If this was a book, my subtitle would be "And praying to anyone who would listen".
I had never had one of those "this is the moment I am going to die" experiences until about a month ago. It was exhilarating and an adrenaline rush that I have no desire to ever discover again. On the fated evening, my friends and I had spent some hours walking about the white-washed kasbah in Rabat. While sitting on the terrace of a cafe, overlooking the Atlantic, we noticed the carnival, filled with people and kids running around to the sounds of Rihanna. We decided that before grabbing a taxi to head home, we should walk through, to see what a weekday night is like for families and kids that were there.
The carnival itself is like typical fairs: Coney Island-type font spelling out the names of rides, bulb lighting placed against the reds and greens and blues, popcorn stands and kids screaming for more hulweyet ("sweets" or "candy" in Arabic; it's pronounced more like "hallowee-et", so I remember the word by thinking of "Halloween"). You can buy candy apples, cotton candy, and sugar cane juice -- all with sugar glopping off (I've come to the conclusion that tart desserts must be symbolic of diablerie in Morocco).
We decided that since we were there, we should put our Arabic to use and try our hand at a ride. We chose the ride that looked the most approachable, but was still for people over 40" tall. It was one of those rides that has benches surrounding a cylinder pole in the center. The benches rise and swing around the cylinder, flying up then flying back down at a 30ish degree angle, and around and around. Easy peasy!
Our first problem that we encounter was actually getting on the ride. We bought the tickets (10 dirham each, a little less than one dollar at the time) and went to the area the man directed us to. There was another group of friends standing there and then also a woman and her granddaughter. The woman was pushing her granddaughter to go stand a little bit away, but we just innocently kept standing there, thinking we were the third group in line. Before the benches even came to a stop, people came from the shadows, from the sky, with their 007 cars they swarmed in, overtaking the people on the previous ride. I have never seen a group of people run so fast, except possibly at the Olympics. Possibly. We scrambled and ran, but there was no hope of us getting on that ride.
The granddaughter made it though and we now knew what to expect, so we came up with an unstoppable game plan: the three of us spread out, about 10 feet between each of us, with one foot on the stairs, ready to run as soon as it started slowing down. The grandmother was standing next to me, so we spoke a bit in Arabic and she told me that she was laughing at our naivety and wished us luck for the next round. When the ride began to slow down, the mass swarm of people suddenly sprung up, but our senses were heightened this time around, everything was in slow motion, we were fighting for our lives. Push or be pushed. Shove or be shoved. We absolutely had to get on this ride to not lose our credibility, the mass was watching us! Out of the three of us, we managed to get to one free bench, so I had to lay across it while the other two were rushing as fast as possible over the benches to get to me, before the ride started off.
We all take our places on the bench together and look for the security device to pull over our heads and it's not there. Instead, there's a small metal gate with a tiny latch to attach it across our legs. And when I mean tiny, I mean it looked like the latch in the photo to the left. And even more unfortunate, I have very large thighs (shoutout to all the men in the past who have told me I have runningback legs, you were right!) and this latch was not rusted, so it slipped out very easily.
I took my shoes off and put them in my purse, since on the ride before us two people lost their hats, then grab the bars for dear life. We started spinning and quickly realized that the tiny little metal latch that was unfortunately quite new and shiny and really wanted to unhook was not the equipment to be holding us in. We realized soon after that that the ride goes much faster than the same ride in America. Needless to say, I was terrified. Farida, who was sitting in the middle, had to hold the latch together to make sure it didn't swing open. (And me, the most terrified one, kept yelling at her to hold it tighter).
I apologize to all families at the Rabat carnival on that beautiful, idyllic summer night. I know there was a cool, respited breeze coming off the ocean, that you were just there to enjoy a night with your family along the coast. Instead, you had to listen to some crazy foreigner screaming to every deity she could think of, in every language she could think of. My apologies, but thanks for all the amusing smiles of support when we got off, intact.