Aid Worker Travel, Sierra Leone Part 2

In Sierra Leone, Travel on April 16, 2015 at 2:00 pm

2/14/15 Casablanca, Morocco, Mohammed V Airport terminal 2, 10pm

I’m on my way to a place where I can’t imagine anyone going just for the hell of it. I’ve spent a good deal of time in this airport now. On this trip I noticed that they completed the bathrooms they had been renovating the last time I was here. I also discovered a free, open wifi hotspot. Before, my iphone would just hang trying to connect to the only open network.

What a mix you have here! This is a major hub of flights for West and Central Africa, in particular. Every time I’ve come through there has been a francophone soccer team passing through. All these young African guys traveling together, always looks like fun. Who knows, maybe one of them will end up making it big. There are a bunch of regular Africans trying to get between their countries – most of the francophone countries. If you want to get between them, going through Morocco is one of the nicer ways. It’s still better than having to go all the way through Europe. A lot of these guys took advantage of the free transit hotel. When my wife and I were in Peace Corps in Niger, that free night in a hotel was a nice perk.

There are the bargain travelers passing through. Since you can get from New York to here to a few places, there are a lot of Europeans and especially middle-easterners. They are often loaded down with huge numbers of bags, even carry-ons. Many of them wrap their bags in cellophane, which I think the American TSA people cut off if you’re going there. A few people waiting to go to Gabon had set up a speaker and were having an impromptu dance party with their local Ndombolo music, which was tempting to join. I don’t, though, perhaps because I’m warming up my “social distance” practice for Sierra Leone, or I’m shy.

My last few trips, you can tell when you see an American or whoever on one of their very first international trips. They have trouble with customs, always triple reading signs, walking slowly… There are a handful of people traveling to Morocco for tourism, which looks like something I’ll have to do some day. On a trip I took last Fall when I went through Paris, there was a giant group of church-goers, all wearing identical t-shirts, with a lot of high-schooolers… almost all on their first international trip, to rehab a church in suburban Paris. Gotta start somewhere I guess. I go back and forth between wanting to blend in and not worrying about it… that’s morphed into a more general those of “don’t be an ostentatious idiot, use your street-smarts, and be super nice to everyone.”

And of course there are the aid workers and backpackers. Sometimes it can be hard to tell them apart, but the aid workers usually look a little more professional, but not like businessmen, and they occasionally wear all-matching shirts or jackets, like the “China Health” team on this flight in purple windbreakers. All the aid workers I know have got travel pretty well figured out – a month-plus TDY packing job can all be done in a carry-on bag, assuming HQ didn’t ask you to transport a bunch of shwag along.

The Moroccans I’ve observed in this airport seem to be a relatively jovial bunch. A bunch of duty free employees (mostly women) are cracking themselves up very loudly a few feet away. There are a good handful of families around, and there were several Moroccan families on my flight from JFK to here. Some very cute kids. Reminded me of when I went to Turkey, with the dads helping more than my stereotypes had led me to expect.

It’s the cold time of year in Morocco, so many of the local men are wearing this awesome Jedi-looking robe with a pointed hood. I have something kind of similar from Niger but it’s not as nice as what they have here: theirs almost looks professional…very cozy looking. Otherwise they mostly look smart in their dark wintery-clothes – overcoats, scarves – european but with the occasional women’s headscarf. Women here seem westernized for the most part, but that’s just what I’m seeing in transit.

I already got my kids the random local cheap souvenirs and T-shirts last time I was here, so I can’t really spend the time shopping or browsing. Duty free shops trip me out, it’s all perfume, chocolate, alcohol, and cigarettes. You can only get water downstairs in the smoky food court or at the end of the terminal at the cafe… looks like they’re building something new in the middle of the terminal, like a more european style salad/buffet place. All I need is good espresso and water, maybe a sandwich.

The local muzak here in this airport is a too-short loop of remakes of music from the Eagles, the Godfather soundtrack, and Simon and Garfunkel, among others… I’ve now heard it all the way through dozens of times.

I try to walk, this is basically a long narrow terminal, you can go by the gates and behind the shops in a back hallway. I should check my iphone later and see if it logs my steps here. Several more hours and I’ll be in Ebolaland.


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