After listening patiently on the phone to me yap on endlessly about how my daughter and I finally made it out of Morocco amidst this Corona crisis my friend commented on it being my very own Planes, Trains, and Automobiles adventure. That would be pretty accurate, just replace the two white American men with two brown Canadian women. Add in a bit more panic, a touch of neurosis and a global pandemic.
Just to let you better understand the situation, I am a control freak with OCD when it comes to organization, neatness and time. My daughter constantly loses her things because her default setting is havoc. Sometimes I can’t believe I gave birth to this one. She will be referred to, forthwith, as “Her”.
We had been in the desert with no wifi or data when flight cancellations were announced. We were so young and naïve back then, looking forward to the Blue city and the Medina in Fez. Not knowing the world had turned upside down and there was going to be a very different adventure waiting for us.
Me to Her over the Japanese student tourist sitting between us : “Is the data on your cell phone working now?”
Her to Me: “Yes.”
Me expecting Her to give me more obvious and relevant info without twenty questions. Her maintaining silence as we traveled in great discomfort in the cramped back seat of the tour van with three other tourists. One of which was a grumpy young Brit with a permanent scowl on her elegant face. Our Japanese friend was on his cell frantically looking at the news and info on possible ways out of Morocco.
Me to Her: “Did you email the airline?”
Her to Me: “No.”
Me still waiting for more than monosyllabic answers. Her being unaware. Or just annoying af.
Our Japanese friend: “There are no flights to Japan!” Me and Her both emit sounds of condolence and also reassurance.
Me to Her: “Maybe email them? Ask when they will schedule our flight?”
Her to Me: “Pointless.” Two syllables. That’s an improvement.
Me screaming at Her in my head, “Can you please look for an alternative f*&^ing flight?” But maintaining silence knowing that it would be pointless at this moment and I needed to calm the f&*^ down because she was right. Instead I reassured our Japanese friend that everything would be okay and not to worry. I continued to maintain calm and watch the Moroccan landscape change from city to farm to mountains to valleys to city.
It was an 8-hour drive to Fez before we could get our hands on a laptop and see what was going on, but of course the airlines were not answering emails or calls. The only other flights leaving Morocco were ones going to Europe, most of them were full and there was no confirmation that once in Europe we would have a flight to Canada. Neither of us wanted to get stuck in a busy, congested airport in Europe with Corona ridden uppity Europeans. Plus, Europe was expensive as hell if we did get stuck without a flight home. We decided to stay put and see what options there would be after the two-week lockdown was over in Morocco. Still faithfully hopeful that this would all die down. The virus, of course, had other plans.
The Canadian government announced that they would be sending repatriation flights some days after our flights were canceled. We felt better since these were going to be direct flights and we would avoid Corona contamination in Europe. We were in an Air Bnb in Fez and to be honest quite comfortable, there was no panic where we were. Things had shut down but grocery stores and the bank remained open. Moroccans were strictly following social distancing. Our host had let us know that he would extend our use of the place for as long as we needed it. Others were not as lucky as we heard fellow Canadians that had been in hotels were now being turned out as everything went on lockdown. Sometimes it pays to be meagrely financed. It was very clear by this time that it would be months before things cleared up.
We knew we couldn’t stay for an unknown number of months. So, when the first flight was announced we tried to get our seats. What we didn’t think of was that there were more than 4ooo other Canadians also trying to book the flight. The website just froze up and before we could even get through, flights were already sold out. I started to feel an impending sense of being trapped. This had happened to me many years ago, I was stuck for twenty years in a place I didn’t want to be. It’s a long story. Please wait for my best selling, edge of your seat memoir. I am a catastrophe magnet.
I tried to keep calm as panicky messages came from well-meaning friends in Canada who had no idea what awful memories this was bringing back. My daughter tried to keep my growing anxiety at bay, at the most we’d be in Morocco for sometime longer-not forever. We had food and a roof over our heads, we’d be fine.
We tried to stay positive, did our groceries, made videos of our grocery trips because boredom gives you the courage to make a complete fool of yourself publicly. And hey you never know when the internet might decide to give you your five minutes of fame. Unfortunately, we were just too lame. We missed our one chance to become Insta Famous. Who knows when the next pandemic will come?
We had no idea how we would get from Fez to the Casablanca airport as all public transport was shutting down. We couldn’t just leave our one safe place to stay and go to Casablanca on the chance that we might be able to book tickets at the airport. Casablanca was a three-hour drive away. We ignored those suggestions from our well-intentioned advisors.
When the second flight was announced the same thing happened and again, we missed our chance. I tried to mentally prepare myself that we might be stuck here for months. The thought was not very appealing. I missed my kids at home. Also, I was really longing for biryani. I didn’t think I could go much longer without biryani. Biryani is life.
I attempted to make biryani, it was a complete failure without the needed ingredients. I was going to be trapped in Morocco with no access to biryani.
The government announced two more flights were being arranged. I was constantly checking my email to see when we could book the flights. We needed to get that third flight, it was starting to look like there might not be a fourth one.
When I found out the third flight was announced I tried again in vain to book the flight, this time I was getting through but the Air Canada website was not accepting any of our credit cards. The indignation of not having a credit card accepted online was the same as you feel when it happens to you in the grocery store and everyone in line behind you suspects you of fraud.
It was time to call in foreign aid. I phoned my husband in Canada, it was almost 6 am there, he didn’t need that much sleep anyways. He woke his trusty assistant, Middle Child, because clearly booking tickets was a two-person job. After many instructions from my side and much mansplaining from his side, we finally had our tickets. Now we just needed to find a way to Casablanca.
At this point I would like to let you know that I am not a regular traveler. I can’t afford that kind of lifestyle, my daughter had convinced me it actually wasn’t something that was out of our range if we planned it right. We didn’t do all the luxury stuff, we just wanted to experience the art and culture, not the high-end hotels. But at this point with our round-trip tickets gone down the drain and the expensive air Canada tickets we had to book to get out we were pretty broke. The affordable train was no longer running, neither were the local cheap taxis. There were private cars. We cried for joy when we found one that agreed to take us, and then sorrow as we kissed the last of our money away to book that car. We are now officially open for any donations you wanna send our way. Artist for hire. Will work for biryani.
I packed my things with relief and unease. We weren’t out yet and things were changing by the minute, what if our flight gets canceled? What if our expensive taxi doesn’t show up? What if they don’t let us travel out of the city? What if our taxi driver is the Moroccan version of John Candy?
The evening before our flight I pestered my daughter to pack.
Me to Her : “Can you pack your stuff?”
Her to Me: “Yes.” She continued to watch life wasting tictocs.
Me to Her after I had cleaned the kitchen for the fourth time: “Can you pack you stuff?”
Her to Me: “Yes.” She continued to watch cute cat videos which was an improvement.
Me to Her: “Can you do it now?”
Her to Me: “OMG.”
Me to Her: “If you do it now, you have enough time to pack in an organized way and know where all your stuff is when you need it. You never know where your stuff is.”
Her to Me: silence.
Me to Her: “Can you please…”
Her to Me: “I’m done with you.”
Also Her to Me at the Montreal airport the next night: “Did you pack my sim card? I need it to call us a taxi.”
Me to Her: “I’m done with you.”
The drive to the Casablanca airport the next afternoon was hassle-free, the three hours went by quickly as our driver chatted with me the whole way about Morocco. The car (that cost us an arm and a leg) was really spacious and comfortable. We were not stopped anywhere luckily. All intercity travel was restricted but we had a letter from the Embassy to let us get through if we did get stopped. There was barely any traffic on the highway. I have never been so happy to see an airport in my life. And I hate flying.
We boarded our plane and I was relieved it was only a 7-hour flight as opposed to the 10 hours it took to get to Morocco from Canada. The irony is we did spend 10 hours on the plane. Nothing in my life should seem ironic anymore though, as I said catastrophe magnet. Take off was delayed as we waited for about four passengers who for whatever reason had not made their way to the airport yet. I had mixed feelings when three ladies finally made their way down to their seats laughing and waving to people they knew. Mixed feelings of I wanna get up and smack them and I wanna lock them all up in the bathroom for the entirety of the flight. If you ever get trapped anywhere and are lucky enough to book flights back home, please be on time for the flight, thank you on behalf of 446 of the other passengers.
The next 7 hours were spent watching movie after movie to keep our minds off every traveler who was coughing. Basically, 98.9 percent of them. In the back of my mind I could see little coronaviruses floating around the plane yelling “Geronimo!” the whole time. It was great to finally get to Montreal, except for the fact that it was now midnight because we had taken off so late. We called an Uber to get to our motel which my daughter had booked with the foresight that if we missed that last train/bus from Montreal to Toronto we would be stuck sleeping on the floor of the Montreal airport. I mean we would probably find a cushy seat, but the floor is more dramatic. At the motel we were informed that the motel was not taking guests due to the lockdown. At this point I wasn’t surprised, we were both catastrophe magnets.
Luckily, they had made arrangements for us to be put up at another Comfort Inn and the guy called and paid for the taxi to take us there. Our cab driver enlightened us with all his theories on why the Coronavirus lockdown was probably a government hoax and had anyone actually seen a sick person? I refrained from any comment because at that point I didn’t trust what was going to come out of my mouth. He did however look to the bright side and said it had opened everyone’s eyes to the things that are really important, to which I agreed.
I showered off the exuberant Geronimo yelling virus from the coughing passengers on the plane and fell asleep like a baby. It was the first time in more than a week that we had slept on a bed. We had been sleeping on the sofas at the Air Bnb. Why? Obviously, because one of the bedrooms was declared haunted by my daughter and we couldn’t both sleep on the single bed in the second bedroom. The haunted bedroom is a complete story in itself, I will share that someday. Probably in that best-selling memoir.
It was amazing to wake up in Canada. We got granola bars, cupcakes and an orange in a paper bag for breakfast. Don’t even ask. That was good enough for us. There was coffee though, and it was good. We scrambled to grab our stuff and make a run for the train when we realized it was going to take longer than we had planned to get to the train station. The train ride, oddly lonely as passengers were asked to leave several seats between themselves, was five hours. They graciously provided granola bars and water. It is amazing how snacky you get when you have nothing to do. It was just a little while longer I told myself and got busy letting everyone I knew that I was home safely.
Union Station was like a ghost town which I was really glad to see, please stay at home! The Uber driver to Mississauga was another Coronavirus expert and filled me in on how the Chinese government had planned that whole thing to make the Stock market crash so they could then buy cheap stocks. I am not sure how this made me feel, my once in a lifetime trip had left me broke just so some businessmen in China could buy cheap stocks? The world is a crazy place. I am just glad to be home.
My prayers for everyone to stay healthy.