Morocco Day 1: Don’t You Know We’re Riding on the Marrakech Express
July 29, 2007
Our first taste of Moroccan-style chaos comes while we are still in Italy.
Though the flight we had originally booked on MyAir was scheduled to leave Malpensa at 6:45 pm, getting us into Marrakech at around 8 pm, an email from MyAir arrived some three weeks ago to inform us that our reservation “had been subject to modification.” The new flight time was 10:20 pm; and our return from Morocco had been shifted to an hour earlier. Thus was born the vacation list of Things Never To Do Again with its inaugural item: Never, ever fly with MyAir.
We arrive at Malpensa in good time: the Eurostar from Bologna to Milan is, amazingly, on time (meaning 10 minutes late, but that’s on-time for a Eurostar); we find the bus to Malpensa without difficulty, and it isn’t until we’re inside the airport’s vast Terminal 2 that the real fun begins.
Though we expected the flight to be full of tourists, the reality is the opposite: At least 90% of the passengers are Moroccans, and they appear to be intent on taking a significant sampling of Italian goods back to Northern Africa with them. MyAir’s stated and restated weight limit for baggage is 15 kilos (33 lbs) per passenger; the largest bag I see on the scales comes in at 61 kilos (a little over 134 lbs). The agent affixes a PESANTE (HEAVY) sticker to the bag and manhandles it onto the conveyor belt without batting an eye.
Though we’re more than 90 minutes early for our flight, what can only be described as a mob has already formed in front of the MyAir check-in for the flight to Marrakech. There are three lines—or three more-or-less linear concentrations of travelers—but only two check-in stations. Once they finally open, the two left-most lines begin to converge, with approximately the same level of order that characterizes the convergence of twin rivers during a flood. The third line on the far right moves slowly, but ours is literally stationary. Or, at least, we are. Since we stupidly insist on maintaining our place in line rather than moving up and down and sideways in order to jockey for a better position, using our baggage as a kind of standing wedge, we’ve traveled barely a meter after more than an hour.
The Moroccans have no such qualms, and contentedly cut in line or, better, strategically deploy groups of passengers so as to block access by others. They’re utterly calm throughout all of this, and, though I don’t yet understand it, we’re experiencing a foretaste of the scenes we will encounter repeatedly in the coming two weeks: every time we get onto a bus or a train, try to flag down a cab (or get out of one), or queue up at the entrance to anything. Next to the Moroccan concept of the line, Italians are practically German.
Yet none of the Moroccan passengers is upset or harried, and this is another lesson we’ll learn: Moroccans are immune to stress; they are carriers, but they don’t suffer from it.
Because they’re Moroccan, they’re also subject to immigration controls, which means the check-in agent is required to look up every name in a database, which, I am able to overhear, is allegedly supplied by (or connected to) the Questura, the police department. This means, obviously, additional time, but MyAir is unconcerned. At about fifteen minutes to flight time, they open a third station and, ten minutes later, a fourth. We shift to one of the newer, faster-moving lines and, as we’re checking in, I ask the agent, “Do you think we’ll be able to make the flight?” She doesn’t even bother to look up as she answers: “Obviously the plane won’t be leaving on time.” Equally obvious: she doesn’t search for my name in her database, though I suspect that anyone not holding an EU passport is officially supposed to be checked.
Our boarding passes finally in hand, we move through yet another passport control point and, following that, the security area. An agent is yelling at a woman in a jilbab and a head scarf, who is trying to pass through the metal detector with two children in tow and a third in her arms. They aren’t understanding that the ones who can walk have to go through one at a time, and the two little boys keep running through and then, when they see she isn’t behind them, running back to her. Then there’s the problem of the full baby bottle that she’s carrying and the bottle of water that one of the boys has. The guard is telling her that she’s got to drink some of the milk (to prove it’s not something else, one imagines), or that one of the boys has to, but she doesn’t speak Italian. He half-heartedly mimes what he wants and then, when that doesn’t work, he grabs the bottle of water and heaves it in the trash, then waves them all through.
The guard is a jerk. That aside, it’s irresponsible not to have someone who speaks Arabic or French to deal with passengers going to Morocco, not to mention how irresponsible it is to treat security so cavalierly. (On the way back to Italy, Mauro gets onto the plane with his Swiss Army knife in his backpack: he forgot it was there, and no one at security noticed.)
Once we arrive at the gate, the mob scene is repeated. Here, we’re waiting to get onto the trams that will carry us onto the tarmac where the plane is waiting. There is a single, small opening to one side of the podium where two agents are trying to check boarding passes. The funnel effect slows everything down to a crawl, particularly so because the Moroccans simply won’t form a line. The bolgia surges forward, and every few seconds someone escapes through the vent.
The plane is a cattle car—once a RyanAir property (the old RyanAir logos embossed on equipment in the galley have been painted over but remain visible) it now belongs to a “no frills” Spanish airline which is apparently under contract to MyAir. The plane is crammed full, and boarding takes 45 minutes. M and I suddenly realize that our seats aren’t together: I’m in the very last row—the one where the seats don’t recline—next to the bathrooms, an area that very quickly becomes a playground for all the little Moroccan kids on the plane whose parents are enjoying a moment of reprieve. Another sampling of life “in country”: Moroccan children, especially boys, do whatever the hell they please and appear to be utterly unfamiliar with the meaning of the word “la.” The seats are tiny and there’s no leg room. Nothing’s free on this plane (even soft drinks cost €1,50), but the point is: they don’t have anything to sell. All that’s left is water, which they very kindly pass around (one glass; don’t ask for more) free of charge. The flight is three hours of hell.