BusY Life aka Learn by Doing experience from Africa travel
Shadows of my comrades are getting less visible as they have started collecting dust on their shoes while walking along dirty sidewalks with thumbs up. They are fewer and fewer, receiving last remarks about safety on the road while waiting somebody good-hearted to stop and kindly share that tiny space on the wheels and last strong hugs, meanwhile you remain standing where you were, in a shadow of a huge bus, you will get to know better during upcoming days. Will not deny, the urge to travel to unknown directions was stronger, but it was about time to get more familiar with this relatively small space on the wheels, which you were kind of calling home for last 5 weeks. So, lets see what this capricious bus, called Rubio, with a 'heart' of a ship has hidden!
To be honest, I had no clue about mechanical side of things, that had more than 2 wheels, so at the very beginning when I heard such words as 'air suspension pillows ', 'sealing the fuel tank', 'oul pressure'' and so on, I instantly imagined a grumpy lady with glasses at the tip of her nose, sitting somewhere deep in the darkest corner, with crossed arms on her chest and lifted eye brow, suspiciously questioning everything what was about to happen. So, the first task on the list was to drive the bus from Rabat to Casablanca. Karolina gracefully took her position behind the steering wheel and I with an honour took a duty to be her co-driver. The wheather was amazing, taking you back to irresponsible summer days, the mood was up and Rubio, with a feminine company inside hit the road. After couple of hours of calm and smooth ride all 5 of us (me, Sara, karolina and 2 teachers) successfully reached the destination. Now it was about time to make some new connections and seek for some information as we were in the middle of the city, not knowing what/how/where in need of a mechanic. How to explain things when you do not know Arabic and your French is more like a hybrid of every language you know? Non-verbal communication! It's an interesting fact, that within words we send only approximately 7 percent of information and the rest comes from various other channels. So, in a way this experience is a great practise, which might help in the future, for example in diverse situations while working with kids, as they are more susceptible for body language. Coming back to a search of a mechanic, not really sure how, but in 10 min after the first help request a young mechanic was standing next to our bus. Again a little bit of non-verbal communication and in less than 5 min, after a quite interesting bus backing up operation crossing pretty busy street, we were parking Rubio along the pavement next to the workshop. And here we had a great opportunity to improve our negotiating skills - there were quite expensive parts we needed and certain amount of money we were able to spend. And of course, as a rule, a starting price was not satisfying, so we put all our bargaining weapons on the table, for instance information about the market prices from previous mechanics, nice dinner we could have prepared, our feminine help in (un)screwing the nuts and so on. And eventually it worked. Afterwards, everybody put their hands into work. I remember a moment when one teenager was passing by on the street with his friends, suddenly stopped and said, that he thought us girls being cool, doing things, which usually in his country were done by men, and that Moroccan women would never do it in order not to get their hands dirty. It left me thinking about stereotypes we have in a society, which are actually escalating inequality and misconceptions considering social roles. So, there we were, breaking the stereotypes!
Did you ever hear the saying ' You attract things you are looking for'? Well, that was what happened to us when we decided to investigate dumpster diving culture in Casablanca if there even was any. After a while wondering around, we turned to one of the streets and immediately were warned by two guys not to go there when dark as it was too dangerous, especially for women. Well, we did not take it seriously into consideration as we have heard it multiple times in similar situations. But then another couple of guys stopped and claimed the same (what was wrong with that street?). Naturally a conversation started and eventually we got to know that those two men were students, one of them was living with parents, who were teachers, and moreover, they knew some people, who were somehow related to February 20 movement, initiated by few young people back in 2011 during the uprisings for democracy, which was exactly what we needed. So, the 'appointment' for next midday was made, what was really promising and exciting. Unfortunatelely, for unknown reasons we did not meet those guys in an agreed spot again, but nevertheless we decided to visit one of the universities nearby and make a small investigation about higher education in Casablanca. Surprisingly, as soon as we appeared in front of the entrance, we were approached by three girls, studying in a master's program of economy, willing to guide us. Not long after, we were already discussing about peculiarities of Moroccan education, dynamics in its system and the university by itself. We got to know that the percentage of educated women working in public sector in the city is higher than the one of men. When the girls were asked, what in their opinion could be the main reasons of such tendencies, the girls answered that it might have something to do with more serious approach towards education women are demonstrating comparing it to performance of men. While elaborating about life choices, specifically in education, the girls mainly mentioned their wishes to make a change in their home country, as they admitted the presence of a lot issues and problems in various sectors, but, to be honest, I did not hear anything specific, it felt that this idea was still in an abstract faze without any further, more precise directions. Students also mentioned governme's role in country's education - they addressed a problem of not investing more into a more efficient infrastructure. Some of the universities do not have campuses and comfortable transportation, that could be very useful for students, who are living farther from main university buildings. Moreover, according to the girls, the percentage of students, who would continue their master studies, was very low, as there were specific requirements to be fulfilled, what in a way discourages a lot of young people. Continuing about Moroccan students' possibilities to study abroad, we got an impression that the wish was huge, but the obstacles not smaller. The main difficulty was money - if, for example, you would have a wish to study in France, first of all you should prove Morrocan migration institutions, wish are responsible for issuing travelling visas, that you have around 80 000 DH (in case of going to Germany, it would be even more, 90 000 DH) in your bank account, in order to show that you will be able to sustain yourself in a foreign country, including the coverage of living costs as well as the ones for education. Furthermore, you would have to prove having a contact person abroad, who would be like a guaranteeing figure. Nevertheless, despite these requirements, young people are still eager to move to Europe one day, as they state European educational system being way better than the one they are encountering. Well, I guess, you always wish for what you do not have and as soon as you get it, you start noticing the other side of the moon, which is not that bright in many cases...
Main problems were solved, it was about to wake up the dust on the road again as there were quite many kilometers to drive from Casablanca to our main destination Sidi Ifni, with stops in Marrakech and Agadir in between. So, the drive was long, with quite many breaks, some of which were ordinary and some with a special spice. Literally. Remember one particular stop in a petrol station, where all the girls of the bus were participating in a diesel degustation as we had to suck all the diesel from extra fuel tank and transfer it to the main one, so that when we reach Western Sahara we could fill it up fully with a cheaper diesel. You could imagine the changes in facial expressions of 4 women at that time as soon as first drops of diesel got in their mouths from a tube, which, probably, was not even meant to be used for this 'operation'. Nevertheless, this kind of small situations teaches you to think creatively, to be persistent even without the tools you potentially need and remain determined to do it by yourself, even though, I guess, we could have found somebody to do it for us, especially in a Muslim country, where a lot of men are stunned seeing women in another perspective, doing sometimes tough and dirty things they are used to do. For instance, women putting V belt, which is important in cooling down the system, back. Yes, that was what we did. Before our turn to 'shine', guys of the team were carefully looking after it, and now it was only us and full boxes of tools. When you are standing on a sideway of a highway along uninhabited lands, there are just few cars passing from time to time and, in contrary, your can not move further, and there is nobody educated in mechanics to solve it, you just rolled up your sleeves and get your fingers oily. You have no clue what to do, but you just go further by failing and failing and failing until it works. And at the end, after more than one hour of struggles, team work payed off at its best - we were back on track with a full trunk of pride! Travelling by your own bus is giving spontaneous lessons everyday in deed and it is up to you, whether you take it or leave it untouched.
One of the lessons we had was how to be good comrades to each other. To be honest, when Rubio became half full and bigger part of the team left, common life became so easy. No fights, no complaints, no traffic jams, no ques, no discussions 'who's turn?', no dissatisfied or grumpy faces. It was simply smooth. People get inspired by your actions and then no words are needed. If I was taking care of the food, somebody else was dishwashing; if I did not feel like co-driving, others would propose them selves; if I was tidying the 'bedroom', somebody else would sweep the floor; if one of the girls was in need of getting out of the bus I would suggest myself as the one to stay and various other situations. And then I started questioning - why this does not work like this when we are all together? Why we are often facing the situations of 'pushing' and 'pulling'? Could not we just smoothly ride down the hill? Are we not studying how to be teachers, who will make a change by inspiring others for both mental and physical actions, and here in contrary we are struggling with such 'problems' as 'to clean or not to clean'? Smells a bit like hypocrisy! But, I guess, there is much more to learn about each other to be able to make such assumptions, on the other hand, questioning is priceless and still allowed.
All in all, this experience was a good way to get a little bit of ownership over the bus, to make the perspective of seeing bus more like a travelling school even stronger, to get to know people around you better, to deal with situations that you are not used to, to act without having a backup plan or many people behind you, to struggle and to succeed in the end, to meet even more diverse people, who were a perfect trampoline while diving into another culture, which is so beautiful and bottomless.