No Desert, No Degree, and I thought I was going to Die.
I will probably always remember Thursday November 30th, as one of the worst days of my life. While studying abroad they tell you that many people go through ups and downs. I can now personally say that yes, being away from home during Thanksgiving was hard but I didn’t hit rock bottom until last Thursday.
The day started out pretty good. I went to class, packed my bags, and got ready to go to Merzouga to explore the desert on camels. At around 6PM we left campus and got a grand taxi from Ifrane to Fes. We arrived at the bus station around 7PM and after finally getting internet connection we realized we needed to be across town at a different bus station. So we got another taxi and finally made it to where we needed to be. We walk in about 30 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave and asked if we could purchase two tickets for the overnight bus to Merzouga. The bus was full and we were completely out of luck. If we waited until the next bus which didn’t leaves for 24 hours we would not get back to campus on time and because it’s the last week of class it’s going to be a crazy week. I guess this means I just have to come back to Morocco to do the desert another time.
In order to salvage the weekend we decided to walk across the street to the train station and get ticket to somewhere random and go on a spontaneous adventure. The place we picked was Nador, Morocco which is in the North right on the coast of the Mediterranean. It was about 8PM when we bought our tickets and the train to Nador wasn’t scheduled to leave until 2AM. So we has some time to kill.
We ended up doing so research about Nador…. It turns out the area is known for international drug trafficking and extreme poverty… not the best place for two women in their early 20’s to spontaneously show up with no plans. So we looked at other places close by the Nador to see if we could find a safer place to stay for a day or two. We found countless pictures of absolutely beautiful beaches but again safety wasn’t any better in any of the areas close by. So we just hung out at the train station and tried to decide what to do.
On top of my travel plans completely falling apart earlier the same day my professor basically told me I have to move my flight in order to be able to take his final and pass the class. If I don’t pass this class I don’t graduate. Around the middle of October I moved my flight up to the 12th of December because 3 out of 4 of my professors told me that we will be done with finals by the 12th. I also learned that I would have the ability to walk at graduation which I didn’t think was going to be possible because my credits don’t transfer until February. So I searched and searched for flights and talked to my airline and found out it was possible for me to leave right after my last final and make it home 40 hours before I walk across the stage. The fourth professor that I didn’t check with before I moved my flight told one of his classes earlier in the year that his classes will most likely be done early because he leaves campus to do research over the break in another country. So I listened to the rumor and moved my flight before I had checked with him.
He also hasn’t set the date of our final in stone. We have no specific day or time and the final is in less than two weeks. All he has said is that it might be on the 13th. I asked to take it on the 12th. I have not missed one class. I have not turned anything in late. I show up ten minutes early to class every day and I participate by taking notes and asking questions. In the US, I have never asked to move a final exam before but I would imagine and hope that if an international student or any students for that matter asked a professor in my department to take an exam individually that they would understand. At this university when any international student asks for anything we are basically treated as entitled foreigners that need to learn to handle things ourselves because the school isn’t going to lift a finger for you. I have a friend who broke her leg and had to go to the hospital and the school did nothing to help her. This, and many other examples have a lot of the international students extremely upset, most have contacted their home university.
I have looked at my class syllabus, at the international student handbook, and at the overall student handbook nothing says anything about not being able to move final exams. Additionally, if I were to move my flight again it would cost me around $1000 and I wouldn’t make it home in time to walk at graduation. $1000 is more than it would cost me to take the class over again. I realize I messed up and that I should have checked with him and that I shouldn’t have relied on what he told other exchange students at the beginning of the year but I don’t get why there isn’t some leeway for students who don’t live in this country and have a legitimate excuse (ie. graduation). His exact words were, “OIP (the international office) warned you guys.”
So while sitting at this train station I was stressing about being able to graduate, to get my diploma, to finish my other classes, and not get wrapped up in some international drug trafficking in the North of Morocco. Plus! During the 5 hours we sat that the train station we were stared at by ever man walking by and my friend was basically called ignorant for not being able to speak Arabic by this guy who would not leave us alone. So ultimately, I decided not to go and to just get a taxi back to campus and my friend decided to meet up with some of our other friends in Marrakech.
It was about 1:40am when I went left the train station to go get a taxi. I walked up to some gentlemen standing outside and they asked if I needed a taxi. I said yes and told them where I needed to go. This one man said he could give me a ride to the grand taxi station because the taxies here aren’t going there this late at night. Petit taxies have to stay within city limits. In order to get from city to city you have to take a grand taxi. As we were loading my bag into the back of his petit taxi a man walked up to us and started speaking in Arabic. The man who I was already with translated and told me that this man could take me the entire way for 600MAD (~$60 USD). They obviously thought I was new and just off the train. I told them no, I usually only pay about $25 USD for an entire taxi but being so late I offered to pay $40 USD. The guy said no the best he could do was $50 USD. I knew I was being ripped off but it was almost 2am and I just wanted to be home. So I said yes.
**Disclaimer** DO NOT GET INTO A TAXI ALONE AT 2AM!
I asked when I needed to pay and the man who spoke English told me I should pay when I get to Ifrane. Then to my surprise the man who said he could take me started unbolting his taxi number off the top of his PETIT taxi. This is when I knew something weird was happening. I should have left then. He got it unbolted and the man who spoke English told me to, “Travel Safe.” How creepy!!
I got in this unnumbered petit taxi with this man who was easily twice my weight, didn’t speak English, and had a mustache. Also he asked me to sit in the front seat next to him instead of in the back. We left the train station and stopped at a gas station where he made me pay for the ride…. although the other man had told me to pay when I got to Ifrane. But he didn’t speak and I couldn’t argue with him. This is when I texted my mom. I told her I felt like something was off and I didn’t know what else to do. We left the gas station and headed out of town towards Ifrane. Right outside of Fes was a police checkpoint where they didn’t stop him but they asked him to slow down so that they could look at his license plate. I thought they were going to tell him to turn around because petit taxis are not supposed to leave town. But we kept going. I was watching road sign and making sure we were headed the right direction. Which we were for about 20 minutes until he turned off the main road.
I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t want to be disrespectful but I knew something wasn’t right. He was speeding and driving all over the road trying to avoid potholes. I started sending screenshots of my location to my mom. At this point I was shaking. All I could think about was how this man had total control over the situation and we could pull over to some random house and I could never been seen again. I was trying to keep track of all the turns he was making so that if I needed to run I could make it back to the main road but I got completely lost after about the tenth turn.
We kept driving and I couldn’t help but tear up because I was so terrified and so full of adrenaline. Finally, we came back to the main road and he told me in broken English he was going to call a grand taxi. He picked up his phone and yelled at the man on the other end for what seemed like an eternity. This didn’t make me feel better. He could have said anything on the phone. Not only is my Arabic rudimentary I also can’t understand any of the local dialect. I noticed we were no longer headed towards Ifrane. I told my mom I was going the wrong direction and kept sending her pictures of my location. I was trying to be specific enough so that she knew where I was but I also didn’t want to tell her everything because I didn’t want her to worry too much.
According to my map we drove in a complete circle. We were back in Fes. The taxi driver didn’t say why or communicate with me at all what he was doing. I was still terrified. He pulled over to the side of the road and finally told me we had to wait for a grand taxi. We sat not speaking for around ten minutes. Until finally another taxi pulled up. I got out of the car and could not have been more afraid by what I saw. This car didn’t look like a taxi at all. I looked at the man who had driven me in a circle and said… THIS IS A TAXI?! Trying to seem angry and not terrified. He understood what I said and pointed at the taxi sticker in the front window of the old white beat-up BMW. I took a picture of the taxi number and sent it to my mom instantly. The two men laughed at me but at this point I couldn’t have cared less. They moved my bag for me and I got into the second car. Hoping I wasn’t just sold into some sex trafficking network and that this time I was actually going back to campus. Again, the new taxi driver asked me to sit up front and not in the back seat.
In a new cab still terrified and freezing because the window in the taxi couldn’t roll up I left Fes for the second time that night. It was around 2:30 in the morning and I still had an hour drive back to campus. If that was even where I was headed. Time passed and the new taxi driver asked me what my name was and where I was from. He got a call and I heard him say Ifrane, which I took as a good sign. He told me it was his wife which for some reason also calmed my nerves a little as well. We spoke in a combination of what little Arabic I knew and what little English he knew. For the last 45 minutes of the drive we both sat completely silent. The closer we got to campus the better I felt. I texted my mom the entire way which helped me not focus on how scared I really was. As we pulled into town he asked me where I needed to be dropped off I told him the university and 2 minutes later we pulled up to the font gates of campus. I tipped the cab driver even though I know I paid way too much but I felt like he had basically saved my life. I shook his hand and said thank you, showed the guard my ID, and instantly broke down in tears while basically running back to my room.
I am so thankful nothing happened to me but when you are in a situation completely alone and you realize how vulnerable you are…there is nothing more terrifying. Thankfully, I was just ripped off. But in reality that situation could have ended in so many different ways. I have watched too many horror movies and read too many news stories to think that I was completely safe at any time during that entire experience. I can look back now and say that I learned from it.
I officially have 10 days left in Morocco. And now that I’m back on campus I have to figure out how to pass all my classes and take all my exams before I leave. All while trying to savor my last days here and enjoy the time I have left with the amazing friends I have made in the last four months.