couper la parole

Trajet: Drivers, travelling in Morocco, and the road to Marrakesh

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse
In contrast to the chaos in today's story, we'll begin with a peaceful glimpse of Morocco. Read on, now, for another 'picture'! (Photo taken two years ago, on a family trip.)

le trajet (trah jay)

    : trip, journey

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Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Le trajet à Marrakesh était un veritable parcours du combattant!
The ride to Marrakesh was a real obstacle course!


A Day in a French Moroccan Life... by Kristin Espinasse

The Motorway to Marrakesh

When Jean-Marc was asked to be témoin, or best man, in the marriage of a childhood friend, he could not refuse the honor--never mind the delicate timing (during our busy wine harvest!) or the not-so-convenient location: Afrique

No sooner had our plane arrived in Morocco's "Red City" than I began to suspect that the town's colorful synonym had something to do with blood, for the ride from the airport to the hotel was nothing short of a death march.

I stared out the shuttle window at fellow travelers along a chaotic chemin (was it a highway or an expressway?). It couldn't be an autoroute... or why would 5 lanes of traffic include both man and animal? By 'man', I mean homo pedestrian, and, by animal... well, there were camels and donkeys and dogs... and monkeys walking along the expressway, too!

There on the outskirts of the airport, we were one great procession, weaving, wobbling, crawling (were those toddlers teetering on the curb of the express way? Mon Dieu!) ...zipping, shrieking, and honking our way forward, toward the setting sun.

As the sky darkened, the fragile human and animal pèlerinage began to fade into the background, where streetlights ...when alight... cast a faint lumière on the surreal atmosphere.

Our bus lurched forward, yanked to and fro by the whim of its heavy-handed operator, who seemed faintly amused by his passengers' terror.

Between gasps, puffs, and more sharp intakes of air, I evacuated my fear, to the amusement of those more experienced passengers. The man in the front seat, on hearing me, began a game with the driver, so that each time a member of pedestrian traffic was spared, he shouted: râté! ("damn, missed that one!"). His macabre sense of humor only goaded the driver, who homed in a little closer, each time, to the living, breathing "obstacles".

From my unsecured seat (no ceintures, or seat belts!) facing the menacing windshield, I watched as entire families were transported on a single moped: father (in a protective helmet) at the helm of the rickety scooter, followed by baby, then wife. (The babies--for this wasn't the first family aboard a moped!--were sandwiched in between the driver and the veiled mother--neither of which wore safety headgear!) 

Criss-crossing the swaying flow of traffic, were the elderly and the disabled... who seemed to have wandered onto the highway from a hospital bed somewhere.... I watched a blind man (he would have had to have been aveugle to have ventured into this death trap) navigate across the traffic lanes, with the help of his cane! 

Arriving at a roundabout the traffic lanes narrowed and I heard scraping... I turned to see the metal bite of a donkey rubbing against our bus's window as the fellow travelers (our bus and the donkey) squeezed together when the lanes merged, or bottle-necked.  

Wait! No! But! Ahhhh! Gosh! Eek! Oh!.... I gasped.

"Raté!" the sadistic copilot shouted, in mock disappointment, and I saw that the donkey's hooves were spared from the bus tires. But I could take no more. I closed my eyes and thought about my childhood in Arizona, where drivers stayed to the very center of the wide traffic lanes. If a driver needed to change lanes, he first made his intentions known by deploying what, in America, we call a "turn signal" or "blinker" (a bright light that flashes a clear-as-day warning to surrounding motorists). As for fellow motorists ("motor" being key), in America we classify as "traffic" the collective presence of vehicles (mobile machines with four--or sometimes two--wheels and an engine) on a given road. And people are not normally considered vehicles, indeed, walking anywhere near a motorway meant that you would be committing a crime punishable by law (JAYWALKING!).

Speaking of crime, where were the traffic police? Who were the powers that be that were supposed to be watching over this swaying, scraping, uncontained menagerie? What about safety?

I leaned forward to inquire about traffic statistics, specifically incidents of death: "Just how many accidents mortels happen each year?" I asked the driver.

"No accidents!" he insisted. 

"No accidents?" Just then I watched another near-miss, when a scooter slipped sideways between a donkey-drawn carriage and a truck... were those feathers flying out of the truck bed? Was that a squawk? And what about the poor souls hidden from view--the casualties who were on their way to becoming casualties (or the chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse?) Didn't they count, too?!

"No accidents!" the driver insisted, and I noticed his conviction, which was backed up by his own testimony. Looking out over the streaming sea of innocents, some old, some young, some furry, some bent, he announced.

"God is protecting us."



Well, I couldn't argue with that. Whispering "amen", I stared, with awe, out the window, at the fragile-yet-confident travelers, who advanced toward the hazy horizon, beyond which the mysterious universe traveled on and on.  


French Vocabulary

le témoin = best man, witness

Afrique = Africa

le chemin = road

l'autoroute (f) = motorway, expressway

le pèlerinage = pilgrimmage

râté! = missed (target)

la ceinture = seat belt

aveugle = blind

accident mortel = deadly accident

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Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter -  handcrafted by artisans to last for generations. Order here.


auto ecole drivers school in France lamp post shutter hanging laundry
The shop sign reads "drivers school". Do you have a minute to read another story... about learning to drive in France? I'll never forget the smug feeling of driving to my driving school class... only to feel humbled, when I had to sit beside the 17-year-old students (at 38, I had been driving for almost 20 years! Yet... it was necessary to pass the French driver's exam. Read the story "Conduire" here


THANKS, to those of you who wrote in, in response to my story about the search for a good "skin doctor"! I am moved by your caring words, as former patients and as friends and family of those who have had an experience with skin carcinoma. Thanks also to the doctors who took the time to write in with encouragement and helpful information. Update: this picture was taken 6 months after my surgery. More about that scar on my forehead, here.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Oh my stars! What an experience! I would have been deep breathing right with you. It makes a great story but there must be a few grays hairs on your pillow that night.
Hope you enjoyed the wedding.

Bill in St. Paul

I'm curious as to why the wedding was in Marrakesh? I guess if you deal with that kind of "traffic" everyday, it's no big deal, but I have to assume that they do have a lot of accidents, even if "God is protecting us." Scary when you've come from a more "organized" country.

Sarah Livesay

My family and I are American and we live in Casablanca, Morocco. I enjoy your blog - it helps me with my French! Thank you!!! Oh yes, there most certainly ARE accidents here.... One does grow a bit more accustomed to the way traffic works, but there are always surprises. I think I have become a better driver in some ways, and worse in others! :)

Karen Whitcome

My usual morning route was thrown off today because one school had changed it's student drop-off procedure. It caused roads around the school to back up terribly. I said to myself, "Just wait until a policeman sees this. He'll have them re-routing it. And certainly, the local drivers will also "see to" convincing the school to go back to the old way." That's what we do. That's how we operate. We see a problem and we resolve to fix it.

There are no accidents. God is in control. I guess I can see that our fate is formed by each little nuance of the day. You can't just say that God controls our fate and yet not each path that leads us there. HOWEVER, He also gave us a brain for reason and calls us to live in community.

What an interesting view you have given us today on the core differences between whole societies. It makes me wonder about the concept of "country-building". But also, it makes me wonder if there are some controls I have put on myself that I should hand over to fate. Traffic needs control for safety issues but... do I?

Best of luck with meeting with the next surgeon. Kristin. I'm sure that the specialist will help with much more than making sure you'll not scar badly. Keeping you in my prayers but don't leave THIS to fate!

Beth Vosoba

Very nice story. This armchair traveller was happy to go along on your trip to Morocco. I hope to go someday as well. I bought a tagine this weekend and and am trying my first meal in it tonight.

gail bingenheimer

"Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement par Assia Djebar-

Ces nouvelees, quelques repères sur un trajet d'éoute , de 1958 à ....à aujourd'hui, septembre 2001.
Conversations fragmentées, remémorées, reconstituées....Récits fictifs ou frôlant la réalité-des autres femmes ou de la mienne-, visages et murmures d'un imaginaire proche, d'un passé-présent se cabrant sous l'intrusion d'un avenir incertain, informel


Isn't it all too wonderful? I was in Morocco 2 yrs about the goats in the trees that line the "highways"?
Bon Voyage!

Jules Greer

Oh Kristi - your are flying high this morning with a tale which would be a great chapter in a future book. Every word seemed to be in just the right place as you transported me to Morocco. Your story would also work for a travel magazine once you expanded your experience and added your beautiful photo's. Yes it's MOM, always trying to encourage you to make more money and contacts. I am such a dummy, YOU are doing everything right in your life. That's why we all wish we were stuck in your pocket each day to share your life first hand.

I hope you took photo's of the donkey, camels and monkey. Your descriptions took my breath away...kind of sounds like Mexico. I ride the bus around Puerto Vallarta, the terror of a 10 minute ride downtown rivals any rocket ride at Disneyland.

If God were not totally in control of my life I would not be here today...I took too many stupid risks with my life in the past not to know how I have been protected. My life is a book of miracles - how could I have created someone as beautiful as you. You were created and sent to me to bring joy and love and wonderful stories to me in my old age.

I am blessed - THANK YOU GOD!!!



Julie F in St. Louis, MO

What a beautiful photo at the top of the post. So ethereal. I remember you telling the story about your driving lesson to my husband and me this summer. If we ever get to settle in France, the driving exam will truly be my biggest obstacle. I'll never know French well enough for that.

Meanwhile, here's my experience about flying solo (driving solo?) for the first time in France

Eleonore Miller

The traffic in Cairo? Much the same! I remember a cabbie steering with a left pinkie while fingering his prayer beads with the right hand while looking over his shoulder to converse with my friend and I in the backseat while negotiating back and forth around the various animals, persons, and vehicles. WHITE KNUCKLE transport at it's best. Though a many times visitor to France I LOVE your writing style and always learn something new and/or amusing. A bientot.


We all think that our country has the most civilized drivers, but I was just reading an editorial in the local newspaper about the horrible drivers swerving from one lane to the next trying to get ahead on I-95 in Connecticut.
But I must say that Morocco has it over us for dangerous driving.

On another note, I am now reading "The Summer of Katya" and am loving the descriptions and you can telling by the choice of words that it was translated from French. But the most surprising thing is that it is written by a man. He is very sensitive.
A book which I would highly recommend is "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom. I happen to have read it while in Virginia where the story takes place. The book is about slavery and gives you a good understanding of what the situation was like during the late 1700 and early 1800.


Et comment s'est passé le mariage du copain de JM? Chère Kristin, your today's write-up made me laugh so much because of the way you described what you were seeing. Tu ne nous dis pas si JM a eu aussi peur pendant le trajet.
I have witnessed terrible traffics in third world countries too. I was aghast to see a todler standing between the father and the vespa's guidon, with the mother and baby on the back seat. And nobody wears a helmet. I would see a small child in the basket in front of a bicycle's handlebar, with the head covered up in... a plastic bag, on a rainy day. People in San Francisco or New York have to be in other parts of the world to know their traffic is...nothing of a problem. I think USA has perfect laws to protect us all.
râté! n'a pas d'accent circonflexe sur le A. Bonne journée!

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Oh my, I now need to catch my breath! What a dizzying ride…how mysterious Morocco sounds. I absolutely loved the imagery and mystical quality of your entire story, especially "the fragile-yet-confident travelers, who advanced toward the hazy horizon, beyond which the mysterious universe traveled on and on."

Amy Kortuem

GOODNESS! And I thought I had some death-defying tales to tell about getting to weddings with my harp. Getting lost on winding country roads, getting stuck behind farm equipment going down the highway at 30 mph with no opportunity to pass, driving through white-out conditions in blizzards, braving Twin Cities construction...they pale in comparison to your bus ride!


Hi Kirsten,
Really believe its important to have a plastic surgeon remove anything that's on your face. I had a basal cell removed years ago from my face with no further problems. Get an opinion from a plastic surgeon! Amities,Nancy

Angela Fowler

And we thought navigating l'etoile was a challenge!


Kristin, you have been to the most exotic places. I love your description of the 5 -lane road with everyone on it : )

I will try to remember this story when I drive in LA!

WIshing you a great week!


Your story today makes me very happy to be traveling the relitive quit of my small town's streets :)
Thank you for sharing your stories and your photos!


I remember my first trip to Madras India. There are only 4 stoplights in the city. The taxis and the cars all go down the road 70mph as you are holding on for dear life. Then there are the scooters,buses tuk-tuks,ox-carts bicycles all mostly going the same direction and don't forget the rickshaws (of sorts) everyone going fast as possible. The the sacred cows meadering acoss the road or in the middle standing still...and everyone missing them. You get the picture. And later one of the cows joined us for lunch walking in and thru the lobby of the Holiday Inn out to the pool for a bit of lunch and a drink of water. Oh, and Penang is worse.


I love this photograph of the woman on the beach... - a thousand words and then some.

Los Angeles


Oh my! Things haven't changed much since '69, yes, I said '69. Only we took the bus from Cetaun(?sp)Algeria to Tangiers, Morocco. Try being stopped by Berbers on horseback with rifles boarding the bus. It was filled with locals (including pigs and chickens). What were we thinking at 25yrs. old. Fortunately a FRENCHMAN (love the French) in the seat in front of us took us under his wing. Told us to look straight ahead. He also found us a place to stay that was decent in Tangiers and then became our escort into the Casbajh and everywhere else until we left. He became the guardian angel of two young girls who should never have done what they did at that time. The one really great thing he did do was get us into a portion of a local Moroccan wedding. (He actually lived there part time.) To see that side of the culture was priceless.....the bus ride, priceless in another respect.
How is the harvest going? I have read that they expect it to be a particularly good year in France.

Joyce, Carver, MA

I had a similar experience while traveling by bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh. We did manage to not hit anything but when the driver decided to pass a car and we saw another bus in our lane headed for us there were many gasps!! Before the journey was over several bus windows fell inward onto us!! All of this made the ride quite memorable!!


Absolutely gorgeous picture at the top of this entry.


Thank God I live in the US and in a small town with no traffic problems--I wouldn't know how to act much less drive in a foreign country!!! Glad you made it safely to your destination---I enjoy your stories so much.

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