Welcome to Berrechid, Morocco!
We finally meet up with Mr Harim who has been waiting outside Gate 1 outside Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca while we’re waiting out the front of Gate 2 trying to connect to a distant internet signal that’s seeping through the airport exit doors. Mr Harim is a Moroccan man who has a heart of gold. His mission is to give back to his community and make a difference. So he’s our kind of man! He has already established three English language schools under the name British Language Academy and opens its doors to foreigners from all over the world who want to volunteer at his school in assisting with classroom conversations with Moroccan students. In return volunteers get to stay for free at his school. He has joined Workaway a service that unites travellers with people who need volunteers to assist with a myriad of different projects in various countries.
By now, it’s close to midnight. It’s a warm night with a refreshingly cool breeze. We have an extra suitcase that was purchased at the luggage shop in the underground railway station back in Lisbon that we used to balance out the heaviness of carrying school books around the world. Our maximum per item allowance on TAP Airlines was 23kg. This is the weight of the Cole family’s luggage to date:
- Pink suitcase 20kg
- Red suitcase 19kg
- Gold suitcase (newbie) 19kg
- Lisa’s backpack 14kg
- Ash’s backpack 7kg
- Drone 6kg.
So our family’s combined travel weight is 85kg plus carry-on luggage. We’re going to have to bring that weight down so the pink suitcase may find its resting place here in Berrechid after we have a spring clean of our luggage items. Only six pieces of luggage are allowed under the plane so Steve, Billie and Dacey take their backpacks on board as carry-on luggage.
We walk and chat with Mr Harim’s to his car – a standard sized car with a pop up hatch – and it becomes clear that collecting our family and transporting us all back to the school is maybe just not going to work out. Can we all fit in this standard sized car? Really?
I had previously sent Mr Harim a Messenger app note after he mentioned he would be happy to pick us up from the airport days prior to our landing clearly mentioning that we are six people – or more precisely six rather big people. Sometimes when we say we’re a family with four children many people expect them to be much smaller plus each with luggage. Now I was thinking that maybe I hadn’t communicated that fact all that well to Mr Harim.
But Mr Harim, a very short and slight-framed man with a well-kept steely beard seemed unfazed. He pops the hatch and lifts the luggage into the boot. The boot has all kinds of personal stuff in it, which Mr Harm gently pushes to the side. We manage to fit two out of the three suitcases in the boot along with my soft backpack. While we are sorting this out Mr Harim is talking Arabic to a young man who has approached him in the carpark. Not sure if he was a trolley collector or if he as a taxi driver propositioning us for half of us to get a lift with him as it really doesn’t look like we’re all going to fit into his car.
The girls pile their backpacks up in the back section of the car so that there is no way to see out the hatch window. Then the girls pile themselves into the standard three-seat backseat – three seated and two of us – Dacey and me – sit on Billie and Charlie’s lap. All I could think was quick close the door before I fall out!
Then Steve places the last suitcase in the front passenger seat floor and climbs in and over it so he sits in the front passenger seat with his chin resting on the top of the case. Mr Harim closes his door and before we know it we’re packed in like a family of sardines driving out of the airport carpark. Steve has to shift the suitcase to the side as Mr Harim changes gears. It’s an interesting start to Morocco. There is no photo because it was dark and realistically it was all too cramped.
We chat to Mr Harim along the way asking who the man was in the carpark. He tells us he was someone wanting charity. I guess that’s another term for beggar. Dacey and I mould our backs around the arch of the car and regularly move our position to help alleviate the pins and needles that both Billie and Charlie experience from us sitting on their legs. “How long are we like this for?” asks Dacey. It is a 30-minute drive but luckily for us the roads are long and smooth so there are no sharp turns or pot holes.
We arrive to our destination quicker than expected and fall out of the car. It’s dark and quiet in the streets of Berrechid. The front door to the language academy has an assortment of different creepers growing over it. It’s a welcoming sight. We walk down a flight of stairs and come to the dorm area of the academy where we are shown our six-person dorm room: two bunk beds and a double mattress on the floor. There’s no other furniture in here, except two chairs and one of them is broken. We notice another suitcase in the corner of the room and realise someone else must have been staying here before us who is travelling around Morocco at the moment – someone mentions to us that Sofia is at a music festival.
We are greeted by two young male volunteers just inside the entrance – Kerem from Turkey and Biafra from USA. They look really happy to greet us at this early morning hour, and I wonder why they’re up so late.
The shared kitchen is basic, fairly dirty and quite untidy and looks exactly like a shared house kitchen should look (my renting memories come to mind). There are many large five litre bottles of water sitting on the bench with a name written in permanent marker on each of them. “You buy your own water, because the tap water is no good for you straight away,” Mr Harim explains. They cost about 9 Dirham each. We work out that the currency conversion is A$1 for around 7 Dirham. Cheap water!
I venture upstairs with Mr Harim and get a quick tour of the entire academy and realise how big it actually is. It’s quite a few flights of stairs up to all the levels. I’m completely lost as it’s late, dark and I’m tired. We reach the open air rooftop and there’s a small amount of light coming from the street below so that I can make out the amazing painted mural all around the rooftop wall. There are numerous lines criss crossing from one side of the rooftop to the other to hang washing out.
We walk downstairs, ‘borrow’ some water from one of the other volunteer’s water bottles clean our teeth and jump into bed. Only we’re missing a pillow for Charlie so I ask the Turkish volunteer Kerem if he knows where we could get source another from and he disappears upstairs and returns with one.
Our heads hit the pillow and bodies to the mattress. We made it. We’re here. Hello Africa. We’re actually in Morocco.
However, I can sense the girls have already got a feeling that this dorm-style accommodation is going to represent another hard slog like the Buldana experience all over again. They share some of their initial thoughts just before they drift off to sleep but I nod off to sleep thinking the opposite – that this Moroccan experience here in Berrechid is going to be great exactly because there are other young people living and volunteering with us.
I really hope I’m right.
I’m still up at 3am as both Billie and Dacey have taken turns snoring. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in a shared room with my kids again. I sleep lightly, and lie in bed half-awake listening to the pre-dawn prayers from the mosque ring out across the industrial city of Berrechid. It’s a beautiful sound and I drift back into a deep sleep.
We sleep in. It’s hot and stuffy in the room, and we slide the small window open near Charlie’s top bunk bed that lets in fresh Moroccan morning air. The girls are a little hesitant to get out of the room and explore their new shared surroundings. It’s all different again and unusual as we’ve been used to our own Airbnb accommodation in Europe. Now there’s other people in the house. It reminds me of a Big Brother house, minus the cameras, an audience and Gretel Killeen.
Once again this is a perfect lesson for the world traveller – to always be open to meeting and mixing with new people and being able to assimilate quickly into any new and unfamiliar environment. The sound of clapping emanates from the road as a horse and cart pass by.
I walk out to the kitchen and the opposite dorm room door opens up suddenly and out pops a young man who greets us with a very British “Good morning!” while rubbing his still sleepy eyes. This is 18-year old Bart. We congregate in the kitchen and Bart offers to make me a cup of coffee. I accept and introduce him to our tribe. He’s very friendly, open, upbeat, and we enjoy listening to his very British accent. We sit and chat for some time in the kitchen about where to go shopping to buy food and water. Mr Harim also makes an appearance in the morning and offers to take us to the supermarket when we’re ready.
We’re all a little shell shocked through lack of proper and decent sleep but we get dressed, have a chat to volunteer Kerem again, and Mr Harim introduces us to some of the teachers and administrative assistants on the second floor who help him run the school. We talk about supermarkets, getting local mobile sim cards, and trains to Casablanca. The teachers all seem to be very happy and energised people.
There was a BBC news program covering the British Language Academy with an interview with Mr Harim back in 2014. After this interview was broadcast, the demand for English classes increased from local students and now Mr Harim has three language schools – Berrechid, Casablanca and Fez. Watch the BBC new story here.
So the structure of the dorm-school at the British Language Academy building is this:
- Basement: dorm rooms, kitchen, toilet, basin, large room off to the side (that’s currently used as a storage for school tables and chairs).
- 1st Floor: classrooms, toilet, washing machine.
- 2nd Floor: classroom, unused classrooms, shower.
- Rooftop: an uncovered rooftop area that has been beautifully painted with Moroccan landscapes, washing hanging area.
Bart informs us that many of the other volunteers are currently travelling this weekend with many of them returning Sunday and next week as they’re enjoying the annual Moroccan music festival which occurs each June in Essaouira.
We finally organise ourselves and head off with Mr Harim in his car to the big supermarket. He drops us off and asks if we’re okay to walk back as he has to go back to Casablanca to collect his father from a religious event. We agree to walk back, but the girls think it’s way too far to walk back with all the food.
The supermarket is large and has lots of food on offer – both fresh and packaged. We’ve been told to purchase all our fruit and veg from the local market just around the corner from our dorm accommodation. Apparently they sell the tastiest and freshest dates and olives anywhere in Berrechid.
We start to get accustomed to the currency in Morocco – the Moroccan Dirham or abbreviated to the MAD or Dh. Each A$1 is equivalent to 7.4 Dirham. There’s even a Moroccan coin marked as a half coin (like a 50 cents). Here’s an overview of the cost of some of our groceries and other bits and pieces needed on the road:
- SIM card 30 Dh (with 1GB data + 50 Dh for 5GB data)
- Freshly baked croissants 2 Dh
- 5 litres of water 9-11 Dh
- Bread stick 2 Dh
- Tea (at a café) 7 Dh
- Freshly squeezed orange juice (at a cafe) 10 Dh
We buy enough so that each of us carries a bag back to the dorm. It’s very hot outside and the girls suggest catching a taxi back to the language school. A small blue taxi appears on the main road and we hop in. But there’s a problem with taking more than 3 passengers, even though there is room for four. So I decide to walk back with Billie while the others catch the taxi with all the food. Unfortunately, later on we realise that a shopping bag full of goods was accidentally left in the back of the cab that contained mince meat, eggs, milk, toothpaste…it’s annoying and we think we’ve lost those goods. But the taxi driver returns with the shopping bag full of our goods.
Billie and I enjoy the walk back, and stop off at a bakery and purchase a breadstick and six croissants. The bakery is a small little shop with a friendly young boy serving us with his parents. Everyone here speaks French and the people on the street always greet us with a friendly greeting of bonjour. Three languages are learnt here: Arabic, French and English. I ask the young boy how to say thank you and goodbye in Arabic and I practice this on him while in the shop.
Billie and I munch on a mouth-watering croissant as we wander back to the school. They’re delicious and just melt in the mouth. We discover the walk from the supermarket is not too far after all. But as we return there’s mayhem in the kitchen as Bart tries to help us organise some bench space for our food and make space in an already full and leaking fridge. It really is the most chaotic kitchen I’ve been in for a long time, but we manage to fit everything in.
After we return from the supermarket, there is a new volunteer who’s just arrived. Her name is Julish (silent J), 19 years old from Britain. No one knew she was coming to stay at the school until she rang the buzzer downstairs. It was the same for the next arrival later this evening, 20-year old Matheus from Brazil. The house is expanding by the hour.
We are enjoying adjusting to our new environment, and getting to know the other volunteers both newer than us and old. There’s a great atmosphere in this house – it’s alive, vibrant, chatty, and there’s always someone to hang out with. I sit upstairs for a while in one of the classrooms and chat with Yulish and the girls as we peer out the large window onto the brown and scorched vacant block behind the school. The girls are starting to relish spending time with other young people. This is looking good.
I write for the rest of the afternoon. It’s lovely to just write. The freedom to write without stopping, no interruptions is pure delight. And I’m making the most of it. The girls don’t need any attention at all – they are all happily chatting with the volunteers and sharing funny stories about national customs and learning lots about other countries and people.
Bart informs Steve and me that we are participating in language conversation later this afternoon in the classroom as many of the usual volunteers are away travelling at the moment. There’s a massive whiteboard that lists names of teachers against times for volunteers. I’m handed a sheet of paper that has a list of English questions on it. These are the questions we are guided to ask in the half hour conversation with the students. Dacey and Ash’s names have also been ticked against on the whiteboard volunteering board outside the classrooms downstairs. I’m a little nervous as I’m not sure what to expect in the classes after I heard a conversation about grammar and tenses being tossed about, but again it’s a matter of turning up and being open to learning how to do something new. Bart is a fountain of knowledge and answers all of our questions of how the class will go and it sounds fairly straightforward.
My English conversation class on character and personality finishes. It’s simple English conversation with a Moroccan student but my 15-year old Moroccan student is quite shy and it’s difficult getting a lot out of him. Ash is on the opposite side of the room chatting to his older sister, who is also shy. However, we emerge from the class room energised and pumped that we have gotten through our very first class and enjoyed it that much. It gives us a sense of purpose and making a difference with the language we know how to speak so well.
We leave the classroom, and I watch Dacey in the other classroom talking with two young men who are also students here. And I think how amazing she and Billie are to be just 11 and 13 years old having the confidence to volunteer and make a difference to these Moroccan students both adults and teenagers.
Tonight the girls sit down with Bart, Yulish and Matheus in the kitchen and into the wee small hours try and work out exactly where all the volunteers will sleep. They have counted 17 volunteers staying here in the language school of Berrechid next week. It’s certainly not equipped to cater for 17 people in regards to cutlery, crockery, plus showering and kitchen facilities. But then again when you’re in an environment like this one, anything is possible.
The volunteers come and go. Some stay for months, others for weeks. But they are all amazing young people with a lovely sense of humour and heart. Bart tells us that once you’re here for a week, it feels like you’ve been here forever. And forget the Big Brother house, this is International Volunteer House! I need to start my own TV reality show (lol).
Tonight the sunset is glorious out the front door of the school.
English conversation class: Physical Aspect, Character and Personality @ 7:30pm
I spend most of the day writing and catching up with my blog posts from Portugal. I ask the administrative assistant if there were any unused classrooms our family could occupy while we’re staying here to do our own school work and have a space to set up our lap tops. So we have a room on the third floor dedicated to the Cole Family.
The great debate continues throughout the day – where to sleep everyone once they – the travelling volunteers –return. The girls along with Bart believe they’ve hatched a plan to accommodate everyone, well that is until travelling volunteers Sofia from Belgium and Sam from Hawaii return to the school this afternoon after being at the music festival all week. There’s a few room changes and movements. Mat decides he’s going to sleep on the rooftop with his mattress in the coolness and under the stars tonight.
While the room change discussions occur all around us, we decide to rearrange the chairs and tables stacked in the side room so it can be better used by 17 people. And we have a half table used as a table tennis table that Dacey is keen to get out and start a competition amongst the volunteers. There’s a game of cards and spoons which everyone seems to enjoy playing with the kids.
A new and interesting conversation begins between Kerem and Mat about taking a trip to the African country called The Gambia across the desert and just past the country of Senegal. It’s just interesting being in a conversation about countries I’d never heard of before. But the journey would take quite some time, and it’s dangerous. The mention of landmines, kidnapping and ransom in the one sentence kind of puts you off going really. We make some funny comments but my mind is fully appreciating the various conversations about travel, countries and culture so very much.
There is also no alcohol served at any of the cafes here or sold at the supermarkets. Berrechid and most of Morocco I believe is a dry city. However, there is one supermarket in Casablanca that sells alcohol and it’s called Carrefour. The local Bim’s supermarket in Berrechid sells Beck’s Blue fully imported beer that is 0.0% alcohol (18 Dh = A$2.50). It looks like beer, smells like beer but just hasn’t got the refreshing taste of beer because…it’s just not beer! The lifestyle here is quite different from what we have been used to in both Spain and Portugal.
The reason practising Muslim’s do not drink alcohol or take drugs is due to the fact that in the Qu’ran it tells followers not to consume mind altering substances. Why I ask Mr Harim. He responds, “because your God loves your mind just as it is.”
I don’t know much about the Islamic religion or the Qu’ran. But I can hear it each day. Muslims pray five times a day and the Arabic word Salat means prayer. According to their God he ordered Muslims to pray at five set times of the day. Listening to the sound of the prayer ringing out from the mosques around the city of Berrechid is so very lovely to hear, especially the pre-dawn prayer while I’m still lying in bed half awake.
The prayer times for Casablanca are as follows:
- 4:42am – Salat al-fajr: dawn before sunrise
- 6:24am – Salat al-zuhr: midday, after sun passes its highest
- 1:35pm – Salat al-asr: the late part of the afternoon
- 5:19pm – Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset
- Salat al-‘isha: between sunset and midnight. Not sure of the time.
The public call for prayer from the mosques is intended to set the rhythm of the day for the entire population including non-Muslims. The ritual of prayer is over 1400 years old and the repeating five times a day is performed by hundreds and millions of people around the world. Its purpose is to unite mind, soul and body in worship. Apparently there is a whole series of set movements that go along with the words of the prayer. I’m really looking forward to travelling into the city of Casablanca and visit the Hassan II Mosque.
English conversation classes: Let’s talk about countries @ 7:30pm and 9:30pm
We plan on traveling into Casablanca tomorrow as a cooler change is forecast for the next two days. It would be much more pleasant exploring in the cooler weather for us all. We are adjusting to hotter and more cramped living conditions in the dorm accommodation, and try to get out as much as possible.
I walk in on a group of volunteers chatting in the kitchen with Fatima one of the teachers. The conversation is all about Moroccan culture which is fascinating so I stay and listen. We come to understand that life for women here in the Moroccan culture is very similar to that of India – local women do not feel safe walking at night time, there’s no dating, and the world here is very gender segregated. There is the word Halal which means an action that is permissible under Islamic law and then there is the word Haram, which simply means forbidden.
Women do not pray alongside the men in the mosques but are separated or allocated to top levels nor do they sit at the local cafes in Berrechid – they all seem to be a man’s domain. Listening to Fatima is an insight. She tells us that if a woman is not married by 22 she’s considered “old”. Fatima plans on travelling over to Canada to live an work there but she will have to go through a fake marriage with another man (a friend who lives in Canada) for her to be able to do this. I hope she gets there in the end and it all works out for her.
In the afternoon we go for a walk with Julish and Mat around the blocks of Berrechid and find a cafe to sit down and enjoy mint tea or a cool drink. I can smell the mint before the teapot is placed on the table. The tea is a thick syrup like consistency – so in other words it’s full of sugar with fresh mint leaves. I’m glad it’s taken in a small glass as I couldn’t consume too much of this sweet tea in one go.
I have noticed men sitting at the cafe who include another sugar cube in their small decorative etched glass and then pour their tea from an air of tradition. They raise their hot teapot into the air while pouring the liquid to aerate the tea for better digestion. It’s certainly something to witness. The sweetness reminds me like the Indian Chai tea – plenty of sugar!
We also wander through the local fruit and veg market where we see lots of donkeys and carts. The donkeys are such cute little creatures with such huge ears! They maybe cute and small but I’m sure they’re quite stubborn animals.
Mr Harim drops by at the language school and comes downstairs to chat with us about travelling around Morocco. Steve mentions to Mr Harim that we’re planning on heading to Casablanca tomorrow but he seems horrified that we are going without him and says he will come along so we can see the best and most of Casablanca. He writes down his suggested destinations that we will see while staying here in Morocco:
- Day trip: Casablanca
- Hassan II Mosque or Grand Mosque
- Old Medina
- Habous Quarter aka New Medina, built by French in 1930s.
- Day trip: Rabat (capital city)
- Bouznika which is a beautiful beach
- Day trip: El Jadida
- Riven weekly market & beautiful beach
- 4 Days: Fez
- Chefchaouen (the blue city)
- 4 Days: Marrakech
- Ouzazate (a place for filming Game of Thrones)
- Kalaat Mgoura (town of roses)
- Meuzouoja (Sahara sand dunes)
Mr Harim insists on us waiting to go with him to all the places in and around Morocco. He’s waiting on getting some paperwork organised/signed off for the spare car. I think he has the idea of Steve driving here in Morocco so we can save more money and be more flexible rather than using taxis or trains that can be expensive for a family of six. And although we’re more than happy to travel by trains and taxis, Mr Harim is such a kind and generous man in wanting to help us have the best experience here in his country Morocco.
Mat and Yulish have moved their mattresses up to the rooftop permanently and have been enjoying sleeping up there for last couple of nights. Of course Charlie and Ash want to do the same, and ditto for Billie and Dacey. So Steve and Mat help move the mattresses up there for a cool night under the stars.
I’m pretty sure they don’t get to sleep until 3.30am! I’m glad it’s holidays.
Dorm House Volunteers
Late tonight I hear the dorm house bell ring while reading in bed down in the basement. It’s the return of the last travelling French volunteers who have been away on a safari in the Sahara Desert. So we now have a full house and here is a list of everyone:
- 6 Cole Family Steve 52, Lisa 43, Charlie 16, Ash 15, Billie 13, Dacey 11 – Australia, world travellers for now
- 7 Sofia – 38, Belgium, former Receptionist and Nursing student
- 8 Sam – age unknown, USA (Hawaii), Associate Professor of Oceanography
- 9 Julish – 19, England, student plans on studying a degree in Arabic and Law
- 10 Matheus – 20, Brazil, student
- 11 Bart – 18, England, student about to relocate to France to study
- 12 Kerem – 20, Turkey, Environmental Engineering student
- 13 Biafra – 19, USA, speaks Arabic and wants to study Global Health
- 14 Andrei – 18, Italy, student
- 15 Alexanders – 21, France, Industrial Engineering student
- 16 Antoine – 21, France, Industrial Engineering student
- 17 Fares – 21, France, Industrial Engineering student
I’m yet to meet all of the French boys as I’m still in my room reading a book I’ve borrowed from Kerem called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a good read about the journeys of the best and brightest, and shows the factors that have helped people who’ve made it in the world. Very interesting.
English conversation classes: Business and Finance @ 7:30pm and 9:30pm
Steve and I were also up late last night. Billie seems to thrash about in her bed, which in turn makes the bunk bed squeak and crash against the wall. Steve got up and pulled the bed away from the wall at 2.30am after getting frustrated listening to the noise in the quietness of the night. Then I heard Dacey snoring again at 3:30am! Aghhh!!!
But with or without the thrashing and the snoring, it seems to be the pattern here in Morocco – late nights and even later starts. And since all of our English language conversation classes are scheduled in the evenings, we have the whole day to do as we please.
The coolness on the rooftop at night is a lovely respite against the heat so we try and maximise that, and with a cohort of mainly younger people in the house, the energy seems to peak around midnight. The middle of the day can become too stifling hot to do anything at all. Our body clocks are adjusting to a bedtime of 2am here!
The rooftop girls come down to the basement dorm, first Ash complaining it’s too hot by mid-morning up there and later Charlie. They happily depart to go and buy water at the small shop just across the road and croissants further down the road at a local bakery run by a lovely young boy and his family.
It’s considerably cooler today and although it’s lovely weather outside, the hot air seems to be trapped inside the multi-level dorm and school building. There’s a note on the kitchen table alerting all the volunteers of the upcoming dorm house meeting. Bart makes copies of the agenda for each of us in both English and in French. He’s such a great organiser.
At 12:30pm a dorm house meeting is chaired by Bart in the large room off the kitchen. It’s becoming obvious very quickly now that since everyone is back from travelling we need to make the dorm run as smoothly as possible. With 17 people we need to all have a meeting about how to manage the fridge as it has become a creature bulging at its seals, tidying up so everyone is on board with cleaning cooking pots and dishes as quickly as possible after cooking/eating because there just isn’t enough crockery or cutlery for everyone to use at once, taking the bins out to the blue dumpster in the median strip across the road as rubbish accumulates quite quickly with 17 people.
Then we have a chat about shopping. We each can’t store a big weekly shop, so we have to visit the supermarkets more regularly for daily meals and agree to share certain food groups – like milk, sugar, washing powder, dishwashing liquid, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We arrange ourselves into milk collectives – sounds like Communist China in the 1950s – we are one milk collective as we are six people, then Kerem and Andrei are another as they drink a lot of milk and then Yulish and Mat are another as they drink hardly any at all.
We agree to start a dorm kitty so that when certain shared items run out anyone can go and purchase these necessary items with kitty money. At the end of the productive meeting we all agree that Bart is the perfect volunteer coordinator. I feel for the three French guys who just returned late yesterday from a camel safari and were woken up to attend the dorm meeting. They’re looking a little tired. Bart has created the agenda and given each person a copy – both in English and French which helps. Bart speaks both languages exceptionally well and is constantly translating during the meeting to the French guys to make sure they’re on board with the conversation.
Steve’s clever idea of cleaning out the fridge by each person taking out the fridge products they want to keep and placing them in a box with anything left remaining inside the fridge by 2pm can be thrown out. We each take our products out of the fridge and literally discover that there is so much unwanted crap occupying space in the fridge. All the old products are discarded and some of us take turns in taking the garbage out to the median strip dumpster. Yulish cleans the racks and Kerem starts scraping away the ice that has formed around a peach at the back of the fridge. It’s given a disinfectant clean all over and a wipe down and we place our goods back inside. The fridge has been transformed!
Due to the fact that we were at the dorm house meeting and then cleaning out the fridge, we have delayed our outing to Casablanca until tomorrow.
Tonight Sam is organising a dinner up on the rooftop as a test run for Sofia’s birthday party on Saturday. He purchased a small round BBQ and filled it with coal. But with 17 people to cook for it taking quite a long time to cook the meat. Charlie and I made a massive big potato salad to share and Steve cooked up a large quantity of small sausages on the stovetop downstairs while Sam persisted with cooking the chicken and beef skewers on the rooftop. It’s a fun night and it’s lovely and refreshing on the roof.
We managed to get a couple of the older school tables up there for the occasion and a seat for everyone. The young one’s brought out the music and the dance moves. I must say the group of young volunteers that are at the British Language Academy are an amazing bunch of people and in less than a week of being here ourselves, we are completely smitten by them all.
After dinner we sit around and chat. It’s like camping. We could call it “dorming”. It reminds Steve and me of the backpacking honeymoon we experienced in 1999 around South East Asia for 8 weeks – meeting up with other backpackers from all around the world and travelling with them to different places and getting to know them. Our girls are so lucky to be having this experience and insight into what travel can look like and who you meet along the way.
Steve and I ensure we are in bed by 1am tonight as we are going to rise earlier and get going to Casablanca before midday. All the girls agree.
English conversation classes: Business and Finance @ 9:30pm
Thursday | Day 200 Milestone
We’re up by 10am and out the door before midday. We walk down to the taxi rank of Berrechid and start negotiating with the drivers for a price into Casablanca. None speak English. And we don’t speak French good enough to converse. The Google translate app makes an appearance, then the good old calculator. Mr Harim has mentioned that friends have been ripped off my taxi drivers and that’s why he prefers to take volunteers around himself to see Casablanca and other parts of Morocco.
But we are going to give it a try ourselves. We think we have a deal of 13 Dirham each to Casablanca but we really don’t. We have no idea what’s going on. The only thing that we do know is that we are dropped at the correct place in Casablanca – the Hassan II Mosque. But when our driver turns to Steve and says “250 Dirham” we are kind of left sitting in the taxi gobsmacked. Plus, we don’t have any small Dirham change only two 200 Dirham notes.
The taxi driver, still sitting in the driver’s seat and us in the car, stops a man on a bicycle and asks if he speaks English so that we can work out what’s going on.
“Where did you come from?” he asks.
“Berrechid,” we reply.
“Who made the deal of 13 Dirham?”
“He did – well we thought h agreed 13 Dirham each, so 78 Dirham in total.”
“Oh no that’s not possible, especially from that far away.”
Steve had worked out we were in the taxi for over an hour before arriving to our agreed destination. The taxi driver wasn’t angry or impatient, rather quite relaxed and unperturbed by our commotion we were causing on the side of the roundabout road.
“I think if you give him 200 Dirham that would be correct,” added the bicycle man. And he said goodbye wishing us a lovely time in Morocco.
So Steve reluctantly hands the 200 Dirham note over to the driver and we get out of the car in a bit of a daze. We had recalled the volunteers saying it was cheaper to go by taxi than train to Casablanca but now we were not sure we heard any of that conversation correctly.
Anyway it costs us 33 Dirham each to get from Berrechid to Casablanca (all up $29 for the six of us in the car for 1.5 hours nearly). Steve does some quick Google searches and discovers that the range of fares charged by taxi drivers from Berrechid to Casablanca is between 230-270 Dirham. I think we did okay after all.
We walk around the outer area of this grand Hassan II Mosque or also called Grand Mosque Hassan II. It’s both brilliant and mysterious propped right on the edge of the vast Atlantic Ocean. Kids (mainly boys) flock to the rocky shore with their swim shorts on and bright blue coloured jelly shoes. All the boys are wearing them – we have to laugh a bit as all my girls went through the jelly shoe phase back in Australia when they were young. But here we are in Casablanca with boys wearing blue jelly shoes in the water so as to not hurt their feet on the rough surface of the jagged rocks.
If you would like to read about our day trip to Casablanca – including the Mosque and exploring the Old Medina of Casablanca, please see my post titled Day 200 | One: Moments of Morocco in Casablanca part 1 | 6 June 2017 (I’m sure there will be another day trip visit to this sprawling Moroccan city soon enough!).
We catch the 5:50pm train back to Berrechid so we can all be back on time to take our English conversation classes tonight at 7:30 and 9:30pm. The cost of the tickets is 108 Dirham (A$15) – a little cheaper than the taxi and child fares helps. The train is more of a cabin-like train with small carriages and as it goes along at fast speeds the noise is unbearably loud. But we take in the scenery albeit through a very hazy window that needs a good clean.
English conversation classes: Let’s talk about music 7:30pm. Tonight in class I’ve learnt a lot myself about Moroccan music – its origins, the musical instruments used to make it, and the style of music played and sung. To read more about Moroccan music please see my post titled Day 200 | Two: Moments of Morocco – Music | 6 June 2017.
Milestone of 200 days!
Today marks our 200th day of our round the world journey – that’s 55% of the way through. And the best bit about that nice round number is that we have a long way to go. We are now slowly looking at planning at the second half of the year.
Today has been a big day on many fronts as you’ll soon read.
We’ve been ticking off some chores today – shopping and washing. First thing Steve went for a run and managed to get to 10km. There were a few workers erecting a large marquee for a celebration where he ran and they all drop tool to watch him run past.
We walk to the major supermarket with the French boys Fares, Alexanders and Antoine and Biafra came along too. It’s lovely being able to hang out with these students and chat about what it’s like to live in their countries and why they’re traveling to Morocco and volunteering their time. We are really fortunate to have landed here and to be able to hang out with a group of really welcoming and open and friendly people.
The girls have been trying to get some of their school work that is incomplete from the previous term complete. But the internet connection has been on the blink – dropping in and out. We are concerned that the internet is at its maximum usage with the number of users in the house and this may not work for the girls uploading and downloading their Distance Education work. We have enquired at the local sim shop if they have USB wifi that can attach to the computers, but looks like we will have to go into Casablanca for that one.
Steve and I are trying to work out the next half of the travel itinerary – what’s after Morocco and how long exactly are we staying in Morocco? My brother Jarrod is flying over from Australia to visit us in Morocco in a couple of weeks which is just great and will be staying with us in the dorm house and volunteer in the English language classes. I think he’ll really love the diversity of people staying here as well as the wealth of information gained each time we’re in a classroom with the Moroccan students.
We’re planning on travelling with my brother in and around Morocco as much as possible. Tonight the house is a bit excited as they are all getting ready to leave the dorm house and travel to Rabat for the night staying at an Airbnb. They’ll return Sunday night except for Yulish and Mat who are venturing on to Fez for a week or so.
And then we heard a puppy cry.
Steve and I were sitting eating our Friday couscous and heard the scream of a pup on the outer wall of the lounge room. We went out to investigate and here’s this little black and tan pup crying and wailing on the steps of the language school.
The teachers are screaming at this pup as dogs are considered filthy animals and they do not want to touch the pup. It means, religiously, that they will be unclean. Their reaction to this little pup is upsetting. No one has any compassion for the pup and they just want it gone.
Dacey gets him some milk and he gulps it down within seconds. He’s not skinny either, so not sure how he’s come to be on his own. Dacey and I walk around the back of the school where we first his cries in the vast vacant block that’s currently being used as a rubbish tip. The strange thing is that it’s not meant to be a tip – it’s a vacant block of land for development, but the story goes that the landowner refuses to sell, believing if he holds out some more he’ll get more money. In return the developers/political parties against him have rallied together and they have literally dumped truckloads of waste including soil, bricks and industrial waste on the land in an effort to devalue the land. It’s an absolute minefield of waste.
So back to the pup. There’s no other pups or a mum dog in sight. The pup is following anyone that looks at it and at the moment it’s us. It’s for a few fleas but nothing like our saved Indian street our Roadie Monday and it’s shaking in the coolness of the night. Once it drinks some more milk it whimpers for something. I know what it’s looking for – somewhere warm to call home and curl up and sleep. This is Roadie Monday all over again. I have a chat with Dacey and let her know we cannot keep the pup here as the concern of the pup is still apparent with some of the teachers and other volunteers who are scared of the pup bringing fleas into the dorm.
There is no front yard nor backyard, and with 17 people in this dorm house with some having strong opinions about street pups, fleas, worms, poop and night time crying it’s not going to be easy to look after this Moroccan pup here. So I start searching for vets or animal rescue places with little joy. Even the teachers say no one has dogs here in Berrechid – although I have seen some on leads, there must be a vet around agricultural oriented Berrechid.
Somehow Dacey accepts all of this. But another young woman is taken by the pup. Teacher Shaima is smitten and wants to look after him. But she lives across the road with the other teachers in an apartment and they are totally not smitten with the pup.
So Shaima is sleeping out on the front porch with Couscous Friday. That’s the name Dacey and I have given him. Shaima has decided to take Couscous Friday on and take him to the vet first thing in the morning. I have been giving her some advice, as some volunteers had the pup on the rooftop about to give him a wash when it was cool, but I stopped it as it was way too cold for him. Plus, washing with human shampoo won’t get rid of the fleas and it will only make him more uncomfortable in the cold night.
Dacey reappears and asks if we’re washing him tomorrow. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Couscous Friday is going to leave tomorrow. But I’m sure we can arrange for Dacey to make a visit to Shaima’s parents home to have a play. Note: Shaima needs to make a good case to her mum in the morning to keep the dog at their place. So there’s a long way to go before Couscous Friday is out of the woods.
It’s a long night. Not much sleep for me as I’m lying in bed thinking about Shaima and the future of little Couscous Friday. My heart breaks for helpless little pups like him that no one really cares about. A group of volunteers keep Shaima company most of the night while she cradles the pup outside the front door of the school. Our dorm room is situated right at the entrance way hence I don’t get that much deep sleep. Then I wake up to a squealing noise. Couscous Friday is crying and Shaima has gone home to get some much needed sleep.
Planning the Travel Itinerary Aug-Dec 2017
Tonight Steve and I sit downstairs in one of the empty classrooms and start researching our next country. The plan, without set dates yet, is to head by train to the Spanish owned port of Melilla in northern Morocco and catch a ferry across to Almeria, Spain and then make our way up the western coast to Barcelona and stay there for a few nights. Then fly over to Cyprus for 5 weeks and then somehow fly to Ulaan Bator, Mongolia without investing a fortune in getting there, then catch the Trans-Siberian train from Ulaan Bator to Beijing where we commence term 4 of the school year in China. Whoa! It’s crazy! It’s all a loose plan this week but soon we’ll have to tighten up the itinerary and commit to some destinations. First world problem we have on our hands right now.
Unfortunately, Mongolia where I’ve like a very expensive destination and may have to be delayed for another time, and trip.