By Hicham Zerhouni
By Hicham Zerhouni
Chicago – After spending a great vacation with friends and family in Morocco, it is time to go back to America…
Like all Moroccan expatriates, each time I leave Morocco, I get a strange feeling that I still have not gotten used to despite spending 15 years abroad. Leaving family and friends behind pushes us to reflect on our lives and future. It urges me personally to review my life’s path on the plane. However, this time the reflections were much different. I was a victim of a corruption in Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca.
I had a reservation with Turkish Airlines TK0618 leaving Morocco on March 2nd, 2015, at 14:30. After checking in my luggage, the airline counter employee informed me that my luggage exceeded the permitted weight, an experience I have gotten used to each time I leave Morocco, as my mom insists that I take with me some of Morocco’s finest sweets (Chebbakia, Briwates and Kaab Ghazal) to share with friends in the USA and to connect my 1 year old son’s taste buds with the flavors of his ancestors back in Morocco.
At the check-in counter, the employee was very nice and understanding. She recommended that I put the excess weight in my carry-on luggage to avoid paying $80 extra. I thanked her and did as she recommended. I gave one box of sweets to my friend, and put the other in my carry-on. When I approached the door of Terminal 1, before entering the passport control room, I was stopped by a young man in his late twenties or early thirties. He had braces on; I wasn’t able to get his name, because despite the mandate from the Moroccan National Office of Airports that all employees should wear their badges, I noticed that most of them put on the badge backwards so no one can read their identifying information. If you ask someone about his/her name, they look at you suspiciously, and smile jokingly so not to provide a name. This employee was the one responsible for verifying the airplane ticket to let you enter the passport control room. Next to him was a dark skinned policeman who was mentally absent, because either he did not care, or he was an accomplice in the wide spread corruption. There was also another employee with glasses on.
I was politely stopped by this “Scale Guard,” who asked me to put on my carry-on luggage on the scale which read 10 kilos. He smiled mischievously and said “Your carry-on is 2 kilos overweight.” I told him that I had tried to pay for this extra weight, but the time was very tight as it was already 14:00 and my flight was on 14:30. So if I tried to go back to the Turkish Airline counter, I would definitely miss my flight, which he confirmed as well.
He approached me calmly and said “how much were you going to pay for this extra weight.” I replied $80. He smiled and said “I will try to help you.” I took a deep breath and thought he took into consideration the delay and the fact that I might miss my flight if I went back to the check-in counter. I asked: What can I Do? He said “I do not want you to pay $80; I will try to help you. How much would you like to pay?” I thought I misunderstood for a second. I said I usually pay with a credit card. Up till this moment I thought he was trying to help… He interrupted quietly and said “There is an ATM not too far from here, you can go withdraw the money and put it in the box used to check the size of the luggage by me.” I realized here that he is asking for a bribe! I got very upset and my face got red as every time I get upset. I waved to my friend who drove me to the airport as he was still there waiting for me to enter the passport control room. He approached me wondering… I told him that the employee is asking for a bribe to allow me to cross to the passport control room in terminal 1. He looked at me astonished as he knows my stance against corruption and said “what are you going to do?” I put my hand in my pocket and got 100 Dirhams and gave it to my friend. I approached the employee angrily. The second employee who was wearing glasses said “don’t get upset.” All this happen while the policeman was following carefully.
I told the “Scale Guard” that I cannot give him any bribe and I prefer paying $80 than give a bribe as this is against all my values. He approached me and said “This is how things go in Morocco” and that he will share the bribe with the other employees to let me enter the passport control room. I began raising my voice, picked up my luggage and started to enter the passport control room in a jerky movement to attract some attention and in hope that the cameras pick up something as they were trying to calm me down.
I told him that my friend will give him the money after I enter the passport control room, as I know that he has no authority past that point. I winked to my friend who understood what I wanted to do, and said “I will take care of it…”
As soon as I entered the passport control room, my friend called to make sure that I gave him 100 Dirhams as a gift to his son Suleiman who calls me Uncle every time he sees me, and that was a trick to buy some time until I go through. I got on the plane with tears in my eyes and strong pain on my throat to what Morocco has reached. After I got on the plane, I tried to reflect on my life and future, but I found myself writing these lines so that I could eat my lunch and to stop the tears from dripping because of the corruption I witnessed in my home country.
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