• Emmy Ciabattoni

A Pedacito of Riding with a Stranger in Tangier, Morocco

Updated: May 21, 2021

We assumed we could catch a ride to Chefchaouen from the Tangier airport. When we landed, there were no buses or shuttles in sight. We hadn’t heard great things about the taxis and the Blue City was at least four hours away, so my friend and I gathered our things and huddled together to devise a new game plan.

The views from Chefchauen, Morocco are breathtaking
The views from Chefchauen, Morocco are breathtaking

A man approached us and asked if we needed help. Like any girl in a foreign country we said ‘no, thank you’, but he insisted. He confessed that he’d been watching us since we boarded the plane in Barcelona and was worried about us, two young girls, traveling alone in Morocco.


“I’m nervous for you,” he said, and then listed all the reasons we shouldn’t take a taxi.

“They will rip you off. You won't find a driver that speaks English let alone Spanish. And if you're dropped at the wrong place, it could be a dangerous place. With the language barrier, you're easily trapped. The driver can't help you, the Arabs can't help you...”


He slid his hand across his throat to perform a beheading gesture.


The bus seemed like the only option, but the station was 15 minutes away by car. He offered to drive us and a huge red sign blinked in my head: “DON’T TALK TO (OR RIDE WITH) STRANGERS. ESPECIALLY IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY.”


Anxiety clouded our minds, muddled our thoughts, and started blurring that blinking sign, so eventually, we accepted. We followed him out the airport doors and to his car where we threw everything—our bags, clothes, passport, phones, money, everything—into the trunk.


A dark figure ran toward us. The hunched shoulders and tired face of an elderly woman came into focus, and she threw her arms open to embrace the stranger. “Son!” she exclaimed. As they hugged, he scooped a little girl into his arms. A family man.

A great example of Moroccan grafitti
A great example of Moroccan grafitti

Before this trip, my dad and I had a conversation about what little we knew of the Muslim culture; we did agree, however, that they are families and people just like us. Noting America’s destructive relationship to Muslim countries at this time, the thought made me nervous. I could understand any other human being having hostile energy and intentions towards our people, or wanting some kind of payback for the discrimination we encouraged after 9/11.


As we all loaded into the car, I felt more settled in the presence of female company; but my hand rested on the door handle. I was ready to jump and roll at any moment.

“Girls, we're going to stop at my house.” said the stranger.


That's it. I'm dead. Get out. Now.


But anxiety locked me in place. We pulled into his driveway, surrounded by small, boxy houses piled on top of each other. His mother and niece climbed out. The mother leaned into my backseat window and asked, in Spanish, if we'd like to come inside for couscous. But before I could respond, the stranger said, “No, not today.”


Her long, wrinkly fingers reached inside and squeezed my hand as if to say goodbye.

Goodbye?


As the women disappeared into the house, I waited for the man to lurch backward, to tackle and tie us down. But instead, we drove and a new world flew by outside my window. I didn’t see the bodies of women in the streets, only sheets of black blowing in the wind. Children played in the desert grass barefoot. Men lay, sat, and ate in the dirty streets.


We arrived at the bus station and it was chaotic. Men were yelling in an unknown tongue and running in no particular direction. The stranger escorted us to the ticket stand, where he ensured that we got a fair price. He sat with us while we waited to depart the station.

We had some extra time, so he offered us weed.


My friend wholeheartedly accepted and I thought there was no way I was getting back in that car. Yet there we were again, on our way to a hidden side street where we parked. He pulled his suitcase into the front seat and just when I realized how wrong I was, how stereotypes had clouded my judgment...


He pulled out a knife. And here it is. We're finally dead!


He maneuvered the handle of his suitcase open with the knife and extracted a plastic baggie of weed he had apparently smuggled through the airport. We got a fair share and were on our way back to the bus station. We finally boarded the bus, safe and sound.

When we arrived at the Blue City, I reflected. I didn’t know where my fear came from—whether it was fueled by survival instincts or stereotypes. But we were two young girls in a foreign country, a country whose relationship with America had been damaged, and we were incredibly vulnerable. Yet despite my skepticism, this man showed us kindness. I can’t lose hope in the world because of stories like this.

The Moroccan stranger showed us so much kindness
The Moroccan stranger showed us so much kindness
 

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