After staying up way too late the night before, 6:00 am came earlier than I was expecting. I squeezed my pillow around my ears as the whistles blew, trying to delay the inevitable. Field trip day was upon us, and it was imperative that we got an early start so as not to miss one second of our schedule. Morocco, as with other places, is in love with the concept of hurry up and wait. I could tell from jump that today was going to be one of those days.
As the campers and volunteers alike sleepily munched our bread and jelly, and drank coffee and tea (can never have enough tea) our transportation pulled up. Five public school vans. These vans have a normal big front seat, and in the back there is a bench down the middle and two benches along the sides with not a single seat belt for the entire contraption. Being a veteran of these field trips, I wisely sat up in the front seat ensuring at least a little distance between myself and the campers. I was hoping Amy or Caitlin would come sit next to me so I could chat them up for the trip, or even better, have a shoulder to rest upon. I got Samira. Samira is plenty nice, but far from my first choice of seat mates. She was not on this trip to sleep. Rather, she was interested in leading chants and playing a giant drum the entire way up. We left at 7:15 and the drumming began.
Our destination was Zaouit Sidi Hamza. If everything worked out, it was only an hour and a half from our Centre. This place is gorgeous, with a giant cave at the end of a 7km hike. Predictably, our schedule went to shit. As we entered the mountains outside of Errachidia the kids in the backseat started looking awfully green. After about 20 minutes our whole convoy pulled over to the side of the road and kids started running from the vans. Alex asked me what was going on but we didn’t wait long to find out. A dozen or more kids yuked all over the side of the road, and came back looking clammy and exhausted. Poor guys. Eventually we got back on the road. Our forward progress was short lived. Every 20 minutes or so until we arrived we did this same song and dance and surprisingly there was still throw-up to be thrown up when we finally arrived FOUR HOURS LATER. I have been on plenty of long, unpleasant road trips in this country but the combination of drums and sick kids made for a most painful morning.
Once we arrived at 11:00 am everybody was herded up, sick or otherwise and set to marching. We took off on our hike which was actually quite beautiful. I was talking with a boy named Moad about his future plans and felt like we were really connecting until I did what I always seem to do. My ankle predictably rolled right over on a rock and I knew I was done for.
“Charley, are you okay?”
“Can we help you?”
My ankles have been so bad since high school that I should no longer be upset when bad things happen to them. Easier said than done. I was pissed. I tried to go on for a little while but knew pretty quickly that it was a no-go. Instead of doing further damage and putting myself out of commission for the rest of the week, I started limping back down the slightly graded hill. It was slow going, but we had been slow on the way up so after about 45 minutes I was back at the starting spot. Wasn’t I?
I looked around at where I was almost positive the vans had left us. Nothing. Walu. I was pretty disturbed. I was at the foot of this village without a clue as to what happened to our transport, or where to go from that point on. I figured that everybody would have to come back the same way once they had made it to the top. I posted up against a rock and pulled out For Whom The Bell Tolls. I read a fabulous passage about the last stand of a guerrilla leader named El Sordo. He and the remaining members of his band had been chased up a hill and were now fighting off the fascist army’s attempts to kill them. The main character of the book, Robert Jordan, is on another mountain and can only distantly hear what is happening to his cornered compatriot. El Sordo and his men last for a few valiant hours until fighter planes come and bomb the hell out of the top of their hill. Trust me, it was good stuff.
After my reading session of about an hour, a couple of boys approached me and told me they knew where the vans had gone. I was feeling pretty hungry, and felt good enough to move so I started following them. They said the vans were close. Little did I know, close for these guys meant only two kilometers down the road. On a bum wheel I struggled mightily to keep up with them. In retrospect, I feel like an asshole because at a couple of points I became frustrated and yelled at the little fellers, when all they were trying to do was help me. When I was about to lose hope they said the vans were just around the next bend. A couple dozen bends later they finally came into view.
Sweat made a big ring around my neck, and my shoulders and back were drenched in an imprint of my backpack. I gave the boys a few Dirham apiece, took off my shoes and ankle braces and posted up on the little mat that the van drivers had set up. I schmoozed them up for a while, and ate some of their dates and drank some of their tea. After all, you can never have enough tea. We waited for a long time, but finally other people started showing up in rag-tag groups. Everybody was exhausted and hungry.
I must have struck quite a pathetic figure because everybody came by to ask how I was. It was nice but unnecessary As we waited for lunch to be served (it was at this time 5:00) Big Aaron and I played chess. I should say he played and I just moved the pieces around. The last of our crew was slowly trickling in, and in a flurry I saw a couple of Moroccan counselors carrying somebody inside and looking quite distressed.
Quickly I found out that the person they had been carrying was Layla, the English superstar. Apparently she had fainted, most likely from dehydration. Alex and Linley took it upon themselves to be her primary caretakers. After about 30 minutes Linley comes storming out of Layla’s room looking for me.
“I can not believe what they are doing to her in there.”
“What are they doing?”
“They won’t give her any water. They say it’s bad for her. They only want to give her sugar. The doctor slapped her around to try to wake her up, and then said that it was caused by ‘emotional problems that teenage girls sometimes have’. Then Samira sprayed perfume up her nose. Up her nose!”
“Dat aint right,” was the best response I could muster.
Eventually, Alex got the situation under control and managed to make a rehydration mix for her (good thing we had some health volunteers with us). Once we were convinced she could be moved, we all loaded back up into the vans to head to our next stop. We headed back the same way we had come and an order must have come from up on high that we were to keep it moving no matter what. As per that new policy our van quickly became quite funky. Luckily we loaded up on plastic baggies to avoid a mess. That did not stop our van from smelling like half digested egg sandwiches and oranges. Eeew.
We kept the show on the road, and presently we pulled in to the Dar Chebab in the town of Rich. This was just supposed to be a quick stop that had no definite purpose. I got on the ping pong table for a few minutes and dazzled with my skills. Even on one leg I am a ping pong god in this country. We stayed for maybe 30 minutes and when it was time to go, a few of the Americans were nowhere to be found. Floyd got on the phone and started hollering like a mad man. He was heated and the other volunteers upon hearing his voice showed up post haste.
I was almost positive that we were heading back to the Centre after this stop. We did have a girl who needed to go to the hospital, not to mention the fact that everybody was pooped beyond having any interest in anything else. Unfortunately, the trip must go on… Our next stop was the Hotel Jurrasique. Can you guess why this stop was made? Of course you can. We had prearranged to meet here and have a glass of tea which was supposed to happen at 5:00. We showed up at 8:00 but got our tea anyways. You can never have enough tea. I was in need of a potty break and asked the proprietor of the hotel if I could use his facilities. I was turned away at the door and could feel myself turning green and muscles expanding in anger, Bruce Banner style. The day had already been quite long and this latest hurdle nearly sent me over the edge. Instead of taking out my frustrations on the man himself I limped around to the back of the hotel and signed my name in piss over his back entrance. Not one of my prouder moments, but one that did give me temporary satisfaction.
Finally, we got back into the vans and headed back south to Errachidia. Floyd headed a team that took Layla to the hospital where where she eventually turned out to be okay. Looking out for the sanity of all parties, I convinced the Mudir to give us an extra hour of sleep the next morning. In exchange we had to shorten both our English classes and clubs by 30 minutes. Not too bad, not so sad.
To put all the frustrations of the day behind us Scott, Alex, Big Aaron and I snuck away and smoked some hashish before popping in the second to last episode of the Sopranos. Sleep hit me about half way through, but not before Tony suffocated Christopher and Phil Leotardo put a hit on Silvio. Not sure what is more wild, spring camp or the Sopranos. Its close.