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Monday morning, 8:55 a.m. I’m sitting in the back of a taxi of a sort of medium age and it is pouring out. The driver takes out a bit of rough paper and rubs it all over the windshield in an attempt to clear the condensation. Rain splatters on the hood of the car in ever-increasing rhythms, slides down the windows, splashes up from the road. Next to me, a man on a bicycle holds his legs out like a kid as he glides through an enormous puddle. We pass three men in the blue jumpsuits of street cleaners pressed up against a wall, sheltering from the downpour under the overhang of a generous hedge.

The taxi is of medium age. Taxis in Rabat come in all ages, from the brand new Fiats, with working heaters and sometimes the plastic still on the seats, to ancient ones with stripped interiors, and the occasional cockroach (I move my feet nonstop during the entire ride when I see one scuttering under the seat ahead as I’m climbing in). Sometimes there are tiny holes in the floorboards so you can see the road going by underneath your feet. Some pull so strongly to one side that I picture us going down the road at an angle, moving forward but facing off to the side. Sometimes I wonder if the tires will stay on. But the majority fall in the middle range; the ability to open a backseat window is rare, but most are in one piece and feel reliable enough.

I’m on the way to French class; Donn is in the front seat. I’ve taken the culturally acceptable seat; I’m not one to rock boats, and in the back I can pull out my book if I feel so inclined. Unfortunately, this trip is the one in which I will lose my umbrella. Taxis in Rabat are well-regulated, and there exists a lost-and-found office where taxi drivers are obligated to place anything you leave behind. Supposedly plain-clothes policemen ride taxis and purposely leave things behind, noting down the taxi number and nailing the driver if the item is not returned. But. An umbrella on the floor? I’m sure the next fare simply took it along with them on exit. (Yes, you grammar freaks, I know it should be him or her, but sometimes you gotta go with colloquial, ya know?) The driver probably never even noticed my stylish blue-green umbrella that I bought in Spain, lying mute on the muddy floor behind his seat.

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Tuesday evening, 9:45 p.m. I’m at home, on the couch, typing away on the laptop. Classes are over; the unexpected dinner guest is gone; the kids are in bed. We’re listening to what I believe is a eulogy. Whatever it is, it’s long, going on for nearly an hour before breaking out into a sort of chant. I can hear children running around outside, chasing each other and shouting. For three days and nights, the house across the street has been packed, with people standing around outside on the street. Music, (a men’s chorus?) chants, and now, a speech, are broadcast into our living room as clear and loud as if on our own stereo.

We believe it’s a funeral. There is no joyful music or dancing, no ululating women, no bashful bride changing into 9 different outfits or whatever it is. We are new here; we don’t know culture very well and we haven‘t met our neighbours. We haven’t gone to a Moroccan wedding or funeral yet, although I’ve seen wedding pictures. I’m ashamed to admit it just occurred to me that possibly, I should have dropped by to offer condolences; my Dareja is non-existent but most people speak French. I’m a little intimidated by the large groups of men who stand outside or walk up our little street, and the small knots of women in their djellabahs aren’t inviting either. I don’t know how long funerals last. Three days? 40? Tomorrow I will try to find out; tomorrow I will visit if it’s appropriate.

It was appropriate in Mauritania only if you knew the family. I remember one such visit; I remember the dry-eyed despair of a mother who lost her bright, talented, outgoing young son in a car accident. It was the only time I met her, but I knew her son and I grieved for him too. Car accidents are the worst; so pointless. He was traveling through the desert on the top of a Toyota Hilux truck so crammed that there was no room inside. The driver took a curve too fast and rolled it; Sayeed was the only one who died. He had planned to go to Canada to study.

How can I tie up taxis and pointless death? Easily, but I don’t really want to. Riding in taxis here is a good reminder of one’s own mortality. I sit helpless and mute in the back, stuck in traffic, and watch an enormous bus barreling towards me without slowing down in the slightest. I am powerless as we add yet another lane to what was intended as a two-lane road, and squish into traffic with wild abandon and much honking of horns. Sometimes I hold my breath and scoot a little towards the middle, sure that we’re going to scrape the city wall; sometimes I even close my eyes so I don’t have to see what I’m sure will be horrible carnage. So far, I and my taxis have emerged unscathed.

Question: how are taxis like foxholes?

March 2009

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A Perfect Post – January 2007

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