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4/28/10 The Law of the Mikka

As you may remember, mikka means plastic. In any context. Plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic chairs - I don't think it has the metaphorical meaning that "plastic" can in English, but otherwise, the words are identical.

If mikka is paired with another word, it's an adjective. But if it stands alone - Do you have a mikka? - it refers to a plastic grocery bag.

Mikkas are everywhere around here. They don't break down, don't burn well, and blow away with the faintest breeze. They're one of the commonest forms of litter in Morocco.

And people use them for everything. Every vegetable you buy comes home in a mikka. Everything from the dry-goods hanut. Flour and rice and spices are all sold in bulk, so they're put into small mikkas (plastic bags about the size of a ziplock sandwich bag), knotted, and put into your big mikka (grocery bag).

During the government's Earth Day extravaganza, they pledged to phase out / ban mikkas. I look forward to seeing this...

But what is The Law Of The Mikka?

Because they're so ubiquitous, they've developed uses beyond their original intent. In addition to bagging groceries, they're used to wrap henna'd hands, as emesis basins, and as seat-reservers. And that's what we're talking about today.

If you're planning to ride a transit, but it won't be leaving for a while, you can leave anything - anything - to reserve your seat. I usually leave a scarf or a book, but most folks leave a mikka. It's often filled with whatever they bought in souq that day, but even more often just empty. A regular empty plastic bag, sitting on a transit seat, is a universally-understood sign for This is my seat, so back off.

One day, I'd climbed aboard the transit early - like many women, I'd rather sit inside than wait at a nearby cafe, as most male passengers do - and I got to see this scene play out:

I'm sitting across from a bench seat with two clearly-laid-out mikkas. Obviously, both seats are claimed. A heavyset woman climbs aboard, moves one mikka to the side, and sits down - filling the whole seat. As she shifts around, I realize that some of her bulk is a small child strapped to her back, which she now moves to her lap.

I mentally shrug - apparently the two reserved seats were for her and her kid. Whatever. I go back to my book.

A few minutes later, a man walks up to the door of the transit, takes one look at this, and starts shouting. Though his Tam is too angry and rushed for me to pick out many words, it's clear from his gestures that the mikka she moved was reserving a seat for him. She tries to protest - she needs a seat, she has a baby, etc - but chivalry is not only dead, it never lived in Morocco, so he bullies her off the seat entirely.

His mikka was there first, and he therefore has immutable claim to the seat. A rumpled, crumpled plastic bag...and it gives him absolute dibs.

The Law of the Mikka.

(Don't worry - the jumper later found a seat for the woman and her baby. It turned out that she'd asked him to reserve them a seat, and he had, so when she moved the mikka, she thought it was from her own saved seat. She understands the Law of the Mikka, too.)

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