The Gifts of the Late Train to Mekhnes

Lisa told us that in Morocco, when you did anything, you had to be prepared for 2hrs of nonsense, silliness, or wasted time.  Our train for Mekhnes, leaving from Fez, was officially an hour late.  So late, that there were now two times the amount of passengers.  On Moroccan trains, seats weren't sold, the train would just keep being filled.  Mobs of people lined the station platform and every time the hint of a train approached, i.e. an engine-like sound, the crowd moved, as a whole, closer to the edge.  By the time the train finally arrived, everyone was piled near the doors, each person pushing to enter and obtain a seat.  There was no "women, elderly, and children first" going on here.  When I entered the train, I realized that there was no way that Cam, Lisa, and I, could sit in the same area, at best we could hope to sit close to each other.

I'm sure when I peeked my head into this particular train car, my look was one of fear and anxiety.  I was relieved when the women closest to the door, motioned for me to sit down.  I sat with my things gathered on my lap and surveyed the car passengers.  I noticed that all of the women in the car, except the woman next to me and two young girls, were wearing head scarves.  The woman next to me was elegant, open, and funny and she kept the conversation going among the women in the car.  There were two students sitting across from me, a friendly classic looking girl that had an Audrey Hepburn sort of face and a book worm-ish girl that was lost in her reading.  Seated to my other side was an older woman that spent much of her time entertaining her two young daughters.   Across from her was another elegant older woman that seemed to be close friends with the woman who had invited me in, or at least I assumed so because she lent her lotion.

Suddenly I saw a woman with a baby wrapped around her back, standing outside of our car, I tried to say something in Arabic but what came out was, "This woman needs a seat!" and I stod up.  The other women scooted over and they motioned for me to sit back down.  The young mother sat with her baby in her lap and her son sat on the ground at her feet.  Our car was now officially full and it was known that I spoke English.  For a while we went back into our interior worlds.

The train had been moving a while, when a man entered our car.  He handed each of us a "free" toothbrush and then began to pass us other items.  I asked the girl that looked like Audrey Hepburn across from me "Why?".

"It's a gift."she said.
We waited a minute and the man continued to pile things into our hands.  We were all laughing as our hands became encumbered with deodorant, razor, soap, and lotion.
Then he said to us, "You can have all of this as a gift if you buy this toothpaste." (as translated to me by the girl across from me.)

Myself and a few other women returned our gifts, a few took the deal, but we all had a good chuckle about the supposed "gift", when he left the room.

When I thought the ride was nearly over, I said to the girl who spoke English,
"Can you thank everyone for letting me sit here?"

She said it to the group.  The woman sitting next to me, the one who'd originally invited me to sit down told her something.
"She says she thought you were beautiful."

I smiled and gestured across the car with my arm to all the women in the room, of different ages, backgrounds, and stages in life,  you are "benin", the word I'd learned to say beautiful.
Everyone smiled and there was a generally a positive feeling of mutual respect and a celebration of the female spirit in the car.

As I left the car to get off at Mekhnes, I thanked everyone in Arabic.  Walking in the aisle to the door, I had a chill go up my arm.  I thought about my earlier prejudice/ fear/ judgement arriving in Morocco when I though that women might judge me for not being covered and here the reverse had happened, I was told I was beautiful as I was.  In all the late crowded craziness of the train, I'd had a learning moment.

I chuckled later when I realized that I'd actually told the women they were "delicious" as I'd confused "benin" with "zween" which actually meant beautiful.  I think they still knew what I meant.


Popular Posts