By Abdelmoula Elkhdar
By Abdelmoula Elkhdar
Morocco World News
Khouribga, Morocco, August 20, 2012
Commuting in Morocco by a Grand Taxi has always been a nightmarish experience; a physical and psychological trauma: worse, a death float. Traveling through this vehicle has proven to be a real tragic scene written by the minister of Public Transport, acted out by wretched citizens and directed by bad faith and bad drivers.
I’m kind of getting used to this experience as I commute on a daily basis between khouribga and Beni Mellal to attend graduate courses at Sultan Moulay Slimane University. Each time it’s a unique experience: a taxi has become like a Hammam (public bath) -a place of rehearsal for the hereafter because it could be one’s last day. It could also be the last minute in one’s whole life and what one has built in years might easily crumble like a sandcastle in front of their eyes.
It all begins when the driver would hit the road. The man behind the wheel, to avoid confusion, we shall name here a driver! He’s a middle aged man, with two false teeth. He doesn’t know what a seat belt means, that’s for sure. Many passengers and other drivers at the taxi stand call him ‘Smoke’. They are right to a great extent because of his driving maneuvers; he vanishes at anytime on the road among other vehicles and appears again like smoke, overtaking them from blind corners without any previous signal. Besides, what is unique about Smoke is the way he talks and the courage he has as he smokes inside the vehicle and the old music he plays each time he’s hitting the road.
The music is an old field-holler with one singer voice- usually a woman calls out and a bunch of people respond to her call. This type of songs is called “Aita” literally the call. It’s similar to the blues because singers use it to express their feelings while working in harsh conditions in barley and wheat fields. The singer in Smoke’s car was a woman with a coarse voice that filled the little space of this rusty vehicle. Smoke appreciated her glottal twang and that made him light his favorite cigarette -Casa- without asking the permission from any of his passengers.
In the rear view mirror, as I was sitting in the back seat, I see waves of smoke leaving his dark nostrils like the chimneys of an old coal industry. The trail of the smoke made his mustache yellowish at the exit of the nostrils. Smoke was content with his music, but smoke was suffocating the passengers! To show some last minute courtesy, he tried to roll down the window on his side but it doesn’t work and he has to use a screw driver to roll it down at shoulder level. Smoke kept the screwdriver between the glass and the steel to hold the window to that level.
We are six passengers plus Smoke jammed in this so called Grand taxi. Actually, it is a bit of squeeze for each and every one of us, except Smoke, to fit into this womb-like space, let alone move our limbs which have gone numb. Babies at least enjoy the possible movement in their mothers’ natural womb, but in Smoke’s womb we can’t. There is an undeclared civil war among passengers to win a little space to move a numb leg or foot. It’s a real gestation.
The cab is a 1986 old Mercedes- 240 with a broken shield, no seat belts and the roof is so rugged and corrugated. There is also no AC, no door panels and no air bags…nothings except for an insane cabby! The four windows are rolled down with the same manual technique now; one might think it’s a travel to Death Island!
The summer heat is broiling our faces and Smoke’s music is becoming a deafening ailment and real harassment. He’s now playing with something in his mouth. I think it’s a chewing gum, but it isn’t! I can see his square jaw in the inside mirror, his dark nostrils and half of his chin which looks like the pointed end of a sharp trowel. He’s apparently not chewing gum but he’s playing with his false upper teeth. He kept playing with them all the way and made us listen to his Aita.
Smoke doesn’t like back-seat drivers. Yet, he likes to talk to himself, which is quite abnormal. ‘You big mouthed people need to charter this whole vehicle or shut your mouth,’ He seems to tell the passengers, but nobody dares talk to him or defend themselves. ‘Go to hell, passengers, and I’m taking you there right away!’
The passengers, including myself kept silent for fear Smoke might go insane. He’s not into our driving lessons and pieces of advice, but we kept talking to each to derail him from his bad instinct .We had also to bear his coughing fits and the music emanating from the loud speakers in the rear of the car and on each door. I wonder why taxi drivers impose their favorite music on us.
As the vehicle moved Southward into the burning sun of Beni Mellal, gas and sweat mingled with the heat; the first emanating from the engine of the cracked vehicle and from the gas reservoir which doesn’t have a cap. Smoke is only using an old cloth to close the hole, but as he speeds up smell comes from it and invades the already polluted air of his hearse-like clunker! The second was stemming from our crammed bodies. The three passengers on my left exchange a tap water bottle; they drink and pass to the front passengers and finally to Smoke who poked his mouth and mustache like a pig into the dirty bottle. After he drained the bottle, he wiped his mustache with the sleeve of his greasy plaid shirt and lashed out a moan as if declaring an unknown victory!
The air inside the vehicle smelled of gas, armpits and feet. It doesn’t matter which expensive perfumes one’s wearing on Smoke’s vehicle. Every aroma will be conjured up into a foul smell as if by the power of magic. We, miserable passengers, had to adapt our natural inhaling and exhaling processes to this type of smell that keeps dangling in the confined space of this white damn box.
I grew especially anxious and impatient when Smoke picked up a little shabby bag of snuff from the faded dashboard and started stuffing his dark nostrils with a dark green powder. When he sneezed, he could hardly stay in control of the steering wheel and snuff mingled with mucus and spread on the broken splintered speedometer, on his dirty ear-dogged collar on his shaggy mustache. The latter turned greenish and yellowish at the area in front of the nostrils, a result of excessive snuff and smoke.
As we approached Beni Mellal’s taxi rank which is no different from Khouribga’s- graveled, littered and crowded- and our supposed arrival point when Smoke vehicle screeched to a halt. Through the rising dust and smoke my weary sight fell on six passengers getting themselves ready to get in Smoke’s taxi and world to live the self same experience of extreme human suffering and stripping of dignity for a potential trip; probably a trip to hell! My good silent self wanted to ask the passengers to buckle up, but when I remembered that there aren’t quite any seat belts, I just grinned when my eyes met the driver’s and told him in an ironic voice: “Hit the road, Smoke!
El khdar Abdelmoula graduated from Chouaib Doukkaly University of El jadida with a BA in linguistics. He had worked in many middle and high schools before he won the Fulbright scholarship to USA in 2007 to represent the Moroccan culture and teach Arabic at Mississippi Valley State University.
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