A word of advice: Don’t lose your debit card on first day in Morocco.
While it’s never a good idea to lose your debit card in a foreign country, it’s an especially poor move to make on your first day. It’s okay to lose it one week later. By this point you feel comfortable enough to blast music on your headphones while riding Rabat’s sleek, ultramodern tram system (even though you’ll probably get off at the wrong stop, like I did). It’s fine to lose it five days later, after you successfully hail your first blue petit taxi (even if you spend the rest of the afternoon stomping around muddy Medina water wearing nice dress shoes). It’s not even a terrible idea to lose it just three days later after you take a “shortcut” to class (which inevitably takes ten minutes longer than the normal route). Just don’t lose it on your first day.
My first week in Morocco has been a whirlwind of new challenges and adventures. I’m still adjusting to life at my home-stay, where I’m living with the wife of the former Moroccan ambassador to France. I’m slowly acclimating my body to Moroccan food and water, which has yet to make me sick, Alhamdulillah. I’m even noticing my Arabic speaking skills dramatically improve which each conversation or interaction I have. But my first definitive experience was losing my debit card to a hungry ATM machine at Rabat-Salé Airport. In later entries, I’ll talk more about my home-stay and life in the city, but I learned an important lesson during my first few days that warrants this story.
I was unable to retrieve my card before leaving the airport because the bank employee had just left for his lunch break and would not return for a couple of hours. After checking into Hotel Oumlil with the rest of the Amideast students, I told Doha, our Program Manager, about my predicament. Doha was reassuring (as Doha is) and arranged for transport when the bank reopened for business. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to forget about it. Drinking Moroccan tea with my new friends and watching a local cat claim sovereignty over JT’s chair helped take my mind off things.
Monday morning, I hopped into a cab from Amideast to head to the airport. My driver was named Ibrahim, a local Rabat resident. Ibrahim knew French and Darija, the spoken Moroccan dialect. I speak English, formal Arabic and some Egyptian dialect. My Arabic was a little rusty, but this was my first opportunity to test what I had learned in the field. Through broken formal and colloquial conversation, I learned Ibrahim was a first-year English student at Amideast and drove cabs on the side. He’s a fan of Rabat’s club soccer team and knows all the words to their song: Black Army. I told him I liked rap, mentioning Jay-Z.
“You have Jay-Z,” he said. “We have Dizzy!” Ibrahim promptly put on Dizzy DROS, a Moroccan rapper from Casablanca.
We arrived at the airport and I marched in, expecting to triumphantly return with my debit card in hand. Unfortunately, the bank employee fell sick earlier that day and went home just a few minutes before. I gave my phone number to the information desk and left. Back with the group, I was starting to feel a little peeved. I received a call while touring some Roman ruins that I should return to the airport later that night.
During the drive, Ibrahim and I didn’t talk much. Traffic was miserable and I was too anxious to speak. But as we looped around a bend, I looked out the window and saw Rabat’s cityscape give way to a vibrantly green pasture, studded with brown mounds of dirt and vivisected by a snaking blue river. The sun was setting behind the bridge and shadows stretched out over concrete houses in the distance. I hadn’t noticed this pasture on our first drive because I had been so focused on the task at hand.
I obtained my card with little fanfare, exchanged numbers with Ibrahim and settled back into Hotel Oumlil for the night. What I learned is that it’s okay to lose your debit card your first day in Morocco. You might just see something incredible on the way.