Casablanca, Hassan II Mosque

On Saturday Max and I toured the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.  It is one of the largest mosques in the world after the mosques of Mecca and Medina (Saudi Arabia).  Its minaret is the tallest in the world at 210 meters.  It can fit 25,000 worshipers inside and an additional 80,000 outside.  It is massive.  It took 6000 Moroccan artisans to complete the artistry and rich detail found in and around the mosque and almost everything came from the country of Morocco save the Venetian glass for the chandeliers.  The ceiling inside the mosque can be opened up to let in sunlight and fresh air.  Our guide kept saying "It's a high tech mosque". 

I didn't have the right lens to capture its massiveness - but you can get an idea of how massive it is here.  These are some closer pictures of the detailed artistry that can be found on every surface.  


No Surprise to Me

What I am not surprised by is that at this year's Mawazine festival held annually in Rabat, Morocco to promote peace and tolerance Cat Stephens/Yusuf Islam was gracious and delightful and Kayne West was not.

Does that surprise you?

If you want to read a bit more about Yusuf's take on the festival and his music in general follow this link.

Kayne's less than stellar review can be found here.

Yusuf donated his proceeds from the concert to the orphan children of Morocco and tried to relate to the theme of the festival throughout his performance and his interviews.  Kayne, on the other hand, took his money, refused to talk to press, and then split in a hurry.  It seemed strange to see him on the bill at a festival like this, but he did draw a massive crowd and someone has to pay for the festival I guess.

Max and I actually drove up north to see Yusuf perform and it was a wonderful show.  The open air theater doesn't have any seating so everyone stands and lounges about on Moroccan carpets strewn across the ground.  We stood next to a group of Moroccan teenagers who, despite not being alive while Yusuf wrote any of his old music as Cat Stephens and growing up in another country, knew most of the words to his old songs.  It was awesome.  In truth, neither of us were alive when he wrote those songs either - but we had some rockin' moms who taught us well.

Here is a video of Yusuf performing one of his most popular songs.  People were literally chanting for it.  As Max pointed out in his way "he definitely rubbed some funk on this version of Peace Train".

What the heck - here's another video from the night.

hhhmmmm... after watching that video I think I could see myself in the crowd if I looked hard enough.  We were pretty close!


To Market

I'm just getting up the gumption to take my camera out by myself.  I realized today that I usually use my husband as a kind of shield.  I run around and take pictures while he acts as body guard and attention diffuser.  It's not like he juggles or anything (which he can do by the by) but that I feel like the many pairs of eyes are split between the two of us.  Thanks for that Max :) 

But today I took some shots of the great little market by my house.  I came home with a bunch of basil, two round loaves of bread, and 10 dirhams worth of almonds.  
 I got there right around lunch time and most of the people were sitting down to bread rounds and harira soup.  And when I say "people" I mean men.  Outside of the grumpy girl who sells fly covered pastries I was the only woman.  Maybe I missed the rush of women buying food for their evening meal already?

As I circled the enclosure I saw one man washing his dentures in the fountain at the end of the market.  A splash on the face, a dripple on the hands, and a dash on the dentures for good measure.  Why not?   


"C'est Moi"

As we were walking home from the grocery store tonight Max and I came upon a very common scene here in Casablanca: a soccer parade.  I don't think that's really what they are called, but that's what it amounts to.  Scores of mostly teenage and early adult males swarm the streets and block traffic through the main thoroughfares of the city.  I'm sure it's annoying to drivers, but as a product of a serious soccer playing family it always brings me such joy to see the chaos.

There are evidently two big soccer teams here in Casablanca - Weedad and Raja.  As much as I'd love to go to some of there games I'm not sure it would be prudent given the dangerous mosh pit atmosphere that inevitably prevails, win or lose.    

This little boy in the front with his hand up ran up to my camera and said "C'est Moi!" or It's Me! just as I snapped the picture.    

Before the impromptu soccer parade Max and I had a lovely, lazy Saturday complete with buttery croissant at a little breakfast place down the street from our house.  They are part of my new diet...of deliciousness.   


On Walking

So I have had this book called "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next" on my Kindle cue for sometime, but a recent review caused me to put it right to the top. (A companion piece of sorts to "Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier", formerly at the top of my kindle cue) Basically, the author projects that airports will soon replace cities as the focal point of development, commerce, and habitation. Amazon describes the Aerotropolis thus:

A combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility, and business hub... Today, the ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon the airport will be at the center and the city will be built around it, the better to keep workers, suppliers, executives, and goods in touch with the global market.

A London Review of Books reviewer, Will Self, referred to this type of development as "A Redeye to the Apocalypse" which is a pretty funny turn of phrase even though I generally avoid all things Apocalyptic.  As a traveler I love the idea that I could get somewhere quicker and possibly for less...but what will we be traveling to if "cities" as we know them are turned into commercial centers based on global trade instead of local tradition?  But more on that after I finish the book.

In a New York Times article the other day titled "To Fly or to Walk" Roger Cohen addresses the Aerotropolis and its consequences to the way we experience the world. He cites British author and book reviewer, Will Self, who, concerned that he had lost his physical place in the physical world, took up walking treks from big city airports into their city centers.

"Airworld reduces people’s experience to jump cuts, sudden transpositions of scenes with no establishing shots between.” Self explains.

Cohen recommends walking from our old cities to our airports "the better to measure where we really are, who we are, and where we want to go."

Sounds like a bit of abstract space and time doctoral research mumbo jumbo doesn't it? Well, perhaps let me relate it in a way that made total sense to me as a traveler.
In the fall of October 2009 Max and I took our first trip to Northern Israel. We traveled through many a checkpoint and banana grove to get to the northernmost tip that shares a border with Lebanon: Rosh Hanikra. The trip was fabulous - we spent a few days touring around the Galilee, we stayed a night in the holy city of Tsfat, and swam in the bluest Mediterranean water I have seen to date in Achziv. We rented a car and drove through Jericho on the way home, a city claiming to be the oldest in the world.

But you know what I remember most? The sticking image of the whole trip? After touring the chalk white cliffs of Rosh Hanikra we waited over an hour for a bus to take us back to our lodging in Achziv, about 3.5 miles away. As the sun started to sink behind the Mediterranean we decided to hoof it instead. We walked for just over an hour through netted banana fields and abandoned kibbutzim. We caught glimpses of the sun setting over the ocean every once in a while through the trees and had to steer clear of farmers creeping up behind us on their tractors. We got back to our hostel just before the last bit of light disappeared.

That is my most vivid, most lasting memory from that trip.

Self talks about walking in order to reestablish where he was in the world "in a visceral and muscular way." There is something about so real and life sustaining about engaging our bodies in the pursuit of experience. That physical memory is powerful and connects us to the world, the space around us.

When we lived in DC I loved the terrific metro system, but, I felt like I was reducing my experience to "jump cuts with no establishing shots in between" as Self describes. It was hard for me to explain why that was a little unsettling, to leave my home in Arlington and pop up at Dupont Circle without any context. For a few weeks I took the metro involving one transfer from my Doctor's office to my Acupuncturist office because I didn't know they were only about a seven minute walk apart. I had no concept of space and how I related to it.

Our relatively short time in Jerusalem left such a mark on both of us for many reasons, but I have no doubt that one of them is that we walked the hell out of that city. Forgive my French. Max and I talked about it over lunch and sure enough, most of our strongest memories are of walking through the old city, through our parking lot after class, through Beit Hanina on the way home from work. I guess if you think about it, you engage almost all of your senses when exploring a place on foot. You hear the construction and haggling, you smell the street food and the uncollected garbage, you see buildings up close and brush up against people in crowded walkways.

We have come to enjoy Casablanca more and more as we walk to and from work and the market. In fact, I have a trip planned next weekend where I think instead of getting a cheap taxi to the roman ruins we will "walk with locals on their way to their olive fields" as the guidebook says. We'll try and have a "visceral and muscular" experience.

But then again, sometimes we get lazy :)  


 I bet you are starting to think that all I do here is eat....    well, I do other stuff too.  In addition to the eating :)  On that note Max and I shared an out-of-this world paella two nights ago with shrimp, clams, lobster: all manner of fruits of the sea.  mmm-mmmm.  These lovely cookies are Moroccan Macaroons.  They come in multiple colors and flavors and are my new favorite little treat.  Delicious.

But on to the other activities of the week.

This past week Max and I attended a bluegrass / Moroccan folk music concert called "Bluegrass Maghrebi".  It was just what it sounds like - two singin', dancin', strumin', hollarin' bluegrass musicians from the American South collaborated with some local Moroccan musicians (famous ones as I understand) and the result was terrific.  One Moroccan musician played a three stringed rectangular lute type instrument called a Gimbri or Ginbri.  This instrument is very common in North African music.  It is associated with the more mystical Gnawa style of music having to do, in part, with the Sufi tradition of North Africa.

On Saturday we drove a borrowed car all over kate's kingdom, or should I say Mohammed VI's kingdom, to pick up some necessary house things.  There is an Ikea knock-off here called Kitea and a pretty great hardware store.  My ambition for this apartment is to have more personalized painted walls in some of the rooms.  When I grew up the appropriate colors for walls were white, beige, light beige, and perhaps a darker beige in small spaces.  I have since seen a multitude of painted walls that I have liked, but I'm pretty wimpy when it comes to painting in my own home still.  In fact I've never done it.  

When we got to the paint section of the hardware store Max asked me if I knew what I needed.

"Sure.  Paint stuff."

"...like what kind of paint stuff?"

"You know, stuff to paint our room with."

Did I mention I've never actually painted before?

"Do you know if we need primer? Or how big our room is? Or what kinds of brushes we need?"

Sheepishly "....My plan was just to ask someone who works here.  You know, like at Home Depot?"

Believe it or not, that plan actually worked.  A very knowledgeable, English speaking employee named Hassna took good care of us and we came home with 5 liters of RAL Pigeon Blue paint.  Terrible name, very nice color.

Dinner with friends, lunch breaks together, and unseasonably warm weather kind of sums the week up for us.


Postcards From the World We Live In

Working Gal

Well, almost.  

I've been waiting to post about this because I'm a chicken and didn't know if I would get the job or not and could subsequently face my digital shame, but all is well and so I'll share.

They have a program in the State Department called the Extended Professional Associates Development Program or EPAP in the ubiquitous acronym State Department speak.  This program allows qualified spouses to apply for professional positions at post so that they can continue their professional development.  As a side note I have been very pleased with the way the State Department looks after spouses (and other family members I would assume).  A happy family is a happy and long lasting employee.  Kudos.  

A few months ago I noticed an Information Specialist job in Casablanca for this program and contacted some people to ask about it.  Information is my schtick and the idea of using my newly minted Masters of Library and Information Science degree right off the bat was pretty exciting to me.  Unfortunately, the job was more IT than it was library science, HOWEVER (and a great big however), the nice woman at State told me there was a Cultural Affairs job that I might consider applying for...

After some sleuthing I discovered that one of my potential tasks, in addition to a host of other fabulous tasks, would be to work with the Information Resources Center (library) at post.  Needless to say I was thrilled and promptly applied for the position.  I received my official offer a few weeks ago and my official title will be the Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer.  This position will also be involved with the many cultural events and speaker programs the consulate plans and implements in the region.   

So good news bears all around.   If you know me personally and a federal agent shows up at your door - don't be nervous.  He just wants to know if I'm nice and trustworthy :) 


Email Subscribers

Hello Friends,

I recently had to migrate email subscribers over to a new web domain and in the process may have lost some of you.  If you no longer receive emails but you once did (and still want to), please check your inboxes and junk folders for a confirmation email from "Feedburner Email Subscriptions".  Once you click on that you will receive my emails again.

You can reach me at theworldthatweliveinblog@gmail.com if you have any questions.



P.S. If you want to receive emails every time I post just fill out the little box on the bottom right hand corner :)

P.P.S If you've used this opportunity to cut ties and run for the hills, then tafuddal my friends.  (That means be at your pleasure, be welcome in Arabic)


Casablanca: The Habous Quarter

My first Tagine in Morocco!
We've learned how to ask for just mint, water, and sugar - Mormon style. 


Rabat & Salé

Rabat is about an hour and a half north of Casablanca and is where the actual Embassy is located.  I went up with Max yesterday and was able to meet up with a few friends from church who live in the area.  They were so sweet to take me to some of the souks and we drove around parts of the city.  It's really beautiful.  There are a lot more tourist sights in Rabat and certainly a lot more green space.

Rabat is separated from its sister city Salé by the BouRegreg river.  Salé is, evidently, the place where Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked.  ...but I didn't know that from actually reading the book like I should have in 10th grade AP European History.  Wikipedia.  I'll have more to say about Rabat and Salé when we visit them in a earnest sometime, but here a few pictures from my short visit.
We went to a rug shop in Salé - rugs are a big deal in Morocco.  I'll tell you more when I know more :)
We also visited a ceramic shop where they sold the ubiquitous tagine - it's both the name of the dish and the food that is made in it. 

At first I didn't like this picture because of the giant crane, but it's actually perfect.  There is a lot of construction around Morocco - right amongst the ruins.  You can see the Kasbah walls and the white/blue houses within it.  Off to the right is the ocean.  



These are Bastiyya.  They are a delicious type of Moroccan meat pie/pastry.  They are filled with chicken (although pigeon is the traditional filling) cinnamon and almonds, all wrapped in a flaky cinnamon and sugar powdered phyllo dough crust.

They are very good.

But one of these is chicken and the other is white fish with noodles.


I think one of them may have made my love sick because he is out for the count.



Tank Tops, Lady Drivers, and Pork. Where am I?

Our first week here in Casablanca has been quite nice.  Slowly but surely we are making our apartment our home and figuring out the city in increasingly larger concentric circles.

 Last Saturday our sponsor drove us around to get a sense for the city.  We drove through the Haboos, an "old city" type area with a mosque, a plaza, and traditional goods like rugs, leather shoes, olives and yes, even camel meat.  Evidently you can tell if camel is on the menu in the Haboos if a camel head is tacked to the outside of the shop.  Such was the case last week as we saw a camel head with a mouth full of mint  hung above the mantel.  Maybe on our next visit...  I expected the city to be as urban and gritty as it is, so I am always delighted to see more charming, traditional places like the Haboos.

We had lunch in the central market which is shaped in a square with shops facing into the square and a smaller square inside with shops facing the walkway between the two.  The central market and its neighborhood including Place Muhammad V are remnants of the French occupation that didn't leave Morocco until in 1956.  We didn't tour the area very extensively, but there is an old post office that was on the french route through Morocco during WWII and some other historical buildings of note and architectural substance.  We ate a fine lunch of fried calamari, sardines, and some white fish with lemon after a bowl of lentils.  I haven't liked sardines or calamari up to this point in my life, but they were so fresh and flavorful.  I think I might be changing my mind about many a fish dish here in Morocco.

We also drove past the flea market which was constructed mainly from tarps and crates and looked tres mysterious.  Casablanca experiences a very disparate distribution of wealth and little shanty towns called "Bidonvilles" have sprung up all over the city, growing in the cracks between pricey restaurants and new foreign investments.  There are actually a lot of new building projects fueled by foreign and local investments all over the city.  The new Casablanca Mall will be opening up in October (including a Gap and an H&M) and there are a few different projects taking place along the coast including a new aquarium and another commercial center.

Lastly we passed by the Corniche, or boardwalk area running parallel to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Corniche is a long walkable path sandwiched between two Mcdonalds - one of which was having a performance of some kind as we drove past.  Mcdonalds are a big deal in the Middle East - a big fancy deal.  We've had a bit of rain here and so we haven't taken a walk out there yet, but we will get there some day this week after work.  From the corniche you can see the enormous Hassan II mosque (and really, any place high up in the city I guess).   I am very much looking forward to touring it soon.

Other Observations
Left turns here are absurd.  Instead of lining up one at a time to turn left, all of the cars line up side by side, seven, eight, nine, ten, across and when the its time to go it's a race to see who can/will go first and the herd follows suit until they are back into one or two lanes of traffic.  Craziest thing I've ever seen.  

People don't eat dinner here until LATE.  We had heard this about Moroccans and so we prudently waited to go out for Indian food at the India Palace until 8:30.  We were the only people there for almost an hour.  Even the cooks were just staring out at us through the kitchen.  While it might sound kind of cool to have four or five waiters attending to your every twitch and head nod, it's actually mostly creepy.  
In one day Max and I saw men and women holding hands on the street, women in tank tops and short skirts, pork butchers, and a woman cab driver.  What country is this?  We heard it was more european than the rest of the Middle East, but we have been surprised to the level at which that is true.  I've never even had a female cab driver in America - land of the free and the progressive.  Morocco is nice.

Awesome Moment of the Week
There's no way to convey irony through a font I guess, but that last sub-title was meant ironically.  Last week a few worker men came to the house to take away my broken dish washer.  I was rushing home from lunch with Max because I knew they were waiting for me.  When I got inside I unlocked my multiple locks locked front door and put my bag somewhere quickly to show them to the kitchen.  These two men only spoke French and my French, unfortunately, has taken a hit over the last few months.  As they were carrying the dishwasher towards the front door the doorbell rang and their english speaking supervisor, whom I had met already, was waiting outside to facilitate communication between the three of us.  In my initial rush to get in the door I had unthinkingly placed my keys...somewhere...  and I couldn't open the door.

So, the two men holding the dishwasher are locked inside with me, asking questions in French while I run around and look for the keys and the english speaking supervisor on the outside of the door thinks something is wrong with the door and does he, perhaps, need to break in.

It was epic.

I found the keys after a few embarrassing minutes and all was well.  I'm just saying, these are the moments you miss when everyone speaks the same language and you have lived in your house for more than a week :)