Khalti in the Taxi

I had just said goodbye to my first host family, to the Peace Corps staff, and to the volunteers that I wouldn’t see for the next three months. I was now on my way to my final site to live there for the next two years.

I had all of my belongings; those that I brought from home and the couple of things I had acquired here. I was to take a total of three taxis that day, the first of which was shared with some other volunteers and “our” luggage (In reality, it was one volunteer’s luggage that took up most of the space. You know who you are!). After we reached Marrakech, the most touristic city in Morocco, I was on my own.

We made it to Marrakech in one piece with only one stop for some roadside coffee. The taxi station was a bustle. It was packed with travelers, tourists, and people trying to sell things to said tourists. Add on the second-hand stress of making sure the previously mentioned volunteer had all of their bags, I was ready to get out of there.

I found my second taxi that was headed in the right direction and loaded up all my stuff. The grand taxis that go between major cities in Morocco don’t leave until all of their six seats are filled paid for and I was the second one there. I was waiting for what seemed like a really long time, declining people wanting to sell me overpriced bottles of water, when a middle-aged Moroccan woman put her stuff in the seat next to me and went behind the taxi for a smoke.

In Morocco, it’s common to call women older than you khalti (literally “my maternal aunt”) as a respectful term if you don’t know their name. Another meaning of a khalti is a very kind and warm woman that would drop everything to help you. I said a hello and how are you to khalti that was sat next to me and we were off.

I spent most of the ride looking out the window at all the new views I hadn’t yet seen and occasionally tried to focus on my language flashcards so that I would sound like I had learned something when I met my host family. As we were approaching the city that contained my last taxi and the home stretch, khalti leaned forward to the driver to ask a question. I recognized a few of the words: where, taxi, the name of my town. They exchanged some words and, in my three-month-old Arabic, I explained to her as best I could that I was going to the same place she was and I didn’t know where the taxi stand was either. She said some more words that I didn’t understand, smiled warmly, and nodded.

We get to where we are going and everyone dismounts from the taxi. I take the longest because I have a total of four bags to grab. I turn out of the trunk of the taxi with all my stuff to find khalti waiting for me, telling me mashi mushkil (no problem) and kindly gesturing to follow her. Without exchanging any words, we walk around the building and across the street to the taxi stand.

She leads me to the correct place and helps me load my stuff into the last taxi and tells me 3shra while showing me a 10 dirham coin. I give her the money and she pays and deals with the taxi driver for us while I grab my seat. All I can give in return is shukran (thank you). As we depart, she turns around in the shotgun seat and quizzically gives me a thumbs up to make sure I am good and comfortable.

We are very close to my town at this point. I can see the youth center and a few buildings on the outskirts of town. khalti leans over to the driver once more to say something. He stops right there instead of going all the way to the taxi stand and khalti gets out. She pokes her head back in to exchange more words with the driver, pointing at me as she is doing so. She looks back to give me another one of those warm smiles and quizzical thumbs up but this time it was punctuated with a wave goodbye. I could barely get out one last meager shukran before the door closed and she disappeared into the rear view mirror.

I didn’t have the language or experience at that time to fully express my gratitude to that woman. For the kindness and comfort she extended to me, a poor foreigner far from the beaten path. I keep waiting for the day when I recognize her in my little site to properly thank her but I know that she did it purely because she wanted to and she’ll tell me that I don’t need to thank her, that she was just doing what she was supposed to do.

Being kind doesn’t have to be some big, drawn out spectacle. Sometimes all it takes is someone to comfort you and look out for you with a warm smile and a quizzical thumbs up.

Hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise,

Westley Winks

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

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Last Modified: 2023-03-09