Sunday, December 07, 2008

Au Revoir au Maroc (guest post)

Au Revoir au Maroc
-a guest post from Karen Kindler

The short line to the outbound Moroccan passport control booth stalled as I arrived. An official pointed a balding German with raised voice and arms to the outside of the security barrier. Case closed. Go. The tourist went.

"Was ist los?" What's up? I asked the couple in front of me.

No immigration form.

Immigration form?! You need one leaving?!

I glanced back toward the security point and the rapidly growing line where the exasperated German squeezed out to look for whatever office had the required forms.

I stayed put. They can't mean me. Then it was my turn. They meant me.

I raised my eyebrows – not my voice – in helplessness. He raised his arm; his head began to drop in dismissal.

"Mais, vous n'avez pas de …?" I asked, pointing to a stack of cards on the edge of his desk. He blinked, huffed, then shuffled through the stack I pointed to … and found a blank form.

"Which flight are you on?" he asked in French. Then came another grunt, a raised finger, and instructions to complete the form where I stood, then break back in line when I was finished.

Now, I'm not a cute little girl with ample bronzed cleavage or someone with a name and position. Middle-aged, rumpled after days on a cross-country bus, and puffy with allergies that had kicked in again on the drive through the oases, it wasn't my physical charm that got me by.

It was a handful of French 101 words that caught his attention. They opened a door that English and German wouldn't have.

"Je suis americaine …" I had frequently confessed to questions during the week-long tour of the back roads of Morocco, at first unsure of the reception that revelation would bring in a Moslem country.

"Los Angeles!" or "Chicago!" greeted me.

"Mais non … Florida," I responded. Smiles, chitchat, invitations followed.

I spoke my simple French a hundred times that week. It got me directions and e-mail addresses, and allowed for unique glimpses into the lives of local people. It warmed them to me. I could feel it.

And the Germans in my tour group – most of whom had been to the States and could communicate in basic English – were thrilled to stick to German with me. They sought me out. I spoke their language. I could be trusted. And I could ask the local people questions for them, intercede with the bus driver, and order mint tea without a pound of sugar in it.

There is power in cleavage and money – short-lived and perhaps insincere (though I have neither in ample supply to really be able to judge) – but, a common language offered with a smile (even a puffy one) creates a bond beyond sex and profit – at least the opportunity for one. It can overcome religious, cultural, and political differences, and, even – sometimes – an overworked bureaucrat's first impulse to send a hapless foreigner to the back of the line.
Cool! N'est-ce pas?!

Read more of Karen's travel adventures in Stars and Stripes:
Vacation Club Deal leads to French Spa Weekend
A Month in a French Coastal Town Shows Total Immersion Has It's Benefits
Mallorcan Memories
On Top of the World

and more about her experiences in Morocco in Zaji magazine blog
Pursuit of Happiness
Mustafa and the Simply Bazaar - A Thrill Ride
A Sad Camel, A Failed Seduction and My Wish for World Peace

La photo: Karen Kindler

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