Thursday, October 11, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 12 [The North, Part 2]

"In Morocco, it's possible to see the Atlantic and the Mediterranean at the same time."
~Tahar Ben Jelloun

7am is a horrid time, especially when you have to wake up after dreaming about Rules of Attraction, when there isn't really sunshine, when you just feel tired.

So, instead, I got out of bed at 7:15am and went downstairs to have breakfast.  A glass of coffee (mostly milk, with sugar), a glass of fresh squeezed OJ, and two pastries later, I was feeling better. And we were leaving for the border.

Since Ceuta is technically part of Spain (it's called Ceuta, Andalucia), we had to bring our passports. While waiting to cross, we completed our journalism assignment, which was to observe the passing around us.

This is what I wrote for my assignment:

The sky is misty and grey, slowly lightening.  It is barely past eight and the sun isn’t even up; yet, people stream past our parked bus, walking quickly, some running, to the border.  The metal gate is painted white and blue, and the beach, presumably the Mediterranean, is visible at times.  The tinted blue water blends in with the sky, erasing any distinct boundary lines.  The phrase “of heaven and earth” seems appropriate, but I’m not sure for what.
We walk forward, joining the masses.  Bodies squeeze past me.  There is a building, formerly whitewashed, but with grey dirt streaking across parts of it.  Dirtied windows flecked with white paint are at the top, and I suddenly think of Maya Angelou’s poem about a caged bird.  There are a few windows at the bottom, where people line up.  Blue metal bars cover the windows.  We stop at one and wait.  It takes about fifteen minutes before we are told to move over to the side.  There are four lines: the line we stand in to get our passports stamped, the lane that cars, buses and motorcycles pass through, a line on the right side for people with completed paperwork, and a line behind the wall, reserved for los portadoras, smugglers and others.

The people are a blur: during these fifteen minutes, a little boy and his father cross, the little boy with a gray toy gun and the black handle sticking out of his jeans.  A woman wearing an Amaz haight, straw with colorful pom-poms on it, like a spotted rainbow, carries a fabric bundle, pink cloth on her back.  She carries a plastic bag that seems full and ready to burst, scattering whatever precious items she has.  There are guards, casual, wearing black jackets and jeans.  They have orange bands with black Arabic words that I can’t see, much less read. A few are in uniform: blue, officious police outfits, with guns and hats.  The guards scan passports, letting others walk by, and rubbing their fingers together, in that universal sign signaling money, for some. Gas exhaust from cars stopping and going seems to rise up and choke me.  I feel a headache spread from my temples, the back of my head, and press up against my eyes.
We stand at the side, against a light blue gate with white cement base, and wait.  There is a little boy who seems to be begging, his clean purple shirt, spiked hair and dark blue jeans a contrast to the sad puppy-dog eyes on his face.  A man, his face dirty and red, with an unshaven beard, wears a clean white djellaba.  The traditional gown’s hood is pulled up.  He holds a plastic bag and tries to cross down one side.  He gets into an altercation with a guard wearing black: they shove each other, the man tries to walk past, the guard stops him, the man screams at the guard.  The guard seems to want him to bribe him, but it’s more of a guess: the guard tries to look into the man’s plastic bag, while rubbing his fingers. The man tries to walk around, and is stopped by a uniformed officer.  He can’t keep his balance and I wonder if he’s drunk: his face, red before, is ruddy enough that I imagine him as Santa.  He lets the officer escort him back to the line on the right, the line for smugglers, but turns around and runs toward the guard. He’s grabbed forcibly and made to stand in line, the uniformed officer holding onto his elbow.  The man passes without incident afterwards.

When I look back at the Moroccan border, from the inside of an air-conditioned bus, I see figures scrambling up a brown, rocky hill.  I watch a woman, wearing a black djellaba, with a white pack on her back, as she fights with a rope to tie it onto her back.  I see a man wad up a grey shirt, passing it through a crack in the fence, to a woman in line.  She inspects the shirt, presumably planning to buy.  I watch a man pass a wad of bills to another man, who opens up his black windbreaker and reaches into an inside pocket, his empty hand reappearing. 
I see all this, and then a blue sign, with a circle of gold stars. Espana.

The people seem to blur together, constantly in motion...
The "marketplace" of illegal goods is packed.

 The woman that I wrote about was so somber in her black.
The difference between Ceuta and Fnideq isn't just geographic (it isn't solely about a barbed-wire fence), it isn't just language (I found out my French is utterly useless; everyone spoke Spanish or Arabic), and it isn't just about the difference between dirhams and euros (you can't exchange dirhams for euros in Ceuta, which was just bizarre to me).

It's also mental. I saw pet dogs (which I never thought I'd miss seeing) more than I saw cats, high heels and sleevelss tops more than djellabas and hijabs, and clothing stores that were all Western (Zara and Stradivarius for example).
We went on a guided tour of Ceuta, with a tour guide who spoke to us in English, but mixed her Spanish and Arabic when talking to the driver.  While on the drive, we saw the Strait of Gibraltar, saw the Atlantic AND the Mediterranean, and saw beautiful beaches.  The guide took us to a church of St. Anthony, where girls would go to pray for a boyfriend.
 Sue me for wanting to cover my bases!
We were then sent along our way, to wander around for about three hours.  I went to the Church Mater et Patrona, dedicated to the (female) patron saint of Ceuta, who also happens to be the mayoress in memoriam.  Which is kinda cool.

The inside is definitely as lavish as other European churches.

Also, there were quite a few statues.  One statue depicted Hercules, splitting two pillars, since the Spanish believe that Ceuta (Septa) is the site of Hercules' awesome might.  Another statue that I really liked was part of a series about seven descriptors of Ceuta: commerce, country, etc.

 I think the guy sleeping at the base wanted to absorb Hercules' strength via osmosis.

Africa stands tall and proud.

Of course, when in Spain (or what is considered part of Spain), there must be tapas. And sangrias.  We found this lovely place called Charlotte's, where we enjoyed tapas (so much ham and pork!) and a lime-green-white-wine sangria.

We left Ceuta, and returned (after a bit of a wait) to Morocco.  The trip back SHOULD have been uneventful... Except for two things. One, Badr punked (and I mean, Ashton-Kutcher-style) the guys.  They went swimming in a casino pool, and Badr made it sound like they had broken a law.  He was very solemn and serious about how the police were upset. Everyone got VERY worried, until Badr started laughing.  Two, someone was very sick. Read: projectile vomit while asleep, into a girl's hair, and onto the bus.  We stopped to clean it up, change into clean clothes, and get some fresh air.  We ended up back at Rabat around 8pm.  All in all, this trip was pretty fantastic.

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