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3/7/09 "Another Solution"

Last weekend, when I went to visit a friend for her birthday, I went traveling through parts of Morocco I haven't explored before. I ran into a series of obstacles, which culminated in my being about two hours behind I missed the last tranzit of the day. Or at least I thought I had. But I didn't know where the tranzit station was in this town. All I knew was that it was "near the taxi station to [her souqtown]", not to be confused with the other taxi station, and that the taxi station was "across town" from the bus station where I'd arrived. (Like most long trips, it involved every conceivable type of transportation: buses, taxis, tranzits, etc. I'm kinda surprised I didn't end up on a mule.)

So I asked a gendarme where to find the taxi station I wanted. "Go straight, for a while. There's some big streets, then some small alleys. Turn left at the second alley."

I figured I'd walk straight for a few minutes and then ask somebody else.

"Madame? Bonjour? Madame?" A voice nagged at me from behind. I ignored it, as I always do when strangers try to chat me up in French. For that matter, I've heard "Bonjour" from kids whose French consists of about four words. The clue is when they say, "Bonjour, monsieur," to me. I don't care for the "madame", but I really hate being called "Monsieur." I know that the kids don't mean to call me "mister", but it bugs me that they spend half their schoolday being taught in French, and clearly, nothing sticks.

Anyway, I was ignoring the voice. And then it said, in flawless French, "You're looking for the taxi station to [her souqtown]?"

My head spun around involuntarily. I hadn't noticed anyone lingering within earshot, but apparently somebody had.

I saw a young man, probably 16 or 17, looking at me with an earnest expression.

"Do you want help finding the taxi station?" he pressed.

I figured he was an enterprising kid looking for an easy few dirhams, but I didn't begrudge him. If he could get me across town without my having to admit to another dozen strangers that I had no idea where I was going, that was worth a few D's.

As we walked through town, we chatted. Turns out he's 19, a year away from sitting for his baccalaureate exams, and has grown up in Belgium and France as well as Morocco. He's hoping to start his own construction/development company, or else study architecture.

Twenty or thirty minutes later, we got to the taxi/tranzit station. There were no more taxis heading my way. My young friend, Mehdi, was undismayed. "We will find another solution," he said confidently.

We walked to the tranzit part of the station. The last one had left about 45 minutes earlier. "We will find another solution," he reiterated.

He has a friend with a car, who could drive me out there if I'd cover his gas. I was wary, because it sounds too much like hitchhiking, which is a violation of Peace Corps rules. Turned out to be a moot point, because the friend wasn't picking up his phone.

"We will find another solution."

And we did. It was more expensive than I'd hoped, but it got my to my friend quickly, safely, and without violating any Peace Corps rules. He stayed with me, cajoling, encouraging, and haggling with anyone who could help, until he waved me off on my path. He didn't take a penny for his troubles, either.

During our walk across his city, he'd asked me if I were Muslim, or planning to convert. I smiled and said that I'm happy as I am. He assured me that all people have the right to their own beliefs. I heard a "but" coming.

"But in my opinion, Islam is special because of its attitude towards the stranger," he said with his trademark seriousness. As I looked at him, I realized that he was living his beliefs. What better illustration of that "attitude towards the stranger", usually expressed by unfailing hospitality, than his willingness to take an hour out of his Saturday afternoon to shepherd me through his city and make sure I made it safely on my way?

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