, but two infractions. The first was an illegal left turn. “Oh, really, officer? Was there a sign? I didn’t see a sign anywhere. Oopsies…”
The second infraction was carrying an expired document of some sort. The paper in the glove compartment says, “Nature et date de la prochaine visite: Visite technique, le: 05/04/2017.” There are photos of wheels and various statistics about suspension and whatnot. Looks like the receipts I get from the mechanic in Canada, with a friendly reminder of when to book my next scheduled maintenance appointment. You know, “six months or 10,000 km, whichever comes first.” Is there some kind of inspection that we’re supposed to have done once a year?
I don’t know. I have no idea. Whatever it is, it’s a 700 dirham fine, plus another 400 dirhams for the illegal left turn.
“What should we do?” asked the policeman.
This is where Pointer #2 comes in: “I guess you need to write me a ticket.”
The policeman shifted his weight a little and smiled gently. Yes, gently. He was a kind soul. But his English was a little too good to let me go on linguistic grounds, so I assume he was expecting a negotiation.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked again.
Well, this is awkward. Do I say, “I want you to not give me a ticket?” Because I don’t think I’d say that in Canada. And I don’t think he’d be asking about my preferences, either. Or do I say, “I want you to write me a ticket,” when, in fact, I do not?
“I guess you’ll need to write me a meekly,” I suggested timidly.
“For which infraction? There were two.” He took out a bulky notebook from his satchel and showed it to me. “See? This is the list of 400-dirham infractions.”
“Okay,” I said dumbly. “I guess I’ll take that ticket.”
“Do you have 400 dirhams here?”
“In my car, I do.”
(You see, I’d exited the vehicle when he invited me to come and have a closer look at the alleged no-left-turn sign, which of course you can’t see on the other side of the intersection anyway.)
“Where are you from? What do you do? Oh, you teach music! You’re from Canada!” Small talk. He’s smiling. I’m confused. Has someone made a decision? Who was it? I maintain my look of dazed incomprehension. It is so easy. It might be permanent.
I get in the car. I pull out 400 dirhams. He tells me that he’s pardoning my infractions, this time, but I must go and get my paper updated. “Okay, I will,” I said. “This week. Hey, by the way, can I turn left up there?”
And off I went, making what I think was a legal left turn at the next intersection, and heading back the way I’d come.
“I should just go home now,” I thought. “That would be the reasonable thing to do, having just escaped my first brush with Moroccan law. Really, I should just go home and recover.”
But no. I wanted to drive through the neighbourhood, and I’m finally in the neighbourhood, and I’m not lost, and I’m not in jail, so just go around the block already. And so I did.
“I don’t think I’d want to live here,” I thought. “Too many cars. Too much concrete. Too many one-way streets. Too much congestion. Let’s get out of here.”
Which I did, without further incident. On the way home, I stopped at the photo shop again, and picked up my photos. And then, a mere eight hours since I had first left my apartment, I returned home, hauled my wares up three flights of stairs, and ate my moldy berries.
Gym. Photo. Language lesson. Hardware store. Fruit guy. Nut guy. Booze guy. Police guy. Photo guy again. That adds up to, what? Nine successful events in the course of a single day. In my wildest dreams, I could only have hoped to accomplish eight. The policeman was a bonus.
Morocco, Morocco, what can I say? What sly jinns are in the air, to allow me not eight, but nine successes in a single day? Do I dare go out tomorrow?
I must. I have obligations to attend to. But first, I think, it’s time to render myself un peu plus blonde!