Sunday, June 24, 2012

Parlez-vous francais?

So before I launch into another blogging spree, I figured I ought to let my faithful followers know what I'm up to (although I assume if you really are a faithful follower, you'd know what I'm doing). I'm sitting right now in beautiful Tangier, Morocco, on a government scholarship for a 8 week intensive Arabic study program. There's about 40 of us from all over the United States (including four BYU alums/students). We had a two-day long orientation in DC- it was wonderful to be back- and then flew out of Dulles International at 4:40PM on Thursday, June 22.

And that was just the beginning of our troubles. Our AirFrance flight ended up leaving Dulles an hour late, which means that we got into Charles de Gaulle at 7AM the next morning. The actual flight itself was pleasant; I sat next to a nice hippie lady who had done her fair share of traveling before settling in West Virginia. I also saw Jurassic Park, which I had never seen before. It was dece. Anyways, our connecting flight to Casablanca was at 7:20AM, so despite the "efforts" of AirFrance to hold our plane, we ended up missing up. That meant that there were 30 Americans (the other ten left through JFK) that needed to be put on a flight to Casablanca.

Enter French customer service, which is less than stellar to say the least. By this point, remember, most of us have just spent a sleepless night on a plane over the Atlantic (although AirFrance has pretty good food for an airline). So of the group of 30, only another guy who spent seven years living in France and myself speak French fluently, so we start talking with the AirFrance customer service rep to look for other flights. Because we're such a large group and the tickets are group tickets, it's tough to find us tickets to get us all over to Morocco together. Additionally, we have to wake up our poor coordinator back in the States to tell her what's going on, and she ends up calling us about once an hour over the next day to get things figured out (what a sweetheart).

So it ends up that AirFrance doesn't have any open spots to Casablanca for the rest of the day, but their partner Royal Air Morocco does. The catch: RAM doesn't fly out of Charles de Gaulle but out of Orly, which is the airport for southern Paris and happens to be a 1.5 hour bus drive south of CDG. Another catch: we can't fit all 30 of us on the same flight, so we have to split into two groups, one of 20 and one of 10. As one of only two French speakers, I go with the second group (of 20) to try and catch a 3:20PM flight out of Orly. The nice AirFrance lady fills out a form for us, which ends up taking approximately a billion hours to do. We figure we can make the flight if we can get our baggage in 10 minutes and head out. At least we get a free breakfast of lukewarm hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat out of it.

We make our way to the baggage claim and lo and behold, our baggage is missing. Thus begins round of negotiations numero deux, this time with the baggage claim lady. She speaks decent English, so I'm able to take a quick break from French. They don't know where our baggage is, as during the time it took to fill out the form our bags were shuttled off to somewhere else. This means that we miss the 3:20PM flight and have to go upstairs to find another flight.

Negotiations numero trois: Max from Martinique starts helping us after at first seeming completely uninterested in our plight. Erica gives him the glare of death, and starts helping us thereafter. As it turns out, there are flights at 7:20 and 9:20PM, both from Orly and both with 20+ seats. We decide to get the baggage thing settled and eat lunch (this time a fluted, jambon cru sandwich at Paul's, also brought to you by AirFrance). Max and I agree to eat lunch together in Martinique should we ever happen to be there at the same time.

We go back, and Boaz has the baggage thing under control. Most of the bags have been found in the four corners of CDG, and they are slowly being brought to us. At this point, some of the girls seem to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown. My brain has completely flipped from Arabic to French, and I can't form a cohesive sentence in Arabic if I wanted to. On the plus side, I can feel my French power bar recharging (think that Sims game or Scott Pilgrim or something).

Negotiations raqam arb3a: Max has gone for the day, and a nice looking French lady is at his desk. That is, after waiting for a half hour in line because her coworker decided to leave before her replacement got there, meaning there was one person at the AirFrance service de client desk for that whole time. We hit another snag: the 7:20 and 9:20 flights no longer have room for 20 Americans, so we have to split into a group of 6 and 14. At this point, it's 4PM, so the group of 6 has to book it right after she books us (nice, right?). Monica takes over negotiations at this point and performs admirably. She's a champ.

We head off to Orly, and I sprawl out in the backseat and sleep for an hour before being jolted awake by the stop and go of Parisian rush hour. I talk to a French dude who tells me that not only is it Friday (wait, it's Friday?!?) but it's also the last day of French school, so everybody's beating it out of Dodge to escape to Marseilles or wherever. We arrive in the nick of time after navigating an extremely confusing and surprisingly poor designed Orly airport. The RAM agents seem flabbergasted by the form that I bring them, but eventually it works out and the six get on their flight. I listen to the Fleet Foxes while waiting for the other 14 to show up.

We get through security without a problem, and our flight doesn't end up leaving until 10:20PM. We get into Casablanca around midnight local time, a full 24+ hours after leaving DC.

I think that's good for today- more on Tangier later.

Oh, but here's some videos of our mad rush:

Us trying to catch the connecting flight at CDG.

Everyone's just so happy!