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My second summer in Morocco I was traveling from my town to Rabat, the capital city, when my worst bus riding fear came true.
The trip started out like any of the other multiple times I used the local bus service to get between towns. The system is actually far superior to many of the public transportation systems across the US. In my town I could show up to the bus station and be guaranteed within 1/2 an hour to be headed in the direction I wanted to go. Often this meant going 20 or 40 minutes to a near by larger city and switching busses. The 4 hour trip to Rabat usually involved one bus to the gigantic Casablanca bus station, and a switch to one of the many buses bound for Rabat. In the summer, the trip to Casa was a painful 3 hours across the Tadla Plain with outside temperatures hovering around 100 degrees and the only breezes coming from half opened windows. A popular bus route, I often had to fight to get a seat, sometimes faking ignorance as the drivers called out in Arabic...BUS FULL!!! NO TICKET? GET OFF. My fake lack of Arabic comprehension meant that I was almost always able to stay on the bus and buy a ticket once we started.
On this particular day, I arrived in Casa in good spirits and quickly found a bus heading to Rabat. After putting my Economist magazine on a seat to hold my place, and my large bag under the bus, I asked the driver how long it would be until the bus left as it was still empty, and busses to Rabat never leave when empty. He replied it would leave now. "Debba Debba? Ulla ashara dakayk?" (Now now? Or 10 minutes?) The buses always were leaving "Debba debba" although in reality that could be anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes away. He asked if I wanted a coke, and assured me I had enough time to grab a drink and come back. Off I went to get a much needed cold drink before settling back onto the metal oven baking in the African summer sun.
Not more then 5 minutes later, I returned to the parking lot to board my bus. While my Arabic reading was never very good, thus rendering me unable to identify the myriad of bus companies, my bus was bright green, quite the anomaly in the sea of standard white with various colored writing and stripes. After going up and down the bus row, one of the bus boys asked me which bus I was looking for.
"The green one to Rabat? Oh that one left."
"LEFT??? When did it leave??? I have the ticket...and my bag...my bag is on that bus! Does anyone have a mobile number for the driver?"
By now, my loudly panicked Americanized Arabic and super white skin had attracted a bit more attention from the loitering bus drivers and assistants. One of them helpfully suggested that since the bus had JUST left maybe it would still be stuck at the gate, or in line to get out. I remembered that the busses typically took at least 10 minutes to lumber their way around the parking lot to the exit, dodging food sellers, carts, donkeys and pedestrians. Usually, they stopped on the way out to fill up the seats as there was no use having a half empty bus travel to Rabat.
Realizing what a good idea this was, I took off running, along with the original bus boy to see if we could catch my bus. As we approached the gate, I could see the bus pulling out of the station and starting to head down the street. Computer bag strapped across my chest, a Diet Coke in my hand, and sweating in the sun and heat, I tried to increase my speed as the bus stopped a few blocks away at a red light.
"ZID! ZID! ZID!" (Go! Go! Go!) yelled the bus boy a few paces ahead of me, but the light changed and the bus turned. Ready to give up, I stopped in defeat. Not so the bus boy, jumping in front of an oncoming taxi, throwing me in the back seat and telling the taxi to FOLLOW THAT BUS! We were off.
I apologized profusely to the gentleman in the front seat whose taxi I had commandeered, as the taxi sped along the road just in time to see the bus turn onto the highway to Rabat. The high speed chase continued onto the highway as we pulled alongside the bus, taxi blaring its horn. The bus driver, understandably confused, slammed on the brakes as the taxi pulled in front of it, forcing it to stop in the middle of the highway. I jumped out, thanked the taxi driver, apologized again and grabbed some money from my purse, as the driver, bus driver and rider in the taxi all had quite a laugh.
"Where did you go?" asked the driver. This from the man who told me I had plenty of time to grab a drink. I made my way to my seat, still vacant with my Economist holding my place as all the people on the very full bus turned to watch my progress. After sitting for a minute to catch my breath and let the starers get their fill, I opened my hard earned diet coke … and it exploded all over me.