Two months ago, one of the most intimidating prospects of living in Casablanca was taking the bus. Which went hand in hand with my anxieties about finding a place to live, in a neighborhood where I wouldn’t have to catch a taxi every day to get to campus, far, far away.
Why is the ‘tobis so intimidating, besides the fact that almost every time I mention it to people in Casa they cringe and suggest–pretty forcefully–that a grand taxi might be a better option? Bus routes aren’t published anywhere, although sometimes there are signs like the one shown here. The buses themselves are always old, lumbering things driven in the same way that most vehicles are driven here. That is to say, recklessly. Buses are often crowded, and there’s a jostle to get on, to pay, and find a seat.
And then there are the passengers. A recurrent theme in my ‘tobis-related conversations with people here is that no one takes the bus unless they have to. As such, buses in Casablanca are the realm of the working class.
Yet, until the Tramway is finished buses are the only form of public transportation here in Casablanca, the biggest city in the country. Other options include the petits taxis, which can get very expensive over long distances and the grands taxis, which are a kind of hybrid between buses and taxis. Those are slightly more expensive (7 Dh versus 4 Dh on the bus) and, some argue, more comfortable. A seat is guaranteed, and there are usually few stops between your point of departure and destination.
But I prefer taking the bus. This statement has really puzzled some of my friends and classmates, and in fact I’m dedicating today’s post to a classmate who brought this up in the context of a class discussion on travelers and visitors to foreign countries, and the things they notice, or appreciate, or marvel at. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Casaoui who claims to actually enjoy, rather than tolerate, taking the bus.
Every morning, though, as I wait for the bus, I feel safe in my knowledge of which bus to take, and where it will take me. Even after over a month of commuting by bus, this feels like a huge achievement. I hop on, pay, and usually find a seat where I can sit back and either read the paper or a book, or just enjoy the scenery.
By scenery, I mean the neighborhoods that we go through over the course of my commute, an hour each way. I start out in Mers Sultan, on a boulevard with wealthy-looking residences and fancy cafes, and end up on the outskirts of town, with rows upon rows of new multi-family apartment buildings. Ben M’Sik is a quartier populaire, that is to say a working class neighborhood. As I look out the window, I wonder when buildings came up, how they were designed, and who lives in them. I think about how ten, twenty, thirty years ago there was nothing but countryside where some of these neighborhoods now sit. I people-watch, and wonder where everyone comes from. So many people in Casa are from somewhere else.
On the bus I can be an observer and at the same time just a commuter. No one bugs me, I’ve never felt unsafe, and I’m never in a hurry because a) I’m compulsively early and give myself plenty of time, and b) in any case tardiness is not as unforgivable here as it is in my home culture.
I get to relax, I get pumped about Casa and its neighborhoods, and I bask in the satisfaction of overcoming intimidating and unfamiliar situations. When I’m on the bus I feel like I’m right where I should be.
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See earlier post, Taking the ‘tobis’