We touched down in the mythical city of Casablanca and were slightly lethargic. We got our second or third wind, worked our way down to baggage claim, and waited. And waited. And waited. The conveyor belt stopped. A couple of people looked confused. A woman began yelling at a baggage handler, gesturing furiously and becoming increasingly agitated. I thought to myself, “Is she going to get her luggage faster if she makes a scene?” Or, would the handler do what I might have done in the same situation: forward her baggage to Siberia. A couple of Dutch girls complained to the airline representative and located their bags. I remained calm, thinking we would share the same fate. A Senegalese man and woman sat next to me as we all filled out the same paperwork. File number this, case number that, phone call to customer service. Our luggage had not made the connection, but the rep assured us that we would have our bags on the next evening’s flight.
We began to improvise, washing clothes in sinks with hotel shampoo and air drying them at night. I was relieved that I had worn two shirts that first day, and luckily, I had a third Talib Kweli shirt wrapped around my camcorder. I am sure that some of us went ‘commando’ style if the drying process did not match our timing.
Days passed like this. We learned some Moroccan history and began studying Arabic. Every day the airline told us that our luggage would arrive late that night. Every day we waited. No luggage arrived. We began to joke about our hygiene, since although we could shower; we had limited options for clothes, if any.
I had had enough. My pants woke up before I did the night before and walked around campus. I decided to wash my pants in the sink with some shampoo and let them air dry before Arabic class (and breakfast) at 9:00 A.M. The heat would dry them out in no time at all, I surmised.
About an hour after I had finished scrubbing and rinsing, I hung the pants out the window. I had seen other students do similarly on campus. Moments later, I heard an odd sound. Thunder! Lightning flashed in the distance. Next thing you know, rain was falling in sheets. So much for the air-dry idea.
That morning, I woke up early to find the laundry room. Wafah, our campus guide, mentioned that it was in the basement of building 38, where we first checked in on Day 1. The only problem was that I had to shower and change… but I had no change of clothes. I put on my boxers and tied the bath towel around my waist as tightly as possible. I walked speedily toward the building, which was past the girls’ dorm and up a hill. A couple of girls looked at me strangely on their way to class. Others giggled. Then a security guard appeared behind me and started talking on his radio. He began following me closer as I picked up the pace. I made it to the laundry room, only to find that it didn’t open until 8:30A.M. By this time it was 7:45A.M. I walked back toward my dorm and noticed that the building next door to mine (#36) also had a laundry room. It was open! Apparently there were two laundry rooms: one was self-serve for seven durhams and the fluff-and-fold service was ten durhams.
I made my way down the steps gingerly and knocked on the door. The laundry woman answered trepidly. She asked if I spoke French, to which I answered mais non. We then spoke the three words of Arabic that I remembered: Anna ismi Maceo—or is that two words? She called her supervisor (who spoke English) and relayed the story to her in French. Then she handed me the phone. The voice on the line told me that I had to go to the AIU business office to buy tickets. I showed the laundry lady some coins that amounted to the cost of running the dryer. She took the phone from me and spoke in French for some time. She handed the phone back to me again. We went back and forth like this until finally, I could take no more.
I took a deep breath, spoke into the phone and explained in a calm yet firm manner: “Madam, maybe you are not aware of this, but I am standing here in a towel. There is no way I am going to walk down to the business office dressed like this. You just told me that the office opens at 8:30A.M. I have Arabic class at 9 A.M. Let’s solve this problem without me getting arrested for indecent exposure.”
She asked me to return the phone to the laundry woman. By this time, a security guard walked in named Nassir. He looked me up and down and then asked where I was from. I said “America” as the laundry lady handed the phone back to me one more time. (I hoped that Nassir was not her husband… I began to envision a series of sensational headlines from the next issue of the campus newsletter.) This time, however, the voice said that I had to promise to bring the laundry ticket back after my Arabic class.
I gladly agreed and hung up. During the time I was waiting for the dryer, Nassir and the laundry lady took turns teaching me Arabic and correcting my pronunciation. By 8:50AM, I was strutting down the walkway through the center of campus with a new attitude like Patti La Belle. Yeah, I washed the pants with shampoo, but I was april-fresh and my clothes were dry. I delivered the ticket after class, as promised, and we received our lost luggage that afternoon. Success!