I awoke feeling hugely philosophical about our situation. The window was open, cold air was pouring through and I was warm in bed. I lay around for a spell and read, finishing my book, ‘Lord Jim’, at about 7.45am. I got up, washed and went out for breakfast, which was my now usual of pain au chocolat and black tea. This breakfast was becoming monotonous and, for some reason, I craved a bowl of cornflakes [which are so dull!]. I went back to the crappy hotel, packed and left, full of hope, yet with a hollow feeling of impending disappointment lingered in my stomach.
It was sunny but cool as I ambled through and out of the medina, past the beggars and up into the main road of Rabat. Firstly, I went to the English bookshop and exchanged my book for 20 dirhams, buying ‘Monsignor Quixote’ by Graham Greene. I, then, sat opposite the station in the sun, reading.
Every time that a Moroccan sat next to me or near me, I felt uneasy. One such man sat next to me. I waited in anticipation of his opening line but none came. I felt relieved. After a couple of chapters, I made my way to the British Council again, where I killed a couple of hours watching the news.
At 11.30am, I left to buy lunch which consisted of a Snickers bar and a coffee before heading to the Algerian Embassy. At the end of the street of the embassy, I noticed the English couple from the day before who looked stressed, looking at the ground and running their hands through their hair. I went up to them to say ‘hello’ as cheerfully as I could. They had been told to come back later and they were, justifiably, fed up. I popped into the embassy and was also told to come back later.
I left hurriedly and caught up with the couple, whose names were Lindsay and Stuart. I told them my news and chatted with them, once again sharing our frustrations on the way to the British Council. I showed them where it was, where we had a couple of coffees while waiting to return at 1pm. Both Lindsay and Stuart had been in the London Metropolitan Police in Brixton and had taken a couple of years out of their jobs to travel down Africa to Cape Town.
At 1pm, we walked back and sat down in the waiting room once more. (Before I had actually waited at the end of the street so I would not crowd the waiting out too much, but I could not stand waiting around out there so I joined Lindsay and Stuart). We talked amongst ourselves about why it was taking so long, who issued the visas and how we agreed that Rabat was a pit of a place.
The ‘visa man’ came in and said there was no news. I had had enough. I reminded him that I had been waiting for over 15 days now. I was getting cross and starting to put some malevolence in my voice. I demanded to speak to the Consul. I asked why there was a problem. I wanted to know what was going on and why it was taking so long. He said it was not his fault and went away to check something.
Two smelly Frenchmen cane in, filled forms in and were told it would be about a week to obtain their visas. ‘Ha!’ I thought, ‘Make that two weeks’.
Soon after, the ‘visa man’ came back into the room with a piece of yellow paper. “It’s here!” he said. I could have yelled with delight. That release of tension felt wonderful. I felt myself shaking with nervous joy. He called me into his office where I filled in a duplicate form onto which he stuck our photos.
I was still shaking when in came an English girl came in to get her Algerian visa. She was given the same spiel about having to wait for seven to ten days for it to come through. She spoke in Arabic and was planning to work soon because she was running out of money. I told her that I had waited for fifteen days and she looked perplexed.
Nevertheless, it was a good moment seeing the ‘visa man’ put that coveted stamp into our passports. He told me to remain in the waiting room while he finished off the paperwork.
Back in the room, I sat feeling very excited. Lindsay and Stuart were looking glum but congratulated me on getting our visas. I sat and waited there until 3pm with them In the hope that they would get their visas too. But, no luck. In there, we went through theories that it was not actually a telex from Algiers that said whether we could have a visa or not, but it was, in fact, it was all decided locally and that you had been messed around long enough before you got your visa. The fact that I had got angry and had asked to see the Consul may have contributed to the sudden appearance of our visas.
We left and walked down to the English bookshop. Lindsay and Stuart walked around the shop while I stood outside, waiting. I told the shopkeeper my news, at which he smiled and said “At last!”. I said goodbye to Lindsay and Stuart outside the station and said that we would probably meet again on the way down Africa because they were taking the same route as Dan and me. They walked off into the medina and I sat in the station café and wrote my diaries. The waiter seemed to recognise me as he patted me on the back when I ordered some tea. Either that or he was in a particularly good mood.
On the train, the camaraderie of the compartment sparked up when a plump woman came into the carriage at one of the early stops. She started chatting and was soon spoke to me in French. I put my book down and told her what I was doing. She talked about Princess Diana and asked whether she and Prince Charles were going to get divorced. A little later, she took out a box of homemade cakes and passed them around the carriage. She gave me some bread and another man offered me olives. I was starving so I gratefully accepted. It was an amazingly kind and generous, and was in such contrast to the jaundiced view I had formed of most Moroccans I had met up to that point. It was totally unexpected.
I soon arrived in Marrakech and walked back to the hotel to give Dan the good news. He was very pleased and we decided to set off the next day. Dan was complaining of having a very sore throat.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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