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4/14/09 Strike struggles

As I mentioned in my previous two posts, the Moroccan transportation industry is currently on strike.

Whenever anyone goes on strike, one of the messages is meant to be, "See how awful it is without us? Treat us better, because you NEED us."

It couldn't be more true than in this case.

Moroccans depend on public transportation to a degree hard to imagine in the US. Maybe my New York and DC friends understand, but folks in rural areas and/or California probably don't. Especially out here in the bled, but even in the cities, Moroccans depend on public transportation. Virtually nobody owns cars. Farmers don't own trucks. Families don't own cars. Only a very, very small percentage of people own an automated conveyance of any kind, and the majority of those are motorbikes and motorcycles.

So this strike, dragging into its second week, is inconveniencing EVERYBODY. City people can't get to work. Farmers can't get their produce to market. Buyers can't get themselves to market. Doctors can't get to their offices. Patients can't get to their doctors.

I took The Last Tranzit that ran between Berberville and Souqtown, on Sunday. On a regular week, there would have been 12 tranzit runs between that one and right now. As it was...

Yesterday, I had a great meeting with my counterpart. I felt very grateful to have made it into Souqtown.

But I had no idea how to get back.

As I walked back to town from the Water and Forestry office (a 3km journey), I got beeped at by about 80% of the passing cars. So when S* beeped at me, I ignored it. It wasn't till the car swerved over to the side of the road and rolled down a window that I even looked at it. Inside was a colleague of mine and his friend. If he'd been alone, I probably would have told him I was enjoying the walk, but with two men... I climbed in. S* asked me when I was headed home. I explained about the strike, but that I hoped that the driver of The Last Tranzit would continue to make his once-a-day run. S* laughed at that. Before I could get upset, though, he mentioned that he and his buddy would be driving up to Berberville the next day, and offered me a ride. I accepted.

This morning, I discovered some more side effects of the strike. Camio drivers - the Moroccan equivalent of Mack trucks - are striking, too. Which means no produce into souq. Which means that there *is* no souq. Which means no produce into Berberville. Most families in Berberville grow their own food, but there's a reasonably high percentage who count on souq. That's why there *is* a souq. But not this week.

And the students who live in the dormitory? Their food is supposed to come in by camio as well. The kids are getting leaner and leaner meals.

S* had come to town from Berberville in order to buy food to bring back to the dorm. He hadn't realized that Souqtown's cupboards are as bare as Berberville's.

What produce there is, is already dramatically overpriced. Last week, a kilo of oranges cost 4dh (about 50 cents - take a beat to appreciate how cheap my farmers' market produce is!) . This morning, a kilo of oranges was 10dh. That's a 250% markup in a WEEK. And even so, enough people are buying that the market stands are running empty.

I went to a cafe this morning, to meet S* for our trip home, and tried to order an orange juice. The cafe - the ritziest, classiest cafe in Souqtown - was out of oranges. I got a banana juice and tried not to worry about the starvation of my province. ("Banana juice" = milk + banana + sugar + blender = mmmm)

There are no potatoes to be had in the Souqtown markets. None. Potatoes are nearly the only export *from* my region - we have poor soil, what can I say - and the stalls were *empty*.

I saw one kid delivering eggs on a three-wheeled contraption that looked like the unholy offspring of a motorcycle and a wheelbarrow. The front half was pure motorcycle, but where the back wheel should have been was a flatbed, probably halfway in size between a wheelbarrow and a truck bed, with two widely-spaced wheels. To my surprise, no one mobbed him to seize his high-protein load, but he did deliver over a thousand eggs to one hanut owner. I guess that guy will be keeping his doors open.

After S* rounded up what food he could - including one lonely hunk of meat about the size of a human brain - for THREE HUNDRED HUNGRY TEENAGERS, we hit the road.

We didn't make it far.

Right outside of town we met the mob.

Not the Italian or Russian or Sopranos mob. An actual mob, of angry citizens. At least they weren't carrying pitchforks or bayonets.

OK, I'm exaggerating a little. But in all honesty, a crowd of about 75 men had gathered to block the road. Some arrayed themselves in a human barrier across the road, standing three deep, extending six feet on either side of the pavement. Others closed in on us from the sides.

I wondered if they were transportation-strapped travelers, hoping to beg for a ride.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

These were the striking drivers, and this was the picket line.

And S*, in their eyes, was the scab daring to transport people across it.

He slowed down, since they made it clear they weren't going to move out of our way. They shouted into the car. He got out and showed them the sacks of food he was bringing to the hungry boarding students. They shouted some more. He backed up, executed a one-point turn, and drove away.

I wondered if this was surrender.

Just a few hundred meters away, though, there was a dirt-path turnoff. We took it. It led us into the tiny village next to which the picketline drivers had made their stand.

We drove through the tiny village, down to the next one, never finding a path back to the paved road we'd been so effectively blocked from.

The small sedan averaged 20 km/h on the dirt path. I live 140 km from SouqTown. It was already past noon. I began to wonder if I'd get home before nightfall.

After half an hour of scraping along over dirt and rubble, we came to a place where the targua - irrigation ditch - crossed the road, and had flooded it out. S* didn't trust either his suspension or his engine in driving through the irrigation canal, so we turned around once again.

After a few minutes of backtracking, we found a route that crossed the targua at a place with better engineering, so we made it over. A few minutes later, we found a path back to the pavement, lhumdullah. S* immediately lept from 20kph to 80kph, and I sighed with relief.

We got home about 2.5 hours after that, but without any further drama. Double sigh. I promptly went to our tiny souq, where I found kurjet (zucchini) and limon (oranges) for their usual price, lhumdullah. I bought 2 kilos.

No one has any idea when the strike will let up, but everyone is feeling the pinch. Private drivers (excluding S*, lhumdullah) are no longer willing to give their friends rides, lest angrier mobs than the one I encountered actually *bash* their cars as punishment for daring to transport anyone. It's not an irrational fear - this is happening in some areas.

The only transportation still running are the CTM buses and the trains, both government-owned-and-operated. Unfortunately, SouqTown doesn't rate a CTM bus stop, and the nearest train station is about 100 km away. Also, both CTMs and trains are sold out for the next week.

I don't mind hunkering down in Berberville for the duration. I have enough produce for a week and enough dry goods to last a month, as long as I don't mind redundant meals. But other PCVs have meetings and appointments they need to attend. The 300 school boarders are growing teenagers who need copious quantities of food. Farmers need to sell their produce before it rots in their storage sheds.

I spoke too soon - we're not just feeling the "pinch". We're feeling the strangulation. And I don't know how much longer it will last.

1 comment:

  1. Are the drivers striking for more money, shorter work week, better roads? What is the reason for the strike? What are the demands? What will get the drivers to go back to work?


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