Date Archives September 2023

As Time Goes By: Two Impressive Months in Casablanca

In a previous post, I wrote about how Georgia didn’t work out for me and how I moved on again. After my time in Georgia, I ended up in Casablanca, Morocco, at the invitation of American friends who I met in Cambodia before. I was given the opportunity to “recover and recuperate” entirely at their expenses in their villa, located within a secure complex on the grounds of a large American school campus.

With the last of my money, I booked plane tickets for kitty Shady and me, via Paris, to Casablanca!

Yep, that was quite a view!

To Casablanca, where – after Morocco opened its borders again after the Covid Omicron scares – I was met at the airport on February 9, 2022!

I was offered a room in the family’s three-room villa, equipped with a spacious living room and a large family kitchen, mainly intended for the American expats who worked on the school campus. Breakfast and lunch were always available, and evening dinners were cooked up for me. Alternatively, I joined them to the McDonald’s in the immense Morocco Mall nearby, where they invariably ordered the largest menus to take home (after all, they were Americans), or pizza was ordered for delivery.

This campus was actually not very close to Casablanca, but rather in a pretty empty suburb, far south of the city. This area still contained vast barren agricultural areas in which entire villa districts were planned. Although the sea was visible, the coastal strip was still developing. Even a short walk to the beach was not allowed because of construction activities. In a few years, the Moroccan Riviera will be ready here, intended for the elite.

But then when I took the local cab, also called the “petit cab” (it’s mostly a French-lingo country) it was a completely different experience. These were often old, packed passenger cars, sometimes even with animals on board, that you could stop along the main road. They would drive toward town, stop randomly, and you would literally throw some small change at the driver, and he would leave with smoking tyres. Or I opted for the slightly more expensive cabs via the Bolt ride-share app, but then you’re soon talking about €7 per ride into town, which could end up being quite expensive.

Eventually I got the opportunity to explore the city on my own (my host family left campus mostly just for shopping at the mall), and what a splendor I encountered. The city was steeped in a lot of French-colonial architecture, and palm trees were everywhere, making the comparison to what Phnom Penh was like for a long time, quick. However, in Morocco they were masters at creating remarkably large, green parks. I wore out the soles of my shoes as I wandered through various neighborhoods of this magnificent city.

I had to discover the food on my own, though, as my extremely hospitable host family already pulled a strange face when I pointed out the couscous in the huge Marjane supermarket (where, by the way, I also feasted my eyes: I hadn’t seen supermarkets this big with everything for years).

I like to explore locations with a little help from the locals, so that was slightly more difficult there. Not only because the language of communication was French, but also because my host family was not really interested in Morocco. And they worked all day at the school.

Eventually, I managed to connect with local ladies through dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. It is important to understand that in an Islamic country, “a date” mainly consists of having coffee or dinner together somewhere in public – which suited me perfectly! Any form of PDA, “public display of affection” is not really socially accepted, so I seriously wondered if I was even allowed to give people a hand when getting acquainted. A greeting with three kisses on the cheek or an embrace was out of the question.

Thanks to these apps, I met some nice ladies who, with genuine pleasure, did want to show me something of the city, or take me out to eat at the most unusual local restaurants.

Eating out at the traditional restaurant Le Cuisto in Casablanca

Without any romantic commitments or the like, I was delighted to meet any local and be able to talk to them about life here. They were likewise happy to speak with a foreigner who had their perspective on their city and country. The friendly Asma even took me to Marrakesh!

Marrakesh was a wee bit cold in March!

And, of course, being a big movie lover, we went to the cinema here. Too bad, of course, that all the movies were dubbed in French….

And even though the ladies were over 30, all still living with their parents, they were not so happy with life and opportunities in Morocco and all had plans to leave the country after a certain time. “To France, or Canada. Anything is better than here.”

As much as I enjoyed Casablanca, I paid close attention to what I could undertake here myself. A movie house for the English speakers? But where could I find them? The local drinking holes of the foreign expats in Casablanca was the sports bar of The Irish Pub Casablanca, or very elite the expensive roof top bars, or the Bar Atomic.

(I did expressly walk around the tourist attraction Rick’s Café, named after the nonexistent bar in the movie Casablanca, which was filmed entirely in Hollywood. So I did’t fall for that).

The last bar offered almost a Western atmosphere, which is remarkable in a country where drinking alcohol is not encouraged. A local lady had invited me and a friend of hers, a university professor, to come to this bar. However, she arrived 15 minutes late and was not allowed in as a woman alone. The doorman even literally said “whores are not welcome here,” because a woman visiting a pub alone is considered a lady of lust in Casablanca. Eventually the professor and I were able to get her inside, but this incident gives a clear impression of the culture here and explains why the bar was mainly frequented by men.

The existence of such a backwards culture (synonymous with retarded and weak-minded, but I want to keep it neat here while still being absolutely honest), doesn’t exactly make me jump for joy to do very nice things here.

I also had a 90-day visa for Morocco, which meant that after my 90-day stay with my American host family (a full 3 months!), I would have to temporarily leave the country to get a new visa stamp and return. The most budget-friendly option, according to my hosts, was to take a RyanAir flight to Lisbon.

Lisbon. Portugal. European Union. Okay… I had never been to Portugal before and had very little knowledge about it. Friends of mine had been there before and their photos showed the winding hilly streets and charming yellow streetcars that still ran through it. When I started looking at flights to Lisbon, I was actually convinced.

What took me so long?!

I saw much more than narrow streets in a very hilly city. I saw a Golden Gate bridge, huh?, a historically impressive city on the Tagus River (in Portuguese: Tejo), I saw huge amounts of greenery, international cuisine and heard the Portuguese tackedonlanguagewithits3,000vowels. I saw colorful houses!

I put aside my extensive list of learned Moroccan-Arab Darija phrases. Thank you and goodbye. Shukran and beslama.

(And my hosts could have just mentioned Spanish Valencia, but nope, they said Lisbon.)

Long live social media, on which, without much thought, I posted the question if I might know someone who lives in Lisbon, or know someone who lives there. Because I was very interested in visiting this city.

And who responded there? Romanian Mihaela, who flew me to Bucharest in 2009 to be a guest speaker at the World Blogging Forum! She was now living and working in Lisbon and even had a room available in her apartment for the month of April for €500.

This was even more than I expected from any contact in the city!

Although Casablanca had its own unique charm, it was quite disappointing compared to a city like Lisbon. Especially when it became clear that the upcoming Ramadan, which would fall throughout the month of April that year, would close everything: cinemas, cafes, restaurants and every form of entertainment you can think of in an Islamic country.

It was clear. I just had to quickly swap Casablanca with that offered room for April in Lisbon!

Fortunately, I was doing much better financially and had saved enough to make a move possible. My cat Fifty Shady still had to visit the vet for final vaccinations and a health certificate to fly. I myself also had to arrange a negative Covid test to be allowed to leave the country and travel to Portugal.

I thanked the American host family from the bottom of my heart. It is not natural to take someone in for almost two months, like an extra son or half-brother, and give them all the time they need to recover from a less than successful experience in Georgia.

Ramadan was coming and I was gone!

Casablanca, thank you! But I’m going to look on anyway. Beslama!

And hi Lisbon! But more on that in a future post!