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Don’t you want to go re-read parts one, two, three and three and a half of this series on shipping? You know you’ve forgotten a lot of the details. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back.


On the day our container was supposed to arrive at our house in Rabat, on a date which I’ve already lost to the mists of time but was sometime towards the end of July, we had been clearly warned that it would have to LEAVE Rabat, fully loaded, by 1:00. The shipping agent originally wanted it to arrive at 9, but we were worried that our helpers (university students, four future doctors, from Ghana) wouldn’t make it that early, so we negotiated 10.

By 10, we had our 4 future doctors, a young American couple, and a couple of other friends there, just ready to go. There was no sign of the container. Donn called the agent in Casa. “Ah yes,” he said. “It will leave soon.”
“I thought we were supposed to have finished loading it by 1?” asked Donn.

“Yes, yes,” agreed the agent. Since it takes about an hour and a half to drive the distance between Casa and Rabat, this was going to be a problem.

We decided to have everyone move all the boxes and furniture downstairs and outside, so as to get the job halfway done. It was a lovely day, sunny but not too hot, and everyone set to work. By the time we’d finished, it was about 11:30 and the street remained empty and quiet. Donn called the shipping agent again. “It’s just left Casablanca,” he promised us.

We ordered a lot of pizza (style americain but no pork products of course) and sent the kids to the hanut for cold drinks. We had plenty of time to sit around and digest afterwards, so we relaxed on the empty, dusty tile floor of the living room and chatted.

At 2:40, to great excitement and fanfare, the container arrived!

I watched the future doctors toss each other the light boxes marked FRAGILE!! I might have squeaked a bit. We’d sat and looked at all the stuff spread out on the lawn and wondered how on earth it was all going to fit, but it did. In fact, there was extra space at the end—about 10-15 percent maybe. I will check this with Donn, who was actually up in the sauna-container, sweating profusely and cramming stuff in. That meant the stuff towards the end was packed quite loosely, and would potentially shift in transit. We put a clay pot (the one that had held our Christmas tree) in at the end, no padding around it, and assumed the next time we saw it, it would be in 3 or more pieces.

By the time it was ready to leave Rabat, it was about 4. Donn talked to the agent, who told us that it was too late for us to come to Casa, and to be there by 9:30 the following morning. We were exhausted, but we made it in good time, only to be met by an empty office. We took ourselves to a café for coffee and bread spread with long-life cheese, and eventually he arrived and we were able to visit the port, which involved mostly standing around various offices for several hours and then signing one piece of paper.

“Your container will arrive in Seattle in about 4 weeks, maybe 5,” said our shipping agent.

A couple of weeks later, we come back to America. At first we stay with our friends, then we move into a small 2 bedroom temporary situation while we househunt. Soon we get an email from the shipping agent, letting us know the contact info for the company that will be receiving the container in Seattle. And so begins another round-about…

Part Three 1/2: Most Official Paperwork, Most Officious Friends.

Part Three was just getting too long. It’s summer; people are busy. Plus, you may recall, there was the whole how-much-detail-to-include debacle. Also, I am in a mood where I am swinging wildly between first and second person, sometimes even in the same sentence. This is frowned upon by all real writers. I do apologize.

Ok, back to our story, back to second person meaning first person,  back to spelling mistakes not caught because I’m typing on a different computer and it just messes me up.

We left our spunky heroine, “you,” at the language center where she had just finally gotten a piece of paper stating that she used to work there, no longer worked there, had been paid a total of X dirhams, had paid X in taxes to the Moroccan government, and had been signed and stamped. (The paper, not “you.”) (And what? Now we’re in third person? This blogger seriously needs an editor.)

On receiving this paper in her hot little hands, “you” heads back downtown where she waits about 15 minutes for the woman to come back from lunch. Wait–this is sliding into the too-much-detail error. We’ll skip to the bit where she returns to the office, with Ismail and Donn, at about 2:30 in the afternoon.  Our 3 friends are sent upstairs (this is symbolic, I’m pretty sure) to meet with the Chief of the First Subdivision of Moral People (chef de 1ere subdivision des personnes morales). I love this title and am hoping to incorporate it into my personal life at some point. They don’t just have a Moral Majority, for those of you who became aware of American politics in the 80s, they have their Moral Majority subdivided.And we, as tax-paying people who are hoping to leave, are in the very first division. I feel a little proud.

Before we go back into the third person, I would like to explain a teensy bit of French-influenced North African culture to you. Lunch time is sacred, and is taken properly and not skimped. The idea of a sandwich eaten at a desk is nightmarish, rather like a typical American might feel on being informed that lunch today will be a tiny bag of pretzels and a Diet Coke. Oh wait–that’s the airlines. Lunches are minimum 2 hours and involve 3 courses and, for the French themselves, a bottle or 2 of wine. (per familial group that is) And then one lingers over a tiny cup of espresso, while solving the problems of the world. One stretches, possibly goes for a short invigorating walk, then goes back to the office round 2:30 or 3. Many businesses don’t re-open till 4 or so. But the lady thought, and we thought, that the Chief of the Moral People (1st subdivision) might be back about 2. So we went about 2:30, just to give him some time.

We sit. We sit some more. We sit even more.  Ismail chats animatedly to a woman in tight jean capris with a henna up her leg, and ends up exchanging phone numbers. I read a book. We sit some more. Ismail exclaims over a very modest outfit and hijab worn by another woman. “That’s how women should dress,” he tells us, but he doesn’t talk to her. We sit some more. Finally a secretary arrives. She introduces us to the sub-chef, who fusses because I didn’t have a “bulletin de salaire.” I point out the sheaf of papers, all officially stamped and signed, which details my salary in minutiae, but they were viewed as sadly inadequate.

Finally, with much rejoicing, came the arrival of the great man himself. Ismail is happy. “I know him!” he tells us. “His family are our neighbours! I’ve even met him before. This is really good.” I am happy too. The chef wears a striped suit, striped shirt and striped tie, all in varying colours and stripe-widths and patterns, yet all dark, muted shades. The effect is sort of numbing, which I’m sure was intentional—kind of like the red “power” tie in America.

We are shown into the office. Ismail shakes the Chef’s hand, reminds him of their connection, tells him what wonderful people we are and that he hopes the Chef will do all he can to help us. The chef frowns over my sheaf of papers. He asks me a few questions. Then he makes a pronouncement: if I can produce a copy of my contract with the language center, that will be enough.

This had actually occurred to us a couple of days earlier, but then we found we’d packed it. So back out to the language center we go. They love me there.

Next morning, we are back in the waiting chairs by about 10. The Chef isn’t in yet. Nor is his secretary. We discuss how when the cat’s away the mice will play. Ismail likes that one. I remodel the waiting room in my mind. It’s a huge room, empty but for 3 chairs in one corner, the attached kind you find in airports. I imagine it with a carpet, paint, a fake plant in a corner, fun Moroccan lanterns. Inviting, comfortable. It helps pass the time.

Eventually the guy shows up about 11 or so. The Big Man, wearing the same all-stripes-all-the-time outfit, looks over the contract and reads it and finally, after some deliberation, agrees it is fine. Back we go to the sub-chef who is now out of the office. Eventually he shows up (aside: he was really working) and prepares an attestation or signs it or something, then he takes it back across to Monsieur Stripes, who actually stamps it. Then it goes back to Stripes Jr, who breathes on it or something, then it goes to the secretary, who records it, then it is placed gently into a snow-white folder and handed reverently to us. It was a big moment for us. We looked, and all it was was the paper from the language center, but now with two (TWO!) additional signatures and stamps. “Is this right?” we queried, but the secretary assured us it was, all the etrangers get this paper. And sure enough, later we give the paper to our shipping agent and it is accepted as right.

Ismail was very proud of himself. “I really helped you,” he pointed out. “Without me, you wouldn’t have gotten very far.” We agreed. We thanked him profusely, from our hearts. He was absolutely right. But he wasn’t done. “If I charged you for my time,” he said, “It’d be a lot of money.” We were puzzled. We were pretty sure, even given our relative lack of  cultural understanding, that we weren’t supposed to pay him. We’re friends. He’s our landlord, but we hang out. We discuss the world. Elliot watched most of the World Cup with him. But then he laughs. “Of course I’m kidding,” he says. We laugh too, uneasily. We’re not sure what he’s trying to tell us. And he doesn’t let it drop. For the next several days he tells us how much we owe him, tells us he’s joking, but seriously we wouldn’t have gotten far if he hadn’t come along. And it kind of spoils it for us. We’d planned to do something really nice for him as a thank you, but he takes the wind out of our sails.

Coming soon: Part Four (really 5 but who’s counting): The Container Arrives!

Part Two: Choosing a Port

Aside: read part one here, should you feel so inclined.

At our first meeting, our shipping agent leans in confidingly. “I counsel you not to put hashish in your container,” he tells us. We agree not to, after sharing a highly amused glance. “Good advice,” says Donn seriously. Then we talk about ports.

Now one thing that is quite intuitive about a city named Portland is that it has a port. It is not a misnomer. Port-land has a fine port, right downtown and a little north.

But, says the agent, he can’t ship to Portland. You give him a zip code, which originally was all he needed, he said, but he takes you to his computer and shows you on a map—there are no little stars in Portland, and he can’t ship there. He suggests Seattle.

You don’t want Seattle. For one, the container will then have to be trucked to Portland. Your shipping agent says it will have to be tracked, and it takes you ages to figure out what he means. When speaking another language, it’s always the vowels that will do you in. You agree to Seattle eventually, but keep pushing Portland. And that’s where matters rest until you go in with all your Most Official paperwork and things have to move beyond the theoretical.

You sit in the empty office with the high chair and the interesting mold patches spread across an entire empty wall, and the agent shows you a copy of an email quoting a price to have the container shipping to New York and then trucked across the entire United States. “But we don’t want New York,” you comment.
No, he agrees. And that price is no good, he tells you. The price for the trucking (“tracking”) is more than getting it across the ocean from Casa to New York. “Much too expensive,” he says. He purses his lips and shakes his head.

“White,” he says, so you do. You wait. Eventually he returns with a printed Google map of the Western United States. There are little marks by Seattle, Oakland and Long Beach. “But we can’t do Seattle,” he tells you.
Why not, you whine, although you have promised yourself you will not whine, even when you keep covering the same ground over and over again. There is no reason. They just can’t. He suggests New York again. In fact, one might say, he pushes New York.

You do not agree to New York. New York is very far from Portland, you explain. You use hand gestures. You talk in kilometers. He agrees. “No, no, that’s no good for you,” he says. He disappears again. You “white.”

After a while he comes back. “So, about New York,” he begins.

Eventually you leave. You have agreed that the container will be shipped to Seattle. Demoralized, you have entirely given up on the idea of Portland. Seattle is fine. Fine. So much better than the East Coast, or even California.

In the morning, you have an email waiting for you from the shipping agent, telling you that the container will need to go to New York after all. It’s not his fault—he can’t find anyone who can ship things to the West Coast. “Or Norfolk, Virginia,” he suggests, but Virginia is as bad as New York.

“I don’t think he’s ever shipped anywhere else,” you groan.

Your husband calls him. “Seattle!” he insists. “Or at least Oakland.” You reach a new agreement, which lasts until the day the container is actually on its way from Casa to your house in Rabat. “It’s going to New York,” says the shipping agent on the phone. “Right,” says Donn. “Just cancel it. Forget it.”

But no. No, no, no. He will do his best for you. He understands that New York is not good for you. You are not opening a business; you are just shipping your household items. He will work on it.

Seattle. We have chosen Seattle. The ship is going to Seattle. Our stuff is going to Seattle.


Apparently the ship “siyled” a couple of days ago. We called and emailed Wednesday with our intention to go down today to get the bill of lading. (Note to those who have not shipped things internationally: you need this to get your stuff out of port at the other end.) He wrote back. “Ok! Come tomorrow (Thursday)!” We wrote back. “We’ll be there at 9:30,” we said.

So at 9:40, we arrived. He wasn’t there. The secretary called him and handed us the phone. “Have you had breakfast yet?” he said hopefully, obviously wanted us to go sit in a café for half an hour and not rush him. “Yes,” we said.

He arrived a little after 10. After much evasiveness, we established that the bill of lading was not ready yet but we could come back on Saturday. No, we can’t, we said. This was supposed to be our last trip to Casa. We have other things we need to get done.

Finally, he agreed that we could come back at 2. “Ok, we’ll see you at 2 to get the bill of lading,” we confirmed. “Maybe call me ahead of time,” he said. “Or we’ll just come at 2 to get the bill of lading,” we said. It was 11 a.m. at this point—just 3 short hours from the appointed time.

You already know what’s coming. I’ll cut it short. The agent came back, relaxed after a leisurely lunch and still chewing, at 2:30, and then he started to get the bill of lading ready. Donn emerged, triumphant, with 3 copies of it, just a little before 4:00

But it’s going to Seattle. And that bill of lading states the contents, and number one is: books.
Coming soon: Part Three, Fun With Bureaucracy

Hi. My name is Ms. Nomad and I’ll be your guide on this trip through the twisted bowels and darkest depths that comprise shipping your things and moving from Morocco.

Part One: Your Shipping Agent and You

Begin by choosing your shipping agent. You can do this by asking a friend who moved a year ago for a name and number. This will land you with a young man in jeans and tight shirts who speaks English less well than he believes, who will nonetheless want to conduct all your interactions in English (which, fair play, is his 4th language), and you will be in for a merry-go-round of failed communication.

The agent will begin by telling you what papers you will need. We will cover these in part three, so let’s just assume you’ve already lost a couple weeks of your life and have the papers now. It’s time to go back to his office, just outside Casa, one Monday morning. He’ll put you in an empty office with a really really tall chair that collapses down when you wriggle and sort of hop up into it. There you will begin the various rounds of negotiations about things you thought were settled on the last visit, when you sat interminably in the same office.

You might say, for example, “We’d like the container to come the 27th.”

“Ok,” he will agree. “Whenever you like.”

You will think, surely this is not right. Surely he should now say, ‘Well there’s a ship this day and this day so choose.” But instead, he smiles and nods and agrees. You move on. 20 minutes later, he asks you what date you want. “Well, the 27th, we said…” you flounder.

“Sure, sure,” he agrees. “White just a minute.” He disappears. You sit. You sit some more. You wonder why so few Moroccan offices have air conditioning. You ponder the irony of how so many Oregonians have air-conditioning while living in a temperate climate, and so few Moroccans and Mauritanians, living in heat and humidity, do. You sit some more. You have fun staring at the pattern of mold patches on the wall, seeing continents and islands and oceans as yet unmapped. You sit some more. After a while, you give up on keeping your husband amused and pull out a book, feeling a bit rude, but not much.

Eventually he returns, with a piece of paper with two dates on it. Neither is the 27th. “You have to choose,” he says, jabbing his finger at it. “What about the 27th? Like you said?” you begin, but you are waved aside. These are actual boats, actual sailing dates, so we choose one, and he gently but firmly guides us towards the other. “Choice” apparently has a slightly different meaning when English is your 4th language. This means that instead of having the 8 days we’d thought we had to pack our house, we have 2. Fortunately “Captain Stress,” as Donn is affectionately known in our family, has started packing far too early—or right on time as it turns out. I’ll never hear the end of this.

He disappears again, only to reappear to rehash the date—the one we’ve settled twice now.

Next he turns to your packing list. “It’s good, it’s fine,” he says. “But, what are CDs?” You explain. “And all these boxes of books?” Um yeah. Between Ilsa and I, not to mention everybody else, we have boxes and boxes and boxes of books. Like, um, over 40 or so. But, let me hasten to add, that these are small boxes, since books are heavy, and also that many of them are Donn’s big photo books. Many, I tell you.

But the agent is mystified. Why do so many lines of the list say, simply, “livres”? What are these livres? Is it normal to have so many? He doesn’t seem to think so.

The book in my purse helps. “I like to read,” I say. “We all do.” I pull out the book and wave it at him. “Ah, romans,” he says (novels). “Ok ok. I told the guy at the port you were nice people. No problems.”

Coming soon: Part Two, Choosing a Port

March 2023

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