grand taxi ride

Erika, Veronica, Thia amidst luggage in the back with Taoufik and me sharing the front with more luggage.

Last week, I slipped and fell near the bottom of the stairs at our new apartment. It was a good reminder to both me more attentive and to wash the dust from the stairs more often. I landed hard on my elbow and it bled quite a bit that evening.  The next day, in consultation with the Peace Corps Medical Office, I traveled to the nearest large town for x-rays, just to make sure it was not broken. The morning trip was ordinary, by Moroccan standards. After waiting for enough people to fill the taxi, six of us, plus the driver, piled into an older Mercedes to begin our cramped, hour-long journey. It was late morning, so the temperature was a mild 30°C/86°F. I was grateful that at least the front windows of this taxi opened, sometimes only the driver has a functioning window.

For the uninitiated, though large taxis, called grand taxis due to remnants of French colonization, are allowed to carry six passengers, that number of people don’t quite fit. The four in the back seat usually need to perform some mild contortionism with their hips and shoulders in order to accommodate each other. Where possible, women and men sit separately, lest there occur anything unseemly, and couples try to sit so that they are the ones touching the opposite gender. Same gender touching, unlike in America, is not a problem.

Grand taxis stand at the ready.

Grand taxis stand at the ready.

In the front, do be mistaken and assume there to be a bench seat. Instead, the two passengers in front share the single space of a standard front seat. Usually, this means the one on the inside must regularly move his or her leg to allow the driver to shift gears, since automatic transmissions are quite rare.

If inclined, there is always the option of purchasing an extra place. Sometimes, a women traveling alone in a taxi with only men will purchase an extra place in order to be alone in the front. Or, sometimes people are in a hurry and cannot afford to wait for the taxi to get enough passengers. Or, as in the photo us above right, if there is too much luggage to fit in the trunk, one must pay for the space it takes within the taxi.

Zween transport with CTM nationwide.

Zween transport with CTM nationwide.

After several hours at the clinic, it was time to return home, but the return trip presented its own challenges. Instead of a taxi, I opted for the bus. This particular one, I have taken several times These types of buses are different than an intercity bus or the very modern long distance bus companies like CTM. These are contracted buses that run between villages and cities and offer discounted trips for common routes. Commonly called market buses, or souk buses, these make runs several times a day with the intention of getting ordinary folks from place to place as economically as possible. Typically, these are fairly modern Greyhound-like buses, like the one on the left, though not usually as new. They may even be secondhand ones picked up from other companies.

The number of seats is the number of passengers allowed, just like any other longer distance bus and one is assured, though not assigned, as seat once a ticket is purchased. That being the case, often times at larger stops, there is a rush of people into the bus to lay claim to better, or paired seats. Luggage that does not fit into the tiny compartments above the seats or in the lap, must go beneath. This usually costs an additional 5 MAD, $0.50 USD, or so per large bag.

A typical souk bus.

A typical souk bus.

Perhaps the strangest part of this particular route are the two people who seem to have some sort of arrangement with the bus company. Once everyone is seated, the bus is turned off, and an elderly, fully-scarfed woman enters. She walks slowly down the aisle asking for alms. Once she has completed her trip from front to back, she exits out the back door a man enters carrying bundles of small packages containing his wares.

I don’t know the language well enough to understand his whole pitch, but essentially, he walks down the aisle preaching the benefits of small tubes of something equivalent to Ben-Gay that, I think, he claims cures headaches as well as other bodily pains. He offers free sample dabs for those who want to try it and indicates how they should massage it into the forehead. Once he’s canvassed the bus, he moves onto his next item a bar of soap that judging by his tone and gesticulations, is amazing for what ails you.Being a captive audience, there are inevitably people who purchase one or both, if nothing else than to keep him moving. The two people are the same every time I have taken this particular route. The man finishes when the bus starts its engine and we prepare to disembark.

Inside, it’s hot. I have yet to be on a souk bus that offered air-conditioning. There are tiny slide windows along the sides, but they are not always able to be opened. Still, there are usually enough that the airflow is sufficient for the hour-long trip. During this particular trip, however, our way was impeded by a huge piece of machinery traveling slowly down the highway surrounded by escort vehicles. Our bus slowed to a crawl, then came to a stop, on a particularly barren stretch of desert highway. For the next 30 minutes, as the temperature inside the bus increased, I could feel anxiety growing in my mind as my entire body began to ooze sweat..

Admittedly, I was freaking out a bit, especially with all the recent concern in America about children and pets being left in cars, but as I looked around, most of the Moroccans were just sitting patiently chatting with each other. None, it seemed, were as concerned as I was about the situation. So, rather than let my panic take hold, I decided to apply some meditative practice to the situation.

I noticed two competing urges that called to me:

1.) Aggression. I wanted to fix the situation. I felt a great need to look out the windows to see potential progress. I thought about fixing non-opening windows. I even had a brief thought of exiting the bus to speak with the traffic control. My ego was demanding satisfaction and control.

2.) Avoidance. I wanted to play with my phone. I fidgeted with my backpack. I took out some snacks from my pack and ate even though I wasn’t hungry. I guzzled water even though I wasn’t thirsty. I couldn’t sit still. I wanted something to take away my worry. I did not want to think about what was happening.

Then, as I regained some composure and began to focus on my breathing, I realized my discomfort was of my own creation. It was my worry that was feeding my dis-ease. Bodies sweat for this very reason, so instead of being concerned about the sweat, I observed it happening. Every out-breath brought greater fascination to the process and could feel myself relaxing. A smile broke across my face. I shared some of my snacks with people around me. I chose not to suffer.

Comfort is seductive. In the United States, we seek comfort relentlessly. It’s like our national past time. We treat it as if it were our birthright to have as much ease as possible. On the surface, it seems rational. We appear simply want to eliminate discomfort, to feel a sense of ease. Yet, by searching for comfort we create much the discomfort which we try to avoid. We become stuck in a cycle of creation and alleviation.

Comfort also dulls our ability to sense our experience. Sure, my back hurts as I sit here, hunched over on our bed, writing this on the one piece of furniture we own, but if I allow that sensation to occupy my consciousness, then I am reducing my present moment to simply struggle, to aggression and to avoiding.. I choose not to struggle or avoid. I have better things to do with my time, like be present.

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