In Casablanca the honking streets are full of ‘petits taxis”, which are basically battered red Peugeot 205’s which have seen better days, with an iron bar into which the seats rest. No seatbelts. The law allows you not to wear one, but even if you wanted to, finding one is rare. People prefer to sit behind the iron bar. The rides are cheap. Maximum three passengers, and if there is still place the driver may pick up other passengers, if they are going the same way. This is nice for mingling with the locals. Since everyone except for the least educated people speak French, communication is easy.
What does that piece of writing say?
It’s a prayer for travellers.
Oh, so it’s for us then?
No, not for you, you are Catholic aren’t you? This is only for Moslims.
Don’t you pray for anyone who is non-Moslim?
No we can’t. It’s only for Moslims. I don’t want to talk about it.
At which point the lady next to me specifies: we do pray for other people, don’t worry. It’s not the way he says, it’s hard to explain. But Non-Moslims are not allowed to read the Koran, really, and you have to be clean.
At which point the driver ejects us at our destination.
Ooh! A boat! Look, I’ve got a boat brooch on too, I got it in Prague where there is no sea.
What does it say in the middle of the boat?
It’s a prayer. It’s for Moslims. I presume you are Catholic?
No, I’m English. (wrong answer!)
At which point we drive past the American Embassy which has commandeered half of the street and has containers filled with geraniums for protection..we travel in a week of heightened alert and thankfully nothing untoward happened in that dept.
Your country made a big historical mistake, you know.
I know, but you know one million people protested against the war? Not everyone in Britain agreed with that disastrous decision.
Still, Tony Blair will go down in history as a fool. You know, it’s not even The West or the United States who dominate the world; the world is simply colonized by money and it's everywhere. The Arab nations are part of it as much as any other country.
This conversation was held as we headed to the Belgian Consul’s house for a garden party celebrating the national holiday. It is amazing how Belgium becomes an entity (ie something whole) when abroad. Something it struggles to do internally. As we got out of the taxi our museum director friend gave him 20 dh for the ride and 10 for what he said. This could be construed as colonialist given that last comment, but I assure you it was a kind, elegant gesture. He was a nice man and this made him happy. Phew. I was worried about him for a moment. He seemed so sad. About the state of the world in a powerless kind of way.
There was the taxi man I told to calm down when he got annoyed with me for telling him where to go. We ended up laughing because we had both lived in New York and both loved and hated the place in equal parts, but possibly loved it more than hated it because we both said we missed it. And he missed working for dunkin’ donuts as a computer man. He said he particularly missed the donuts.
There was the taxi man who worked every day except on Sundays. He was looking forward to Sunday. He also asked me if I was Catholic. Next time I shall wear a t-shirt which says: No, I am not a catholic, a protestant, a Buddhist, a jew, a Jain, a Moslim, I am a bona fide human being just like you, and I like it that way and I think you are very nice too, and headscarves are okay I think, I wear things on my head too sometimes, although when it’s hot I don’t like to cover myself up if you don’t mind, but I hope I don’t offend you by being my beautiful self, and I respect your choices please can you respect mine. And sometimes I even smoke cigars. And I pray for Moslims too and sufism has taught me a lot and rumi is my favourite poet as well as Emily Dickinson, and please let me read the Koran, as I might learn something new.
Or I might just wear a penguin suit.
Cars don’t stop for pedestrians, by the way.
NB. I am not so much bothered about the conversations themselves, which are a delight, and a discovery, always, but the black/white contrast in expectations can be a little disconcerting. It is interesting to find that the only alternative to being Moslim is being Catholic.Which must be the kind of polarities of perception that immigrants meet while living in Europe all the time.
The best taxi ride was after the hammam, with my new friend Bérénice. Going to the hammam together is an excellent basis for friendship. And rekindling them, if I remember *Istanbul* last year! :)It's something about the shared experience of being scrubbed and pummeled, and basically letting everything go. The ladies doing the pummeling said: should we say Madame or Mademoiselle? I said I didn't know. When do you become a madame? The lady pointed to her chest and said: when you get boobies as big as these. Neither B. or I qualify in that department so we settled for still being demoiselles.
We got into the taxi and B. got out her I-pod. Soon we were whizzing down the boulevard listening to all her crazy music, a mixture of Gnawi rhythms, Marvin Gaye and finally, Nina Simone: it was that song I posted earlier: Ain't got no... I got life. This was the best!!!!
There was a strange electric blue light in this p'tit taxi. The driver looked a bit worried in the rear view mirror, and then smiled, and it seemed some people didn't want to get in to join us, and the car was probably bouncing with our dancing, but we had the most beautiful ride through the city.
So we are coming back.
Hasta la proxima!