28.07.2009 - 28.07.2009 85 °F
So, it's relatively easy to "do as the locals do", but way more challenging to feel COMFORTABLE in doing so.
It has been 4 weeks and 3 three days, and for the first time in my journey, I felt genuinely scared today. I wanted to make my final trip to the medina for some last-minute gift purchases. I decided to go alone since I wanted to be able to meander through the souks at my leisure, taking it all in, one last time. Instead of taking a cab, I decided to save money and travel as a local. So, I walked out of my house and waited for Bus 58 to swing by its stop. I have taken the bus a number of times before, but always with Jami, Kristen, or Natalia in tow. It should be noted, that it really is false advertising to call it a bus "stop"...since in order to board, one must literally get a running start, in order to dive through the open doors, before it passes you by.
Upon standing in the aisle of this "furnace on wheels", I am ushered up the third row to fill in the empty seat...but it's at this moment that I realize I'm in a situation that I find very frightening. There is a man who is every bit the personification of American-fear-based media. We have seen a myriad of such images coming from our televisions in the wake of September 11. This man is what one might think of when hearing the term "Islamic Extremist". He has a long and course salt-and-pepper color beard, he is wearing a white loose fitting kaftan, traditional yellow balghas on his feet (soft leather slippers), a white headscarf, and he is madly waving the Koran. But, that's not the scary part, as I see men who look like him every day here. The differentiation is that this man is shouting in Arabic so loudly it could wake a sleeping baby from the back of a bus...and he appears rabid with ANGER. He keeps referencing "Allah" and the "United States" and is getting more upset by the second and he is only standing two bus seats from me. I felt trapped, scared, and I feel the panic rising within me.
I start immediately fearing the worst, and through my darkened shades, I scan his trunk for extra padding.
Morocco prides itself on being a peaceful nation and there has only been one suicide bombing since 9/11. This was back in March of 2003 when 45 people were killed in Casablanca. So, while acts of that nature are rarities...it is in this moment...that I think...
What if he's strapped to a bomb under that flowing kaftan? What if he detonates himself in an act of martyrdom - and we are the evening news? What if he becomes a human missile and blows up this bus???
Although his chest and midsection appears to be void of anything detrimental, I am so freaked that I am even considering such a horrific thing. However, as I start to look around at the other passengers, everyone else on the bus looked about as interested as if they were watching paint dry. I knew that for my own piece of mind, I had to get off that bus as soon as possible, but how could something so frightening to me, evoke no reaction from others?
As the bus slowed near the next stop, I quickly jumped out and took a deep breath. While contemplating a cab, I wondered how much of what I saw was truly a situation about to go awry and how much of it is a "normal" occurrence here? Just then, another Bus 58 swung through, and I lunged on and we carried on towards the medina....except this time, the bus was void of noise. Thank God.
After doing my shopping, I once again hopped on the bus and made my way home, which was thankfully, uneventful. Upon walking through the door, I came upon Mohamed, our program manager. I told him detail all about my troubling bus ride and asked him what he thought. He replied saying, "Oh that's nothing to worry about - that happens all the time...those people preach about their beliefs and then walk through the bus asking for money." I counter saying, "Yeah, Mohamed...but, he was so angry. It didn't seem OK." He smiled and said, "It is nothing to worry about. In time you will get used to that type of thing and think nothing of it."
"That happened to me last week," shouted Olivia from the next room.
Nicole chimed in, "Me too!! But, now I just look out the window and tune it out."
I guess that experience was a potent combination of my not understanding his words, not having anyone to explain what was going on, the fearful images that have been ingrained in my mind since September 11, as well as being in a country and a situation so completely foreign to what I am used to.
While my bus situation was extreme, I am learning a lot about the culture, the language, and the daily interactions of the Moroccan people...and, in turn, I am discovering how I react in various situations, as well as feeling a whole array of emotions in the process.