While in Fes, I have found countless facets of Moroccan culture that demand a period of adjustment. For example: using bread as a utensil, living with a TV that is switched on 24/7, and dodging traffic in the form of donkeys carrying giant cases of soda on their backs. However, none of these anomalies have been as frustrating or mysterious as the taxis of Fes.
As many of us live a 40 minute walk from the ALIF campus, getting home in time for lunch requires vehicular transport. Unfortunately, the process of successfully hailing a cab is completely random and you can spend mere seconds or the better part of an hour trying to find a ride.
Here's how the scenario usually plays out:
1. Walk to the main highway near ALIF, and stand on the curb (I try to look as pathetic as possible, in hopes that someday a cab driver will take pity on me and pick me up pronto).
2. Split up into small groups. For some unknown reason, taxis refuse to take more than three people (even though sometimes we see about eight people piled into one car. Confused? So are we!). As you will often be sharing the taxi with a random stranger, it's easier to find a cab with enough space for two people. Hoping to find an empty taxi is like expecting a miracle; only a few will be blessed with such good fortune.
3. Experience a surge of hope as a taxi FINALLY approaches your curb. Run to the window of the car. Look needy and ask "Batha?" (this is the square near the entrance of the medina). Taxi driver's response will either be:
a. No. (No explanations for this refusal as of yet)
b. Confused look. Repeat "Bat-HA?" (with several different syllable emphases). Eventually understanding will occur and if you are lucky, they will nod at the back seat and you will joyfully clamber inside, feeling as though you have won the lottery.
This is a process many of us go through each weekday, and there are still plenty of mysteries to decode. I will pay someone to explain to me what it means when a driver slows down, twiddles his thumbs in a circle at me, and then speeds up. Until then, I'll just attribute it to the circus that is catching a lunchtime taxi in Fes.