Dear Friends and family I am writing this down now before my memory of today’s events become convoluted and lessened with time’s healing touch. I had a (what I perceive to be) near death experience today. And that death could/would have been one of the honest to god saddest and painstaking deaths one could imagine for me. I was stuck in an elevator – that malfunctioned and fell. I was with three other people. Those people were Moroccan English teachers that I employed from amongst stacks of applications. In this moment I am in awe of their courage and bravery and pure human kindness*. The entire ordeal lasted about 30 minutes…the worst 30 minutes of my life.
We had just finished an end of the year wrap up meeting and the four of us got into an elevator together leaving one of the teachers just behind to get another one. That person is a woman named Aida. Aida is an English professor at my school. She contacted me before the start of this school year. I told her I didn’t need her, then the week before we opened I had a team member back out and I called her and she said “when do you need me to start?” I hesitated and she said “oh – so yesterday?”. And that was the first of many laughs we have shared since then.
Aida was born to a very prominent well to do Puerto Rican family with very Spanish blood. I have learned her life story over coffee and eggs and baguette at countless morning breakfasts. She was named after an opera, she has a photographic memory, she was a spelling bee champion, she is a Spanish and English professor and has been in Morocco for 10 years. She spoke to my mother for 30 minutes, a month ago, explaining to her why she thinks we are still safe here and why she shouldn’t worry about me during all of this unrest. She lived for 13 years in Athens Georgia and I know – without a doubt that there are people that I know and love somewhere in Georgia that know and love that woman too.
Aida was who I called first. Because she was on the other side of the door, because I trust her and because I knew that she would get us out of there. When the doors finally did open and I saw her face, it was red and her hair was wet from sweat of worry. She lied to me on the phone. I told her we were stuck on the first floor. Because the elevator had acted like it was going down and the numbers said it was descending and then when it said zero the doors didn’t open and it fell. The fall was broken and we just assumed that we had fallen from the ground floor maybe to basement level. Aida told me on the phone “you are not on the ground floor – but you are not far – you are just like, you know, in between the first and second floor – so don’ t worry”. I did not share this information with my teachers. No need to worry them right. I fought back tears– they comforted me. I called my home and spoke to the nanny and managed to eek out the words “je suis attraper dans une accenseure donc je ne sais pas quand je vais arriver”. The nanny told me that Mae had a temperature of 103. I started crying. The teachers comforted me more. We waited and waited and waited. Then…Nawal – the secretary knocked on our door and said in French “oh you guys are still on the fifth floor”. The teachers did not have a tip off as to the fact that we were not on the ground so to them that was crazy and they shouted back “no we are on the ground floor”. I knew then that we were on the fifth freaking floor. Nawal works on the fifth floor. I heard her say where we were and I knew that Aida had already prepared me for the fact we weren’t on the ground floor. One of the teachers started knocking harder on the door and asking her to repeat where we were. I told them maybe it is just best if we don’t know. The only thing the people on the other side were responding at that point was “you are ok, we are going to get you out, it is fine”.
Aida mentioned to me on the phone that it is a Schindler elevator. This is when I really freaked out and I will tell you why in just a second. I will say first, that at that point I opened my laptop and looked at pictures of my girls. Usually when I play out morbid me-dying scenarios I always feel this selfish ‘I will miss them’ feeling. This time was different. They LITERALLY looked like angels in the pictures or maybe that was just my eyes welling with tears, but I swear they were glowing in my photos. I felt exactly what it feels like to kiss their heads and then my overwhelming feeling was pure gratefulness that they had made the final years of my life so filled with magic. Gratefulness that I had known them, gratefulness that I knew what love like that felt like.
So why did the Schindler elevator freak me out…MOM you listening…you already know why don’t you?
Last weekend I watched Schindler’s list for the first time (I know, I know) and it really struck me. So I did what I do and I looked up as much info as I could find on it and then deduced that this guy Oskar Schindler was a real hero; an exceptional human being. I told my mother this over skype and she totally agreed and then mentioned that they still have the Schindler elevator company in Jacksonville. So less than a week ago, the words Schindler elevators had escaped my lips and now I was stuck in one. What freaked me out was that it was my mother’s lips that those words had escaped from and as you all know about my mother the woman is psychic. When I heard Schindler elevator…I thought I was done for.
Eventually the doors opened – after a lot of silent praying. You know that I am not a religious girl but have always believed in an underlying energy in the universe. Now…this is an energy that I can pray to in times of calm and clarity but this experience – as similar to being stuck on a turbulent airplane- brings out the 10 year old catholic in me. I was praying to the god I was taught to pray to. I mention this as an anecdote and to be truthful about the matter.
So when those doors opened, the faces that were on the other side are about the kindest looking faces in the world. I was immediately ushered into arms and given a cold cup of water to drink with trembling hands. There were a whole lot of “al humdulilah”s* being flung around and by the time I made it to my car the parking guardian even asked me “madame – c’est vrai t’etait dans l’acensor?”. We talked for a second and then he ‘al huldulilah’ed me about three times and I took my leave.
As I was driving home it finally hit me that Morocco is home. Casablanca is home. And the people here take good care. This is when I decided to write all of you to tell you that I love you each and every one of you so much. And that I truly miss you everyday but that I am ok here. So don’t worry. There is so much Baraka* here. The guy in the gas station screwed up and gave me 20 dirhams change when it should have been one dirham. I tried to object and he reasserted that was the correct change. I knew it wasn’t. I walked out the door and then went back in with it and we re-did the math together “Ritter Sport” – 19 Ds, “femme du Maroc magazine” – 50 Ds, phone card – 30 Ds. That leaves 1D. He looked at me confused and shocked that I came back in to give him that money back. But I knew it was my Baraka. I felt like the energy of the universe was cutting me a little slack somehow hugging me a little bit. Still, I didn’t want to take that guy’s 20Ds. This is a third world country, people generally don’t screw up with their calculation because that 20ds could buy milk and eggs and bread, literally. Bread -2 Ds, Eggs- 1 Ds each and Milk- 8 Ds so that could be a half liter of milk, 6 eggs and 3 pieces of bread and guess what THAT is a family dinner. So that 20Ds was not something I was interested in having at the expensive of that guy. BUT – I still think it was a hug of sorts. I knew I was going to be ok and that I was welcome in this land. Like every time tragedy and emergency has struck my life here. I am still ok, happy even and above all thankful to be alive and to be able to raise my children for another day. Al HUMDULILAH!
*those three other teachers ALL called me before I could finish writing this to check in with me. And to ask about mae…
*al humdulilah = thank god AND the saying that is said anytime ANYTHING happens in Morocco. Whether it is good or bad! Particularly if you are complaining the al humdulilah means shut-up and thank god you are alive!
*Baraka = blessing of sorts, this one is harder to explain- but interesting to research