tirsdag 9. august 2011

The kindness of a stranger


Broad, dusty street in a town somewhere along the road between Inezgane (Agadir's transport hub) and Laâyoune in Western Sahara.

Hamoud was the first to teach me anything about camels except what I had read in a book: "A camel can smell water from far away. If you ever run out of water, stick to the camel no matter what happens," he said.

I was lazily looking out the bus window. There was nothing there, except some sand-drizzled bushes spread out like rocks in a flat no man's land. It was Hamoud's landscape, here he was at home and I was definately on strange ground, completely devoid of any survival skills. Now, at least I knew one thing: stick to the camel, more experience would come later on.

From here I would have to manage alone anyway. Hamoud and I had been sitting beside eachother all the way from Inezgane, for several hours the skinny Saharawi with donkey teeth and I had kept every hint of the monotony the landscape offers away; we had conversed on music and death, the dream of Europe and Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, we had been singing, and Hamoud had assisted me in bying my first ever turban in Goulmine where the bus stopped for a break. Now our acquaintance was over, he and his sister were set for Tan Tan, while I wouldn't rest until Laâyoune.

Roadside café in Morocco.

"Join us for tea. Laâyoune is a long journey from here," Hamoud insisted before going off in the outskirts of Tan Tan, but I turned the offer down. My ticket held a promise of even more miles towards the south, and I wanted to push on. Little did I know about how lonely I would feel once at the bus station.

There it all stopped. Every rice bag and bulging suitcase was unloaded from the bus' hold, and one after another my fellow passengers disappeared into the low, square brick buildings of the town. I was the only one still there. And the ticket collector. After some hesitation I approached him.

"There is no bus from here to Laâyoune," he replied.
"But I hold a ticket there, from your company," I complained, ready to hand him the paper note I had been clutching since I realized that something was brewing; on the note it surely read "La-y---e", even though the hand writing would have made even a blind doctor blush.

"Let me see!" the ticket collector commanded and as soon as I opened my palm in front of him, he pinched the note, and studied it short-sighted only to tear it into pieces before my eyes, small piches of paper that he let fall to the dust and earth; my ticket! I mumbled some phrases of kind-of-french from my Linguaphone but the words refused all intelligent shape. I had to resign. I would have to continue on taxi brousse.

Taxi brousse, grand taxi, bush taxi
- depending on where in Western Africa you are travelling - have one advantage: The driver will never screw you (except sometimes by demanding you pay for your luggage). The con is that they won't drive until full, and that the drivers have an understanding of the word full that differs substantially from ours; in "my" Mercedes Benz we would be four people squeezing into the back seat while a married couple was sharing the passenger seat in front.

While waiting for the last two seats to fill up, I couldn't help from missing Hamoud, regretting my rush to get to Laâyoune, which I had no pressing need to reach until at least the next day.

I also thought that there was a lesson to be taught: Never decline the kindness of a stranger. Or alternatively always doublecheck the tickets before you buy them.

The market in Goulmime, where the bus stopped for a short break.

Sunset - time for prayers.

Three in the front seats and four in the back, that's the way in a Moroccan bush taxi.

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