Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Essence of Casablanca/Morocco

It's nothing shocking anymore to see things such as this in the city of Casablanca. It is a city of over 3,000,000 people. You can turn one way and see a Mercedes or top of the line motorcycle. Then turn the other way and see this....

Notice the cars in foreground and background. Gotta love diversity!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


When life requires you to do things without a microwave, ya just gotta improvise. Toaster on its side to warm up pizza? Yep! Quicker and cooler than firing up the oven fo sho.  : )

Mmmmm, leftover pizza!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Places of prayer for those of the Islam faith. They are everywhere. But this one, is a biggee. The Hassan II Mosque in Casblanca is the third largest in the world. It was built for the King's 60th birthday and was opened in 1993. Our tour guide told is it took 6 years to complete, and that was with people working 24 hours a day. It has a heated floor, electronic doors (some of them open like garage doors), and a retractable roof/ceiling. The details inside are absolutely amazing.Check out  The Lonely Planet's review of the mosque at this link. It gives some more details about it as well. If you google it, you can see more pictures as well. We were told to be respectful of the culture, and thus had to have our legs and arms covered as much as possible. The ceilings were just amazing in every part of the mosque. We got to go downstairs where the big pool/bath is, and the individul 'cleansing stations' if you will. I think they looked like mushrooms. :) It was very hot down there, because it's basically a steam bath. Definitely a 'touristy' thing to do, but I loved taking that tour and seeing the inside. From my apartment, I can see the tip of the mosque. Even more amazing when it's lit up at night. A few of us walked down there tonight to see it. Such an amazing glow of light. We just sat there talking, looking, watching people come and go from prayer sessions, and listening to the ocean waves. And then we went and ate gellato. It was a good night!  (Will add more pics when I'm not so tired...hopefully)
one of the lower celings of mosque
not sure what it's called, but basically it's a
place where men cleanse their feet and hands

doorway inside the mosque

women's entrance to the mosque

Mosque tower

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cars, taxis and mopeds....Oh My!

So, in order to drive in Casablanca, you have to be a bit crazy. Or brave. Or crazy. I'm not sure I can even describe the madness that is city traffic here. If I could videotape it, I would. It's THAT interesting.
Casablanca is a very large city. Different reports have from 3 million to 5 million people living here. And unfortunately, many of them drive. On the roads. And sidewalks sometimes.
One of my first 'noticings' was that they do have lanes painted on the roadways. But drivers seem to ignore them more than follow them. As one of my colleagues who has lived here for a while said, "The lanes are just a suggestion". I laughed so hard, because it's true. There might be 4 lanes, but if you can fit 5 rows of cars across there, by golly they are going to. One colleague said they have actually seen someone reach out of their window to fold in someone's side mirror in order to be able to pass. The little moped/motorcycle/scooters that are here weave in and out of traffic like nobody's business. Some are so old they still have pedals on them from when mopeds first came out in the 80's? A few drivers even wear helmets. Most all of them pollute the air with so much exhaust it's mindboggling. No emissions control here they tell me. Interesting to say the least.
Anyway...back to driving. From what I have figured out in one week of living here, driving is an intricate system that involves one hand on the wheel, one hand ready to use hand signals out the window and one hand ready to honk the horn at all times. Wait...that's 3 hands isn't it. Well, I guess they have a good 3 for 2 system working. Drivers here are CONSTANTLY honking horns. But, it's not angry honking...it's communicative. It let's people know when you are coming, when you are going, when you are changing lanes, when you are letting someone else in front of you. I've never seen anything like it. I'm amazed everyday at some of the maneuvers our bus driver,  Hamid, pulls out of his ass. We get picked up for school in a blue school bus. Hamid is not afraid to make Uturns in the middle of major intersections. And as long as he has given the proper honk and wave...it seems acceptable. There is an intersection here unlike anything I've ever seen. It is referred to as the 'Circle of  Death'. I believe I counted 6 streets converging into one circular intersection that is so massive to get across, lights are changing while people are still crossing and turning, etc. People are turning left and right and they just make it work, one car at a time. I don't know how people get through it. But again...lots of honking and motioning with the hand.
This driving involves vehicle owners and taxis. Here in casa they basically have a 2-taxi system. Red, and white. the red taxis, or Petit Taxis as their signs say, are very small and will only carry 3 people. You get in an accident with any speed involved in one of these, you are squashed like a  bug. But, since traffic rarely seems to go above 35, they are less dangerous. These taxis will not go outside of the city. They are dirty, but get you from point A to B. And, they are cheap. As is everything here except gym memberships. Anyway...neither red nor white taxis have air conditioning. Nothing much does here really. And, they don't have the handles on the windows for you to roll down. I'm not sure why. My only thought is it's because they don't want too many hands out the windows confusing their flow of traffic. Kind of like how Dad always told us as kids not to raise our hand at the sale barn because we might accidentally buy something. Here that incidental hand wave might get you in an accident. They will try to make you pay more, and we just found out that they actually raise their rates after 9pm. Again, not sure why. They drive like mad, but get you where you are going. Always make sure the meter starts at zero. The white taxis are interesting. They are cheaper and run outside of the city. They don't have window handles either, but the one we took to the beach had it up by him and allowed us to roll down windows. Which is a huge bonus when you are cramming 7 people into an old, 4 door mercedes. They charge you basically 10 dirhams (which is about a dollar or just over) to go wherever. We went about a half hour out of town to a different town where the beach was, and I think it was 12 dh a piece. Cheap! However, if you don't have a full taxi (full being 6 passengers...3 in front, 4 in back. seatbelts are not a concern) they will stop and pick up random people along the way who are going the same direction as you. So, now you are crammed in a cab with strangers. Who might smell. It's pretty funny really. We had a great driver down to Jack Beach the other day. When we were ready to go home, we just started walking along the side of the road until a cab came by to take us home. We didn't have to walk far before finding one. And, back to the city he took us. It's a system like no other, but it works here. Ya just gotta roll with it. Life is an adventure...might as well experience it!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


This is a traditional dish here in Morocco that actually has its origins in the Berber region. It is grainy. You could maybe compare it to a very finely granulated type of rice? I don't know...couscous is couscous I guess. (Jeff and Karen, I know you are laughing at that line...like okra, right?)  Anyway, our director, Dr. Lee and his wife and family had us over again for a traditional couscous dinner the other night. This is a dish that is traditionally eaten family style. It is served in a big bowl/platter in the middle of the table, with the couscous on the bottom and meat/vegetables on the top. We got a first hand demonstration from a native who works at the school. All I know is it involved "pinching" a vegetable or piece of meat along with some of the couscous, gently squeezing/tossing it in your hand, and then popping it in your mouth from your thumb. We had to 'graduate' from eating with our hands before they would give us spoons. Pretty fun. Very messy. But a neat experience. And, delicious...

One hand...squeeze gently to pack it a bit, then eat!

Eatin with hands...couscous family style. Dig In!!

And...pretty much done. Can't help but be messy!

Friday, August 20, 2010


AND...Mc Donald's n Kentucky Fried Chicken. More than one location of these actually. Kind of sad. Especially when you consider the delicious Indian food we had tonight. MMMWah!  Love it!! Although, we are packing PB&J sandwiches to take to the beach tomorrow. Kickin' it old school I guess. Just hope the sharks that supposedly sometimes swim in the waters we surf in don't smell and like PB.  I'm sure the sight of me in a wet suit will scare them off....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


So, I'd heard of Ramadan before moving here. And I knew it involved fasting. But I had no idea of the celebratory eating that goes on between the end of the day's fast, and the start of the next day's fast! For those of you who do not know much of Ramadan, basically it is a month long religious holiday for the muslim faith. According to those of more knowledge than I, it is lunar based as to when it occurs each year. Muslims are to fast (meaning not eat OR drink...even water..) from sunrise to sunset for 30 days (technically it's supposed to be 40..so they are to extend their fasting another 10 days past the actual holiday. not sure about how this works. most say they make up their own little rules with this). The thought behind it is they are to feel some of the pain, suffering, hunger, etc. that many of their people have felt (or are still feeling), in order to understand where they have come from in their lives. Or something like that. They also have to abstain from all 'pleasurable activities' during this time (please don't ask me to explain...)  So, let's say their day starts at 9:00 in the morning, which is actually the official government hour of work starting during Ramadan. They probably ate another meal at whatever time is before sunrise....maybe 4 or 5 am here? Then they sleep a little and get up to work from 9:00 to 3 or 4:00. I can't remember. They go home and sleep or do anything they can to forget how hungry and thirsty they are. Then they 'break the fast' in the evening depending on sunset. It apparently gets later by 2 minutes each night. You can hear the call to prayer here from the mosques because the windows are open. It's very cool. So a lot of them will eat a little something, then pray (might be in their homes, or at a mosque....always facing Mecca in the east). Then join the table and eat. And eat. And eat. Seriously...they put it away. Different courses, different types of foods. They actually start with what they think of as breakfast. At 7:20 pm or whatever time it is. They eat things of a salty and sweet nature, and that are high in protein (hard boiled egggs, soups with meat in them, pastries and fried finger food type things). Then they move on to courses that involve more soups and meat and sweets, etc. One very traiditonal dish is called Tagine. It's named after the pot in which it is cooked. Tagine is a stew made of meats and vegetables and traditionally cooked in a conical clay pot to allow the steam to rise, condense and drip back down to the stew. Practically anything can be turned into a tagine: meat, chicken, fish, vegetables and some even make it with meat and fruits. Some typical tagine dishes include lamb with dates, lamb with raisins or prunes and almonds, chicken with olives and preserved lemon, chicken with dried apricots and so on. It's REAL good. Another amazing little delicacy is brik – a triangular envelope of crispy pastry containing a whole egg, minced parsley and onion. Brik always has an egg in it, but other ingredients of the filling vary, it can contain even tuna or ground meat. The pastry is made with sheets of thin dough and then deep fried in olive oil. (and, if you are wondering, i'm copying some of these definitions from the internet because i don't know how to describe them. pictures too. please don't report me)  The other main dish they break the fast with is harira, which is a soup composed of many ingredients.
Tagine...it's basically our version of crockpot cooking.

brik...delicious little pastry type thing with meat and yummy stuff inside
We had the opportunity to experience a traditional "f-tour" (as Moroccan's call it) or "iftaar" (for most Muslims) at a family whose daughter goes to our school. These were some wealthy Moroccans! Seriously kick-ass house, pool, yard, everything. The man of the house had a picture of him kissing the King's hand. Apparently not just anyone gets to do that. Whatever. So, this was catered like a fancy wedding...started with all of these sweet treats and hardboiled eggs (after fasting all day, you need fast protein for energy), and the harira soup. Now, I have to tell you it's killing me that I didn't get a picture....but there was also a pigeon soup option at this meal. It had a greenish color and there was seriously pigeon wings/legs, etc. in that kettle of soup.. Others tried it and said it was tasty. I just wasn't quite ready to "Go Big" at that point. I did try most everything else though, and loved it all.

After all of this fun stuff, they brought out the lady who does the "Henna" designs. Henna is basically a dye of sorts that they use to make what is basically a temporary tattoo. Women get these on special occasions, of which Ramadan is one. So, we all got a henna design...some more intricate than others. According to one person, our designs were more middle east in nature because moroccan designs are traditionally more geometric. Whatever. Basically they use a syringy to put this puffy paint type of stuff on you and then it dries and flakes off and you have an orangeish-brown print on your skin. All in all, the evening was a wonderful cultural experience in itself. Maybe next time I'll be ready for the pigeon stew/soup.
Woman who did the henna designs.

My henna design...only did inside of my finger-wrist.
Oh, one more funny thing from the evening. The brother and his wife of the host family were there. They both lived in America for extended periods of time on separate occasions and loved it. We asked them what they missed about America. Fatima said she misses the long walks and movie theaters and shopping. Her husband said he missed movies too, and then chimed in with "Taco Bell". Seriously. Then they went on to talk about how they really need to get mexican food in Morocco because they don't have it. But he seriously said Taco Bell. I wouldn't make that up.

All for now...thanks for following!

Different doesn't mean Wrong

So, life here has immediately presented some eye opening situations. Nothing too drastic as of yet for someone like me who is pretty good at rolling with the punches. But, they are oddities because they are new. Most of which, I'm sure I will adjust to even more over time.

On Monday, we went on a walk around our neighborhood with a returning teacher. She led us around like new tourists, and I'm quite certain we acted like it as well. It was amazing to see how close we all live to each other and didn't realize it. We are in Gauthier area of Casa, which is downtown basically. The place where it's all happening. I have never seen so many street cafes. They are everywhere! A couple of things we learned on our walking tour. Most gyms here (other than the one really expensive one) are segregated between men and women. "Gymnasia" is a gym that has several locations here. They segregate it by allowing women to use the gym on M, W, F and maybe the morning on Sunday. Men then get Tu, Th, and Sat. and Sunday afternoon. But, if you want to work out everyday, one of their other locations has that schedule flip-flopped. Different, right? Guess that means I won't be meeting a dude at the gym anytime soon. HaHa. Another interesting tidbit is that you don't bank at a bank, per say. You bank with a Banker. One person. Even though your money may be in a bank that has several locations, you can only do your business with the one guy. Always. Those are a couple of the biggest things that come to mind. Some other little things I've learned: floors are mostly tile of some sort and if you enter a home with carpet, you take your shoes off;  air conditioning is rare and thus far i have not even felt i need it as there is always a good breeze it seems; no furnaces either...they use gas or electric heaters, and those that have been here said when it does get cold (40s and 50s) it's a very chilling cold because you never really get warm anywhere; pastries and mint tea are a big deal; apartments apparently come with lights/lightbulbs, but those bulbs don't necessarily have anything covering them...just a bulb sticking out of the wall. But you can buy beautiful lighting covers at markets here. I will be purchasing soon; they have many of the same processed foods here we have at home...frosted flakes, cheerios, pringles, doritos, diet coke, etc. I wasn't expecting that at the market; food has been real good so far (more on that in another post). One thing they have at school all the time is orange slices with cinnamon on them. Very good. Dates and fig are also a big thing here; drivers here are crazy...you have to be in order to be on the road here in the city. We ride a blue school bus to work everyday and it's always an adventure (more on driving here later).

The Moroccan people, thus far, have proved to be oh so gracious and helpful, as I had heard before arriving. I'm bound and determined to take some language classes and learn some of the language. I already feel like I want/need to out of respect to them and their country/culture. Their language is often a blend of Arabic and French, as they use French words for some things even when speaking Arabic I guess. Not that I can understand any of it at this point. But that's what people tell me.
bathrooms here come with a bidet...

We call this "The Laughing Cow". It's our landmark for our street/corner
One kind of funny story before signing off. I didn't bring a hair dryer with me because of the plug in/voltage difference. Basically, you need a converter for any US appliance. Figured I'd just buy one here. Well, one girl who works with us is engaged to a Moroccan man. She was saying something the other day about how she was so mortified that she got up late because she had to leave the apt. with wet hair. I asked why that bothered her so much and she said that no one here goes out with wet hair because everyone assumes you were doing 'things' with your significant other and that's why you were late. Hmmm, I left the apt. for 3 days with somewhat wet hair. Aren't first impressions wonderful?  :)
Moroccan dirham. 100dh = $12.50

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Here goes nothin'

Well, here is attempt number one at a blog. Daron, you are welcome since you refuse to cave to facebook.

Not sure where to start. Most of you know that this change of scenery felt like a calling in a sense. Life, for me, needed a new twist or turn. And I am here as a result. Being a teacher, I've always believed in learning and being a lifelong learner in particular. So, as an adult who felt like I was no longer being said learner...I knew I needed to venture out. One job fair later, and here I landed, teaching 5th grade at the Casablanca American School in Casablanca, Morocco. (Northwest part of Africa for my geographically-challenged friends. Not that I'm mentioning any names. Sherry.) I'll write more about school another time, but all I can say is...so far, so good. Granted, the students don't arrive until Aug. 30th. But still, I'm just sayin'.
Plane ride over had one casualty. My iPod. Lost on first flight to NYC. Which sucks. Hope karma bites the person who took it and did not turn it in. Because I totally would have turned in someone's iPod. Except for maybe when I was younger and had no money or iPod. Then I might have thought about keeping it. Just being honest.
Hanging out at JFK airport for 7 hours was not as much fun as it you might think. Although for the last couple of hours I met Rubin in the wine bar and he told me of life in NYC since he moved here from Mexico. He told me about this as I drank a $10 draught of beer, of which I told him I had never paid that amount of money for, which led to him telling me what it was like when he came here in 1983. Or something like that.
Flight to Casablanca was as good as a 7 hour flight can be. Some interesting tidbits aboard Royal Air Maroc. Things are written/spoken in Arabic. And French. And then English. At beginning of the flight, they pass out a baggie with headphones in it, and socks. Yes, socks. Blue ones. Not sure if people's feet typically get cold on planes? Oh, and they also handed out those eye covers for sleeping. and people used them. Pretty funny looking. Anyway. Might have been the best meal in flight I've ever had. Good fish that was still warm in a sauce, rice, peas, soda, cheesecake for dessert. Good stuff. After eating and trying to watch a movie, I was ready to sleep. And apparently the man in front of me was too. So, he proceeded to launch his seat back, shoving my tray into my stomach. He then flopped around like a dying fish trying to get comfortable from the looks of things. The foreign boy sitting next to me was laughing with me.
A big group of us were on this flight together, and personnel from the school were there to greet us. Eventually, we were taken to our apartments in small groups and dropped off one by one. Later that evening, we all dined at our Director's home (kind of like a Superintendent of Schools). And, the man (and his wife) had beer and wine waiting for us, along with a fabulous dinner! 'Speciale' was my beverage of choice. And a German beer I don't remember the name of. Good stuff! One of the girls commented that it tasted like Coors Light. Ha! Anyway, that was day one basically. Bottom line is, arrived safely, without much incident, and settled nicely into my new home of the next few years. Life is good!