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3/11/09 Bus battles

Most people criss-crossing Morocco take buses. They're much more comfortable than grand taxis - you get a whole seat to yourself! - and have virtually unlimited baggage space.

Climate control can be an issue. Only the fanciest buslines - CTM and SupraTours - offer air-conditioning. (They also stop *only* at their scheduled destinations,** which makes them dramatically faster than the regular buses, also known as "souq buses", but they cost ~10-20% more.) On regular buses, there are huge windows, with huge curtains, which offer the only relief from the Moroccan heat. These are often open, flooding the bus with cool air...except when someone superstitious sits near them and insists on keeping them closed, for fear of the djin, who travel in fast-moving air.

I've ridden mostly-empty buses, half-full buses, and buses so crowded that a dozen people stood in the aisle, hunkering down whenever we approach a gendarme checkpoint (because it's illegal to have folks standing on a bus).

Bus fares between major cities are pretty standardized. Shady ticket-sellers will occasionally jack the price for arumin (foreigners), but this is pretty rare. Folks traveling shorter distances, though, or traveling between non-standard destinations, have more fluid prices.

When these factors combine badly - when you have uncertain pricing, hyper-crowded conditions, and stifling heat - tempers can flare.

Twice, in the dozen or three times I've ridden a bus around Morocco, I've seen a full-on fight. Fists smacking against flesh, clothes getting torn, that kind of thing. Two or three other times, I've seen shouting matches, usually between a passenger who believe that his short ride should be free or nearly so, and the jumper, who is trying to charge more than the rider deems fair. Sometimes it's between passengers.

The other passengers react like they'd just won free cable: eyes widen, voices get louder, and the whole bus shimmers with an sudden electricity. They watch the situation escalate, often shouting out comments. These are in Darija, so I don't understand them, and I always wonder whether they're trying to calm things down or escalate the conflict. Eventually, either before or after punches get thrown, somebody will step up into the role of peacemaker, and pull the combattants away from the action.

This rarely ends the fight. There's usually at least one, and sometimes two or three times that one angry party rushes back to the other, and tries to get in another jab, whether verbal or physical. After enough rounds, though, the parties calm down enough to let the peacemakers' efforts keep them separated. Sometimes this means that a passenger is unceremoniously removed from the bus; other times, it just means they resume their seats.

Ah, free entertainment, bus-battle-style. ;)

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