Rabat - It might surprise my readers to know that one of my favorite things about Morocco is the ONCF. Yes, sometimes the train is so overcrowded that even standing on both legs is not an option! Yes, sometimes the clima does not work--even in first class--and you start to gently boil in your sweaty, sun-filled seat. Yes, sometimes the train is delayed for what seems like forever, with no explanation whatsoever. (I almost hate ONCF whenever I hear (tawakof ghayr motawaka3) "unexpected stop."
Rabat – It might surprise my readers to know that one of my favorite things about Morocco is the ONCF. Yes, sometimes the train is so overcrowded that even standing on both legs is not an option! Yes, sometimes the clima does not work–even in first class–and you start to gently boil in your sweaty, sun-filled seat. Yes, sometimes the train is delayed for what seems like forever, with no explanation whatsoever. (I almost hate ONCF whenever I hear (tawakof ghayr motawaka3) “unexpected stop.”
But I love the Moroccan countryside that passes through my window, shaded green and gold and red. Last weekend I took the train from Marrakech to Rabat, and crimson earth flashed out of the corner of my eye. Fields surrounded by cactus fences, horses peacefully grazing in the clover, forests sprouting unexpectedly. I see all states, all countries outside my window, and all climates.
Perhaps the best thing about riding on a Moroccan train is not what you see out the window, but the people who sit in the cars with you. I’ve met journalists, tourists from every corner of the world, Moroccans of all classes and occupations. One face, however, stood out to me from my travels.
On the way back to Marrakech, I sat in a second-class car, across from one of the most beautiful Moroccan women I have ever seen. Golden eyes in burnished skin, long hennaed hair, a wistful gaze on her face. And she was not only beautiful, but good hearted–when my angry seat mate yelled at me in Darija, she interceded on my behalf, offered to switch places with me, and shared her food with me. She embodied Moroccan kindness to strangers for me.
But she was so sad! For four hours, she gazed out the window, unseeing, a frown on her face and tears ghosting her eyes. I turned to her as the train was racing past Casablanca, and asked her about her life in Morocco and the reasons for her melancholy. She told me she hates Morocco, desperately wants to leave, hates the countryside that passes by her window, and sees this country as a prison that only a Western passport can help her escape.
As I listened to her, I flashed back to all of the many times I have heard Moroccans express the same sentiment. “I feel so trapped here!” “I can’t even get a Shengen Visa!” “America turned down my tourist visa application five times!” “I don’t have the money in my account to apply for a visa!” My good friend works at the American Language Center in Meknes, and she tells me that the number one dream of her students is to leave Morocco. This is an odd notion for me, because after I left in August, my number one dream was to come back to this country!
But as I thought about it more, and as I spoke to my lovely train mate, I began to understand: Part of the feeling of hating this country is the feeling of being trapped. I look out the train window knowing that being here is my choice, but she doesn’t. What is for me a paradise of options is for her a prison. I don’t dare to speak about the incredible complications of international immigration law, post-colonial economies, or straight-up racism. But I do know that her beautiful face, lonely with her faraway gaze, touched me to the core. So this article is dedicated to you, oh woman on the train. And to all of the Moroccans I’ve met on the ONCF, faces grey and withered, faces gay and fresh. You’ve made this country what it is for me: an adopted home. Because of you, the Morocco that I see out of my window is glorious. And I hope that as I write these articles for you, you begin to see through my eyes this land that I love, and begin to appreciate it anew.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed