What’s That Port City of Morocco?

[Bob] We took a train from Paris to Gibraltar [in August 1981]. We were going over to Morocco to see friends. And about the border of France, it was nighttime. It was very interesting though. I was sitting in this train and all of a sudden the car went straight up in the air.

[Polly] And you could feel it.

[Bob] And you could feel it. And I said, I know what they’re doing. They’re changing the wheels for a different gauge railroad between France and Spain. So they put it down eventually. And then we got into Spain. Boooring. Boring!

[Polly] It was so boring. And then we came to one of the cities.

[Bob] Madrid.

[Polly] Madrid.

[Bob] Oh, boy. Here’s a city I can look at. It went right under a tunnel the whole time we were there.

[Polly] We thought we were going to see something. Didn’t they know we haven’t seen Spain?

plain in Spain[Bob] It was just like Arizona. It would be like going on that railroad in Australia. It goes a thousand miles and doesn’t curve. For a thousand miles it goes as straight as [ ].

[Bob] I thought I’d never see anything and then we got to Algeciras.

[Polly] Which is the closest city near where the Rock of Gibraltar and the Straits of Gibraltar are. Anyway that’s where the big rock is. Or across from there. And we had to cross by ferry. You know, when we go, we don’t really know what we’re doing. We don’t know the language. But we go anyway. Especially with Uncle Bob. “Honey, it’ll all be taken care of!” And I’m, “Mmmmm, how are we going to do this? Where are we going?”

Abdul, Nadia, Houda, Nouza Filali-Ansary Family, Quincy, 1980[Polly] We were planning to meet and go over that route and go to Morocco. That was our plan. We had met this couple—and they had two little girls—as an exchange student in Boston. They were studying, or he was, at Boston University, many, many years ago [1980]. They kept saying, “Why don’t you come and visit us when we go back home to Morocco?” We were host family to them and took them a lot of places. And really, though they were Muslim, they would come to church quite regularly and everything. It was the music. They loved the music.

[Bob] They even said it was just like being in the mosque. And I said it couldn’t; it couldn’t. I could have choked him.

[Polly] That wasn’t such a nice thing, but I think he was trying to be. . . .

[Bob] Yeah. Trying to be cordial and all that.

[Polly] But anyway, by the Lord’s providence and so on, we were given a gift at our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary time [Aug 25, 1981] and we were able to go. We did go to Europe with the Gordon College Alumni Tour. And then we took off on our own. That’s why we were in Paris heading for [ ].

Ferry between Algeciras, Spain and Tangier, Morocco[Polly] Well we got—jump ahead now to Algeciras—and we really knew we were planning, when we got on the ferry, somehow we would be met by our friends on the other end, Abdul and Nouza in Morocco. But the ferry, it was so confusing: they would give you a ticket in the best English they knew how to communicate with us with no Arabic. Anyway, we were given the wrong tickets. This couple who knew some English. They were actually a French couple, but knew a little bit of English. No, a Moroccan couple, that was. We met a French couple, too, but that was. . . . Anyway, they were able. They said, “Oh, this won’t get you where you want to go.” So they helped us.

[Bob] Exchange the tickets.

[Polly] In that part of the world—and we may have this happen somewhat here and you probably have had it in your travels—but over there if you are given a number, a gate number where you were going to go out of, where the ferry was going to go out of, and all of the sudden they changed it. Well everybody—and I’m not kidding—everybody just jumps over you like a herd of cattle. And you’re going to head for the next one, but it doesn’t matter whether your luggage is there or you’re there. And so everybody—and literally that’s what happened to us—so we’re kind of swept along by this crowd, not knowing. . . . And this couple, young couple really helped us. They were wonderful.

[Polly] So we got on the ferry OK and had to show our passport at least seven times. But, you know, this was just part of that world. Got to, what was the port of Morocco that we came to? Not Casablanca. Oh, isn’t that awful. Not, no Al Jazeera’s the news.

[Bob] No. It’s very well-known. When you think of Morocco, you think of the city. Besides Casablanca.

[Polly] It’ll come.

[Bob] It’ll come.

[Polly] It’ll come. That’s all right. One of those senior moments?

[Polly] And anyway, we got there. This couple guided us. Well, we never met the couple we were supposed to meet.

[Bob] They weren’t allowed on the pier.

[Polly] And so, as a result, we ended up eventually, without, I’ll cut through a lot of the details. We stayed overnight in a motel. They helped us get us. . . .

[Bob] Not a motel, Honey. Remember the fellow we met? He heard us speaking English. He was, he had worked in the United States.

[Polly] No, no, no. This was. That’s when we got on the bus. This was not. . . . In the port city where we landed, we stayed in. . . .

[Bob] Stayed in his house.

[Polly] Later, Honey, in Rabat. Remember? When we took the bus ride? But this was the first thing.

[Bob] I know. Hotel. Small hotel.

[Polly] Small hotel. Anyway, and then we said, if we couldn’t find our friends, we would make our way back to Paris, then to Belgium and home. That’s where our tickets were, tickets for Belgium. And this couple said, you know in Eastern, or Mid-Eastern—whatever—hospitality, you do everything you can.

[Bob] You can’t do that. That would be a great insult.

[Polly] That would be an insult . . .

[Bob] . . . to go home . . .

[Polly] . . . to them.

[Virginia] To not try to find them?

[Bob] Not to try to find the couple that weren’t there at the port.

[Polly] The host family.

[Bob] Tangier!

[Polly] Tangier!

[Bob] You wait long enough, it comes to you.

[Polly] Yeah. And so they really impressed upon us that it would be almost our duty, I guess at that point, to take a bus to Rabat, which is the capital city, where the friends lived.

[Bob] And then look them up there.

[Polly] We did.

[Bob] That’s what we did. Yup.

[Polly] We found them eventually. They found, we found them.

[Bob] We found them.

[Polly] Amazing. Amazing.

[Bob] On the bus, we were talking, speaking obviously in English. It’s our best language.

[Lee] Your mother’s tongue.

[Bob] My mother’s tongue, yes. And a fellow from behind us came up, a young fellow. He’d been working in the United States and he was going home.

[Polly] Actually, he’d been studying in San Francisco.

[Bob] Yeah, San Francisco.

[Polly] Aziz was his name.

[Bob] So we said, “We don’t know where we are going. We don’t know how to find our folks.”

[Polly] “We don’t know what we’re doing.”

[Bob] And he said, “Oh don’t worry about that. There’s plenty of room in my house.” But then we got to his house and he couldn’t get it. It was all locked up. So he tried going up the gutter outside and then that collapsed on him. Anyway, his mother finally came home. And he was like the prodigal son back home again and they were all dancing. We were dancing. We slept in the mother’s bed.

[Polly] They insisted we stay overnight with them. Interestingly enough—you know the Lord does provide even when we were so ignorant we didn’t know what we were doing—but this family knew the name of our eventual hosts that we were trying to get to and were known by this other family that we had just stumbled across.

[Bob] They knew a sister or something and so they called the sister and the sister called the family.

Nouza, Houda, Abdul Filali-Ansary[Polly] And she actually drove us to the home of our eventual host family. Then we spent a bunch of maybe four or five days, but by the time we got to them it was more than half in.

[Bob] And they told us all the things we had missed that they had planned to do when they met us at the port.

[Virginia] What happened with that? They just weren’t able to get in.

Bob and Abdul[Bob] They weren’t able to get on. We drove right by them. They were sitting in the car but we didn’t know it. You see what happens there, an awful lot of Moroccans go to Europe and work. And then they have a month off, like they do in France. They go back home. Then they have to go back again. And there was a two- or three-day wait, sitting in the cars to get on the ferry. You know, it’s first come first served kind of thing. But they were in all that crowd. It was terrible, terrible. No restroom facilities. I mean it was just awful.

[Polly] Eating in the streets.

[Bob] Yup. Yup. Eating. Eating anything they could eat. That was the part that was very interesting. But then we got in the house. Now he had been working for the government for over a year, but couldn’t get a telephone. He says, “We have the wires out there in the yard, but they wouldn’t hitch them up.”

[Polly] And we tried and tried and tried, that was the other thing.

[Bob] Call them from all over Europe.

[Polly] But there was never an answer. We had a phone number, but never an answer because the phone wasn’t hooked up.

[Bob] Once we got there, we had a good time, except Polly got desperately ill. Sick-sick-sick-sick-sick.

[Virginia] Was it from the food?

[Bob] Yeah.

[Polly] Yeah. And I ate everything. I mean I tried to eat everything, which was probably not a good idea.

[Bob] We’d be eating at an outdoor restaurant and cats would run out over your feet. I mean up on the tables.

[Polly] They’d be up on the tables.

[Virginia] Oh no.

[Bob] I got sick, just for part of a day, but she got really, really sick.

full transcription of a story told by Bob and Polly (his wife) to Virginia (Lee’s daughter) and Lee and Ken (Lee’s second husband) during a visit to California in January 2004

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • Do you remember the month and/or year that Polly and Bob visited Morocco in this story?
  • Do you recall other events from this trip?
  • I recall Bob telling a story about being unable to find his and Polly’s way back to the ferry after visitting Morocco. They were sick, or one of them was, and a woman beckoned them to follow her and led them to the ferry. Does anyone else recall this story? Can you retell it for us? Was it on the same trip or another one?
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2 thoughts on “What’s That Port City of Morocco?

  1. Dawn Duncan Harrell Post author

    Aunt Polly writes: “That port city of Morocco was Tangier. U. Bob and I arrived there in August, 1981, eventually were able to spend about a week with friends as that had been arranged before we even left the states. However, before we even got to see our friends, lots of interesting things happened to us, including almost missing a bus (Polly) as we traveled from Tangier to the capital city of Rabat – but obviously we both made it! Since we missed meeting our friends at the Ferry stop when it landed in Tangier, we had to wing our way to find them, and were wonderfully helped by a complete stranger who we met on the bus. Thankfully he spoke English, since we spoke no Arabic! He had been a student studying English in San Francisco (not sure exactly where), and was returning home to Rabat after about a year in the states. Anyway, he and his family put us up for the night – talk about hospitality!! – and actually drove us to the home of our friends. Amazing!! Both U. Bob and I got sick during the week, but U. Bob recovered quickly; A. Polly did not. I was taken to a hospital, a story in itself, and was given something to help.”

  2. Nadia Filali

    Hi. I’m the little girl on the left of the picture sitting near my dad, Nadia. It’s really amazing for me to see these pictures, 32 years later … I’m actually 41. We used to go with my parents to the Duncan’s home sometimes .. I still remember how nice they were. Frostie was the name of the dog, I think. After that, my little sister called all the animals she saw “tootie” ! I was not at home on August 1981 when the Duncans came : I was on summer camp at Imouzzer, a village in the Atlas..
    Hope you’re all doing well !

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