The View From Casablanca

At the prospect of living in Morocco again after fourteen years abroad, I felt a whole range of emotions–happiness, excitement, worry –but I couldn’t really sort through these feelings because I was exhausted all the time. I did a lot of traveling in the fall, for readings and lectures and conferences, and whenever I was not on the road, I was packing a bag, or moving a box, or disconnecting a service, or canceling a subscription. It wasn’t until the plane landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca that the move here began to seem real.

Several of my friends expected me to have reverse culture shock, but I haven’t found that to be true at all. My sense of disorientation, if you can even call it that, is more subtle. I was born and raised in Rabat, and living in Casablanca has already brought a few surprises–dialectal, to begin with. I asked our doorman for directions, and it took me three tries to figure out the name of a street based on his pronunciation. And then the driving here is so much worse than in Rabat–if that is even possible. If you’ve ever been curious as to how one can accomplish a left-hand turn from a right-hand lane, this is the city for you.

The other thing that strikes me every time I come back to Morocco is the light. It’s different here, and I’m not sure I can explain how. It seems to hit trees and plants and buildings and even people at a different angle, bringing out more contrast in colors. Our apartment has large windows, so I spend a lot of time holding things up to the light to see how new they look.

There’s a certain kindness in the way that people speak to each other here–the many polite rejoinders, the jokes, the helpfulness. I missed all of this so much, and it’s of course wonderful to witness it again. And yet at the same time there is also a hardness that comes from living in a large, overcrowded, dense, polluted city. I was on my way to Ittissalaat Al-Maghrib (Maroc Telecom) to get a phone line set up, and the cab driver who took me grumbled about a change in the law that made him ultimately responsible, in case of accident, for any pedestrian injuries. “Were it not for this law, I would just have hit that guy,” he said, pointing to a kid who was crossing without looking, “and teach him a good lesson. Once he’s in a wheelchair, he’ll learn to look before crossing.” Given the driver’s anger, I thought it best not to point out that he was speeding–and that he was on the wrong lane. I was just happy to arrive at the phone company in one piece. When my turn finally came up at the counter, the clerk spent more than half an hour with me, walking me through the process, and waiting very patiently for me to make up my mind about all the services. And then he sent me home with good wishes for my health. (I only wish it meant our DSL worked properly. It doesn’t. But more on this long, tortuous odyssey in a later post.)

The picture above shows the King Hassan mosque in all its artistic glory, at sunset. (Credit: Henk Meijer.) The photo below shows what the mosque looks like from my bedroom window, during the daytime, with the smog above, the apartment buildings below, and the sea of satellite dishes around.