Leaving Tangiers by bus was just a little disconcerting.
There are no departure boards. Just a long row of busses and men shouting the names of cities in Arabic. “Chefchaouen?” a man asked me. I nodded stupidly. He waved me to follow him, which I did, until I realized he was taking me to the ticket counter of a different bus company. “Lah, lah.” I said, and showed him my ticket. He waved me toward the line of busses and yelling men.
I found a bus with the right company name on it, but the placard in the window said it was going to Fez, not Chef. I showed my ticket to the driver. “Chefchaouen?” He nodded yes, but turned me around and looked at my backpack. He said something in French that I didn’t understand, but it ended with “5 Dirham.” I gathered that he wanted me to pay extra to stash my luggage.
I had read a blog post the night before about the busses. The author had said “They ask for money for your bags, but it’s just a way for the driver to get extra money. Just keep saying no.”
So I said no. But the driver spoke to me in his Arabic-accented French some more, then finally said something I interpreted as a forlorn “you don’t understand French, do you?” “No.” I said, equally forlorn. He tried Arabic, but that didn’t help at all.
He took my ticket from my hand. He put his other hand out. “5 Dirham.” I sighed and reached in my pocket. It was only about 60 cents, after all. He took my ticket and my money and went inside the bus station.
I waited. And waited. Men walked past me in long robes or in jeans and stared at the strange woman alone with the giant pack on her back. A group of women in headscarves watched me sideways from a bench. I wondered if the man would come back at all. I wondered if he was even the bus driver, or if he was just some guy who happened to be standing near the bus door. I wondered how I would explain to the real driver that I DO have a ticket, but a man took it and walked away.
Then I asked myself why on earth anyone would bother stealing my $8 train ticket and 5 Dirham. I tried to relax. I waited some more.
Finally the man returned. He handed me a little luggage stub and pointed to where it said “5 Dirham.” He also had a matching luggage tag, which he helped me apply to my pack before he lifted the giant thing into the luggage compartment of the bus.
Oh. I was supposed to tell the ticket seller I would have a bag to check, a bag too big to carry on. It cost an extra 5 dirham to check it. This man had just gone way outside the call of duty to get my bag checked for me, because I don’t speak either of the local languages well enough to understand the rules. He was unfailingly polite the whole time. And I had imagined he was somehow ripping me off.
I tried to imagine whether a Greyhound bus driver, or an Amtrack conductor, or an airline attendant would do the same for a passenger who didn’t speak English. Would they leave their post, walk to the ticket booth, and check the person’s luggage for them? I hope so.
I also thought about the blogger who had been such an adamant ass that the driver of his bus finally gave in and let him have the extra service for free.
Time and again, I am humbled by people’s generous spirits. I know there are bad people in the world. I know I have to be on guard, especially traveling alone. And yet, somehow I have to find a way to balance that with what I’ve learned about people, first-hand. They are mostly just incredibly nice.