Nor Common Sense, Nor Crowd Control Shall Stay Them

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | Rabat, Morocco

Alicia's jeans were tighter than anything Morocco had ever seen.
Last week's full-speed-ahead east coast tour left me wholly drained, but was well worth the effort. After eight months here in Morocco, it was a treat to spend a week with family and friends.

Only two factors made my brief reintegration to American life difficult. The first was light switches being just inside, not outside, of each room. All week long I consistently found myself walking into dark rooms after having just turned on the light in the hallway behind me. The second, less mundane factor was English—specifically, the fact that everyone was speaking it. Here in Morocco, I have become very accustomed to hearing Arabic all around me, to understanding only bits and pieces of conversations on the street, and to detecting English spoken anywhere within a mile radius (a survival skill every expat must surely develop). All week in the US, I found myself snapping my head around, unable to control my "English?! Who said that?!" instinct. Like Jacqueline described
it after her last trip home, Grand Central Station was truly overwhelming in this regard. (In fact, New York as a whole was overwhelming.)

Upon arriving back at the Casablanca airport, feverish and leaking snot like a faucet, I somehow managed to run the authorities' swine flu detection gauntlet. One by one, a nurse ushered passengers before a tripod-mounted temperature sensor.

Miraculously, the gods of the bacon fever smiled upon me, and I was waved through.

* * *

Soon I was met with two surprises, one pleasant—the fact that Jacqueline had come to meet me—and one less so—the fact that I was back in Morocco. Somehow after just one week in the US I had forgotten all about the "joys" of crowds in this country.

Train rides, of course, are the worst. As soon as the train pulled in, the underground airport station exploded with passengers, self-appointed porters, pushcarts, and hulking suitcases. We boarded, rode to another station, and tried to disembark there. As always, passengers on the platform, over-eager to board, blocked the passage of anyone trying to get off the train. When we finally pulled in to Rabat, the same thing happened. Jacqueline, just back from a visit to sedate, orderly Jordan, just laughed as I struggled through the surging bodies, fuming and cursing the utter lack of common sense.

So much for "Morocco therapy".

* * *

Within a day or two, I had almost managed to forget I was back in Morocco. We spent the weekend hanging out with friends, chowing down on the bounty of Mexican food supplies I had brought back from the States. Best of all, we spent last weekend at the 2009 "Mawazine: Rythmes du Monde" festival. Friday night's Alicia Keys concert and Saturday's Stevie Wonder concert were held just up the street. Along with huge crowds of both Moroccans and expats, we attended both of the very impressive shows, pressing our way forward as close to the stage as we could.

The next afternoon, Jacqueline and I were enjoying a perfect afternoon on the beach with our friends Jon and Jen when I realized I had missed a call on my phone. The number was from England—Jen's mom.

"Are you ok?!" she frantically asked when Jen called back.

"Uhh, yeah, Mum, of course I'm ok."

"Well, we remembered you were at that festival in Rabat so when we hear about the stampede..."


* * *

Back at our apartment, we jumped online to check the news. Sure enough, while we had been shuffling and crooning along to Stevie Wonder's final notes the previous night, mayhem had broken out at another of the festival's venues across town, where Moroccan pop star Abdelaziz Stati had just finished his act. Surging to leave the stadium, the crowd of 70,000 had managed to trample to death 11 of their own and injure 40. While a number remain hospitalized, the festival organizers and local politicians are busy pointing fingers at each other.

Please forgive me and the rest of the jaded minority here in Morocco who was not shocked by the news of this tragedy. In some small way, we seem to live it every day.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Andrew, I'm glad you put in writing what we were all thinking (or, at least I was) about the role of Moroccan crowd control (or lack thereof) in the stampede.

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