60: The pleasures of the FLESH

I live and work in Morocco on a two-year teaching contract at an international school.  On our holidays, my husband (international man of leisure and chief, cook and bottle-washer) travel the country, just seeing what there is to see. We went to Tetouan, a city near the north coast of Morocco, also near a tiny foothold that Spain still has on the African continent, a small city called Cueta, or Sebta, in Arabic.

This lovely, scenic five-hour leisurely drive up to Tetouan traverses several mountains, affording us lovely views and nerve-wracking curves in the road, especially when our speed-limit-observing car is being passed by a speed-demon taxi driver. Moroccan taxis are interesting, whether you are in the inside of one or observing it from the outside. In Morocco, there are two kinds of taxis. The petit taxis are strictly inter-city taxis, and they are all small, quick little rabbit-like cars that are all painted the exact same shade for the city they operate in. Petit taxis in Fes are cherry red. In Meknes, they are all blue. In various other cities, they are all yellow, or all white, or all green, etc. Petit taxis are generally reserved for one party at a time, though they will stop and pick someone up if there is room and the original party does not mind. Those drivers don’t usually scare you too badly, and they are mostly nice and helpful.

Grand taxis, however, are another story. A grand taxi is an older model Mercedes sedan – the tank sort. They also are all painted the exact same shade for their home city. M’diq taxis are all white. Tetouan grand taxis are all aqua blue with a white roof. Ifrane’s taxis are all an ugly olive-green. Grand taxis don’t depart for their destination until all available passenger seats are sold. That means that FOUR people are sitting all squashed together in the back seat (designed for three), and TWO more people are squashed together in the front bucket seat (designed for one) beside the driver. That means six passengers and the driver. Sometimes the wait for the last seat or two to be sold takes quite some time. Once all seats are sold, the taxi departs for its destination. Grand taxis travel intra-city, meaning from one city to another, not to destinations within the city – that is for petit taxis alone. Taxi drivers do not poach on each other’s territories. Mostly. And because the grand taxi drivers get paid by the number of trips times the number of passengers, they are always in a devilish hurry to get to their destination, discharge their human cargo and pick up another load of people for the return journey. And I do mean devilish. They will scare the ever-living daylights out of you.

I have seen them pull out to pass, on a curve, with an impossibly short distance between them and an oncoming truck. Apparently this is expected, because the vehicle being passed and the oncoming truck generally edge to the sides of the road, horns blaring, creating a skinny “middle” lane for the opportunistic taxi driver. I usually just don’t watch, if I am inside the taxi. Outside the taxi, driving your own car, however, that is not a good strategy. I have hit the verge more times than I can count, trying to get out of the way of the impending collision, which of course, never actually happens – at least, not yet. And grand taxi drivers are NOT nice and helpful. I have said things to some of them that my mama would have slapped me for.

So, crazy taxi drivers aside, we were enjoying the scenery on our drive to Tetouan, and we topped this little hill and descended into a lush river

valley that had a picturesque

trestle bridge crossing the scenic river. On either side of the road leading up to the river, planted in the rich soil of the flood plain, was a luxuriously green, luscious-looking orange grove, dotted richly with bright orange spheres peeking out from the dark green leaves of the trees. Naturally, there were roadside stands selling the fresh-picked oranges from these trees. Now, my husband was born and raised in Florida, the home of miles and miles of citrus groves. No way was he going to pass up fresh-picked citrus from the only orange grove we had seen on the whole trip. We hit the verge even faster than we do when there is a taxi passing.

The orange vendor had several bushel crates of oranges stacked up, and a nice display of fruit for show. There was a Moroccan purchasing his own oranges ahead of us, and he spoke English, so he very nicely explained to us that the bushel crates of oranges cost 60 dirham – about $7.07 US – for a bushel of fresh-picked navel oranges that were huge, fat, sweet-smelling and gorgeous. The vendor was less than happy at this revelation from his previous customer, because he had marked us as rich American tourists, too, and was obviously hoping for a little better profit out of us than he had gotten from the Moroccan. But, he was decent about it, and we decided to purchase a whole bushel, too.

As the three stuffed-full plastic shopping bags were transferred to our car, I said to the vendor, “Shokran, sidi,” which means thank you, honored man (mister – title of respect). He answered, “La shokran, laila,”  which means you’re welcome (no thanks necessary) princess (female title of respect). We absolutely FEASTED on navel oranges for miles and miles. The car smelled glorious from all the orange peels, and we were stuffed and happy for the rest of the trip!

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