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2/12/10 Riding Afla

The preposition afla means on top of or sometimes just above.

In the Tam-glish blend that we PCVs speak, "riding afla" means riding on top of a transit.

Rriding afla entails sitting on a flatbed, wood and steel, shallow-sided cage, with no safety restraints other than however tightly you're holding on.

It's wildly unsafe, given the poor road conditions and prevalence of traffic accidents - the #1 killer of adults in Morocco* - and therefore forbidden to us Peace Corps Volunteers. It's also illegal, under a paternalistic Moroccan law reminiscent of American seatbelt laws, but it's one of the many laws that exists only on paper. The gendarmes routinely choose not to enforce the laws against riding afla, in exchange for ... let's call it "mutual goodwill."

Theoretically, the shallow-sided cage perched afla the transit is used to transport goods and belongings, like a car or truck roofrack. In practice, it transports goods, belongings, men, women, children, livestock...

What? Livestock?!

Yeah, I'll get back to that in a sec.

Many people prefer riding afla to riding inside the transit, especially in the summertime. The interior is stuffy, overheated, and crammed with sweaty bodies, while the roof has 360 degrees of fresh air, the steady breeze of our forward motion, and room to sprawl, at least until afla gets as crowded as the inside, which doesn't happen that often. On the other hand, there aren't anything like seats up there, so folks just push in between the baggage and the spare tires. Riding 150 km down the mountain on a spring afternoon, surrounded by fields in bloom, sun on your face, a breeze in your hair, and squishy luggage to lean against... It's not a bad way to travel.

...Or so I've heard. Of course, I have no way of knowing myself, what with it being forbidden and all. Yeah.

But get back to the livestock.

Hang on. In addition to luggage and, yes, occasional livestock, the roofracks carry nearly everything that people want transported up and down the mountain. I've seen ponjs, TVs, satellite dishes, tables, musical instruments, heaters... Most of this is available in souq in Berberville or the two other mountaintop towns that host a weekly souq, but you do get a much wider selection down in SouqTown, so some folks prefer to do their shopping down below.

I get it. People ride afla illegally, all sorts of goods ride legally, but what was the thing about animals?! Riding 10 feet off the ground in an unsecured roofrack??

OK. A couple weeks ago, I watched a herd of sheep get lifted, by their bound ankles, up on top of the transit. Ewes, rams, lambs...a herd - a small herd, but still - were hauled up by their fetlocks and lashed to the roof for a few hours of the 4-hour run.

I sat inside, staring open-mouthed at the animals that the jumper (driver's assistant / baggage handler) was pulling up past the window beside me. The jumper could lift two lambs at a time, one in each hand, but needed both hands to lift the sheep. (No surprise there - these sheep are about the size and weight of German Shepherds. Big ones are *big*.)

Now, this is hardly the first time I've shared a ride with livestock. I've taken rides in transits and buses where the chickens rode inside with me, where they fluttered afla, where sheep rode in the baggage cars under buses, even once when a frightened sheep lay bound in the trunk of a taxi.

But I do think this one wins the prize for volume. I didn't get an accurate count - it took me a second to realize what was going on, and another few seconds to believe it - but it was something more than 10 sheep and less than 20, I'd say.

But Kauthar, how else can people transport their livestock?

Trust me, that's not a problem. Transits are the only way for *human passengers* to make the ride from Berberville to Souqtown on *public transportation*. There are lots of other options for livestock. The simplest, of course, is simply walking them. Meets two needs at once - they get to graze and forage and they get to their destination. Most of the time, though, animals are transported in camios or runnls, different kinds of trucks. Some are small, and can fit only 5 or 10 sheep, crowded together onto two levels; others are the size of dump trucks, and can transport several cows or an entire herd of sheep. People routinely ride these, too. A couple will ride in the cab, with the driver, but most will sit back with the animals. (Not us Peace Corps Volunteers, of course - this, too, is unsafe and therefore forbidden.)

* As I said, the #1 cause of death among adult Moroccans is traffic accidents. The #1 cause of death among children? Diarrhea, most commonly from contaminated drinking water. It's entirely preventable and an enormous tragedy for the country.

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