Trouble at Chellah
Now that I am safely at home I can confess that I locked my keys in the car at Chellah. And my cellphone. And my wallet. I had my camera bag with me which held a few dirhams, and my three year old daughter, who was wilting under the midday sun hovering a few thin inches above our heads. I had memorized only one local phone number, which rang a house where no one was home. This is the kind of moment that tests Moroccan hospitality.
Soon a group of men had surrounded our car. There was a policeman, a parking lot attendant, a taxi driver, and two delivery men who were helping set-up for the upcoming Mawazine concert. After the men finished banging on the car and double checking all the locks, one of the delivery men offered to jimmy the door open with what looked like an uncoiled metal hanger. My eyes opened wide when I saw him because that was exactly the solution I had in mind. But he was scolded and waved away by the policeman, who called him crazy for messing with a car that has automatic door locks.
The automatic locking mechanism on the car was already broken, but I didn’t have the language skills or energy to try to explain. I was petting my daughter’s sweating head wondering what solution would reveal it’s self.
The taxi man explained that he couldn’t drive me to Hay Riad. I didn’t understand his reasons, but he happily offered that his friend was on the way. I started to cry while petting my sweaty little girl. The taxi man told me not to worry: “This is normal,” he said to soothe me.
“Look, God is great. In Morocco, people have lots of problems. But we say ‘Inshallah’ and God provides a way. See! My friend was going to Casablanca, but I called him and now he is coming to get you. See! This is why we say ‘God is great.’”
On pronouncing the last words he turned his hands palm up, fingers stretch outwards, towards the thin sky that seemed to be losing its grip on the blazing sun.
“Ne pleur pas. It’s normal.”
His friend arrived and drove us to the empty house in Hay Riad. The keys I needed to get into the house to look for a spare car key were locked in the car at Chellah. I started to cry again, and this second taxi driver repeated “Ne pleur pas. It’s normal.” I wondered at his choice of words “normal.” Did he mean natural? “No. He meant that things like that happen. Things go wrong. It’s normal to lock your keys in the car” my Moroccan friend later explained.
Back in the air conditioned taxi, we began our drive around town looking for a locksmith. It was early afternoon which meant finding an open store was going to be a challenge. But we kept at it. An hour or so later and several fruitless stops later, my daughter and I waited in the taxi parked just outside the familiar orange medina walls. The driver went in search of a locksmith and returned about 20 minutes later. He came with a short, brown man wearing a black work apron, who jumped in the passenger’s side front seat.
We pulled into the parking lot of Chellah and parked next to our car and got out. The man in the apron pulled out what looked like an uncoiled coat hanger and jimmied open the side door. I grabbed my purse from the back seat of the car. While giving them all thanks I began paying the men who aided me. The driver got 150 dirhams, which was a bargain for the ride around town. Driving from Chellah to Hay Riad and back would have been 100 dirhams alone. I paid the locksmith another 150 for his help. And I tipped the parking lot attendant 30 dirhams for watching the car. On top of the 10 dirham entrance fee, I ended up spending about $50 USD on the visit.
A day spent chasing tadpoles in shallow puddles, counting cats, photographing 14th century zillij installations, and playing kitchen amongst Roman ruins was worth the money spent, even if it did include me crying and driving through city at midday. My daughter enjoyed her “projects” with wildflowers and dripping water, but the true lesson of the day is that trouble finds its way into our life’s design and even adds beauty (God is great) to the composition. The thing is to welcome your trouble, deal with and experience it as a community, and have faith that even trouble has a place in design.