Morocco's efficient train system is a great way to see another side of this friendly North African country.
The train to Rabat pulls out past five- and six-story blocks of apartments, over which tower green-tiled minarets. Rows of satellite dishes pray to a new god, all pointing west. Solar panels decorate the roofs of newer developments whose walls shine with pastel paints. A field flowers with multicolored plastic bags blown from a rubbish tip. A Berber family camps beside the dump in a makeshift tent, waiting patiently – perhaps for progress – while egrets stand in the next field, keeping it spotless.
The man sitting opposite me chats on his mobile phone between reading l'Economiste and Le Temps. A refreshment trolley comes through the carriage, announced by the polite tapping of a bottle opener on the metalwork. We stop at a station where a neat orange tree stands outside my window. The train whistle toots modestly, apologizing for its modern ways as we pass quiet villages and isolated farms.
Coming out of Rabat train station, I face the tree-lined Mohammed V boulevard lined on both sides with modern buildings. It is a shock to be confronted again by traffic, although the shiny new tram system helps give the feel of a Mediterranean rather than a North African city. At pedestrian crossings, groups of young women cling to each other, warily eyeing the traffic for a break. This is the French system, as explained tongue-in-cheek to me once in Paris. The markings are not to help you cross the road, but to collect all the casualties in one place for the ambulances.
The blue petit taxi I take to my hotel stops twice to pick up other passengers, one of whom greets the driver like an old friend, shaking hands warmly before she climbs in to join the other woman sitting behind me. We pass shining metal and glass apartment blocks, sleek shopping malls, and billboards from which women with no scarves on stare out boldly. Rabat is a place that shows where Morocco is going.
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