Saturday, July 21, 2012

Leaving Casablanca!

After nine glorious days in Morocco, it was time to go home. We reached Casablanca's Mohammad V International Airport a little before 10 am, in time for Swati, Julie and Rachel to check into their noon flight to Madrid. Heike had already left for Germany by an early morning flight. My flight to Dubai was supposed to depart at 1:20 pm but, as part of a continuing time zone mystery that foxed even our world clock-synced iPhones, we discovered that it would depart an hour later, at 2:20 pm.

After spending some time at a cafe, the only place with available seats, I hobbled over to the Emirates counter (my back was hurting), expecting it to be fairly uncrowded three hours before the boarding time. Certainly, I would be among the first to reach so early, I thought to myself smugly. But the sight at the check-in counter proved me totally wrong. The place was teeming with white jalaba-clad old men and old women, surrounded by animated young people and kids, all in throes of talking loudly and calling out to each other. I stood in a queue but was overtaken several times by someone or the other, without as much as an attempt at an explanation or apology. Since there was still time, I took it all in my stride and decided to focus instead on observing the families at close quarters and guessing who was whose.

After boarding, the scene inside the plane was even stranger. All the jalaba-clad folks were there, at least a 100 of them, minus their younger companions. Everyone was standing around talking loudly to each other across aisles, and seats were being exchanged, mostly amicably, but some semi forced. One old woman stood near a Chinese-looking traveler seated ahead of us and talked to him in Arabic nonstop while gesticulating animatedly, until he finally gave up his aisle seat and moved to the seat she was pointing at (middle of the middle row oops!). The stewardess's requests to all to be seated were falling on deaf ears. A lovely Spanish stewardess, totally lost in the sea of chattering humanity, found an ally in me and confided that she had never seen anything like this in her entire career. After being totally ineffective in getting the passengers to sit down, the stewardesses backed off and an Arabic-speaking stewards came by, but in vain. No one could be bothered by what they were being told. As a result, the flight was delayed- it could not take off for over 30 minutes due to this madness!

Seated next to me were two Moroccan businessmen travelling to China, who were quite amused by my shocked expression at what was happening around us.They explained that these men and women, from far off Moroccan villages and towns, were on their way to Mecca for Ramadan. For most of them, this was the first trip to a city and the first time on a plane. But even that did not explain why there was a non-stop movement towards the toilet. At no point did the queue to the toilet on each side have less than 15-20 people. I could see the same people get up and go towards the toilet several times during the flight. Obviously, I sat put and prayed my bladder would be kind. When food was served, there was utter chaos, with some people wanting to go to the toilet despite the trolley in their way and others calling out to each other and passing food across seats and rows. At no point during the flight was their any semblance of silence- it was like the proverbial fish market...for the entire 8 hours! But I must add that despite the chaos, the atmosphere was friendly and warm.

Luckily, the landing was better. Much to my relief (I had a connecting flight to catch with a short layover), almost everybody had been seated and belted up in time for landing. When the plane touched down, I was surprised to hear a strange noise. All the old folks were clapping and laughing! It was crazy. Sweet, but crazy!

There were many memorable events for me in this trip to Morocco- I will never forget the beautiful sights, the mountains and the deserts, the feeling of stepping into history, the disparate bunch of friends, the trip to ER, the luxurious riads, the wonderful architecture- the list goes on. This crazy flight from Casablanca to Dubai added another memorable event to my long list.

(I have no photos from the airport or the flight- Moroccans are known to be extra sensitive about being photographed and we had first hand experience of their dislike of the camera. Here I am attaching two photos picked from the Internet just to show traditional jalaba-clad Moroccans, the kind who were my fellow travelers on this unforgettable flight.)


  1. Reading it was like being there. You paint a vivid picture. Another great read!


  2. this is so much like a go air flight i took about 5-6 years agao and there was a joint family with so many kids and it was their first flight. for lunch they had got paranthas and karela with achaar and one or two ladies infact were crying on the flight . Unfortunately one of the passengers on the flight had a very bad asthma attack, a young doctor who was on the flight was by his side throughout and this family all through were telling her how to treat him. the smell of the achaar , karelas and the clutter putter was maddening.