It was a long night. We found a pup and named him Couscous Friday. We fed him some milk and he licked the bowl clean, found an old towel and a t-shirt to keep him warm and gave him a cuddle. Let’s say Couscous Friday just wanted some love and warmth in someone’s lap and happily to sleep the night away.
Some of the volunteers were concerned about the pup, voicing their concerns about catching fleas and the entire dorm house becoming infested. In my opinion the reaction was slightly overboard. I looked at Couscous Friday closely and he did have a couple of fleas on him that I could see but nothing like we experienced with saved Indian street pup Roadie Monday. And we weren’t infested with him in India.
Where it went way overboard was concerns raised along the lines of “what about the people that come with the dog?” And I’m like say what? I just had to let these fearful concerns go and have a little laugh about it all.
As this conversation was happening, Dacey stood on the rooftop with Couscous Friday bundled up in a towel and an old Indian washing bag I had given to hold him inside to keep him warm and snug. Of course this is one of Dacey’s personal missions to be a help to animals in need. She was more than happy to help this little pup out but she could also feel the tension amongst some of the volunteers. But children like Dacey don’t view a pup like Couscous Friday with fear and loathing. As I went to bed that night the incident reminded me of Mother Teresa’s experience of helping the sick in India by reaching out and touching them when no one else would. And she became a Saint for heavens sake!
I was struggling to see the reasons for the overwhelming hatred directed towards this wee little pup. Is this how grown up, experienced and educated people really treat the downtrodden and the lost in our world? I feel sorry for those who are “experienced and educated” when they demonstrate none of the qualities of empathy or compassion. Especially one’s that need our help. Like right now. I can look past Moroccan attitudes, as it’s quite obvious that Morocco is not a pet/dog loving nation. And I sure as hell didn’t want the responsibility of another pup, but at the same time I didn’t want to turn my back and pretend I couldn’t do anything when in actual fact I could. Plus, I was supporting my daughter Dacey and her passion. It was obvious keeping Couscous Friday here was not going to work. But I couldn’t turn a blind eye tonight and just walk away, and neither could Dacey.
I set a few facts straight about fleas and pups and contamination in front of the household while Dacey stood there holding this placid bundle in her arms. One of the other teacher’s Shaima had quite a different view to her teaching counterparts and was also wanting to help the pup. She offered to sit up with the pup all night and if the owner couldn’t be found she would take him on herself. But the reality of that happening was highly unlikely as Shaima lived in the apartment opposite the school with the other teachers, and her mum who lived in Berrechid said she would be taking her daughter straight to the psychologist for sitting up all night minding a lost pup and offering to take it to the vet in the morning!
But in the morning there was a development. The pup belonged to the security guard who manned the dorm house street each night. Apparently streets in Morocco that have enough money can employ a dedicated security guard to patrol the street during the night time. But we couldn’t find the security guard last night. So after Shaima returned from a quick sleep at her mum’s house, she walked across the road to chat with a group of boys standing on the corner near the guard’s box.
And that was it. The pup was the street security man’s dog. In one moment Dacey was on the ground stroking Couscous’s head as he slept happily on the towel outside the front of the school; the next he was picked up by the scruff of his neck by one of the Moroccan boys and placed inside the Indian washing bag and whisked away across the street. No time for goodbyes or a final parting pat. Dacey, Shaima and I just stood watching this unfold and the reality set in. You see we could see where they placed little Couscous Friday – he belonged in a wooden hut, in the dark and was all alone with a big rock wedged up against the door. And most of the day we heard him howling.
So I can only assume that Couscous Friday is out at night with the security guard but locked up all day. Really? The worst part about it is that we walk past this wooden box every day and I just hate to imagine how Dacey feels about that. It’s so very sad and makes me feel sorry for the lack of humanity.
It’s two of the volunteers’ birthdays today and a big group of the dorm household are travelling to the capital city of Rabat to celebrate. Sofia from Belgium turns 38 and Biafra from USA turns 19. They’re all staying in an Airbnb for a night or two and planning on going out to a nightclub. Our family is staying back at the dorm house and so is Bart and the three French boys.
One of the volunteers – Andrei from Italy – is also saying goodbye to us all. Now it’s sounding very Big Brotherish. Andrei has been living here for a month and it’s time for him to leave the house! He will travel to Rabat with the group and then onto to Fes/Fez with a smaller group of volunteers who are away for a week travelling and then will return home to Italy.
Although we have only known these international volunteers for such a short period of time, the nature of life here sharing the dorm house facilities in Berrechid is that you get to know one another very quickly. The dorm becomes a home away from home for all of us. So we won’t see him again while in Morocco. There are lots of hugs and general well wishing to Andrei before the group departs for the train to Rabat.
We chat with Bart and the French guys about going out for dinner in Berrechid tonight and everyone is happy with that idea. We walk along the main street, passing many cafes and so-called pizza places but the quality of food is questionable. We keep walking until we hit a large roundabout and notice a cafe across that road that has a number of butterfly chickens being cooked in a hot rotisserie. We sit down and enjoy a wrap with chicken and salad that comes with a side serve of French fries for 25 Dh each plus a cool drink. The Berrechid street cats appear with the waft of warm cooked chicken and delightfully wait to clean up any scraps that fall to the floor.
We walk back to the dorm with a magical sun setting behind us. Life is pretty simple here.
We plan on getting out and about today. I receive a message from Mr Harim late last night just as I was about to hit the sack about going to Rabat and the beach for a day trip. I respond straight away but he hasn’t seen my reply. We wait around at the school this morning believing he will pop in but he doesn’t show. We look at other options – Airbnbs in Rabat and Steve sends off some email enquiries but we don’t hear back instantly.
We make alternative arrangements. We decide to go back into Casablanca for a day trip to visit the Habous area also known as the French quarter or sometimes referred to as the new medina which was built by the French in the 1930s. We will take the train in this time and avoid the unsuccessful negotiations with taxi drivers.
We walk along our street and the main road hoping for a blue petit taxi or two to drive by. But none do. It’s Sunday and it’s more quiet than usual. We get to the end of the street to the major highway and there are plenty of taxis but they’re already carrying passengers. Finally, a couple of taxis stop – right in the middle of the road – and before long there are three taxis all wanting to take us. We simply want a ride to the train station which costs 20 Dh for the six of us. We get there in time and purchase train tickets (108 Dh) and we catch the train that’s pulling in as we’re walking up the platform stairs. Phew…
Once on the train I send Mr Harim a message letting him know we have changed our plans about going to Rabat and will instead spend the day in Casablanca. He messages back and asks if we’d like him to meet up with us.
So we meet up with Mr Harim at Casa Voyageurs, the main train station in Casablanca. Mr Harim has parked his car across from the station and we walk over with him and pile into his car. Steve in the front and the five of us girls crammed in the back! But then something happens. A taxi driver positions his taxi in front of Mr Harim’s car and boxes him in. He gets out and an argument unfolds through the driver’s side window between Mr Harim and this taxi driver. Mr Harim pulls out a card that identifies him as the proprietor of the British Language Academy. Many Arabic heated words are exchanged so we don’t actually know what is being said and for that matter what is the real problem but we can get the gist that it’s not good.
Then another two taxis park behind and along the side of Mr Harim’s car further boxing him in. They’re intimidating with one of the men showing sharp vampire-looking teeth for his two front teeth. It feels as if something more physical is about to happen. The voices are rising and the argument doesn’t seem to be finishing. Mr Harim goes to open his door, and then it all stops. He was going to get the police involved.
So the problem that these taxi drivers had was that they believe Mr Harim is an Uber driver for foreigners. Uber is outlawed in Casablanca and that’s why Mr Harim kept showing the aggressive taxi driver his identity card for the language academy through the window. The taxi driver just saw lots of tourists in Mr Harim’s personal car and assumed he was an Uber driver. But the stand over tactics employed by these guys was a bit scary and forceful. Mr Harim says he can sue them, and they would get into trouble, so when he was about to open his door he was going to call the police to get it sorted out. But the taxi drivers knew they were also in the wrong by boxing Mr Harim in with their cars. So they backed off. Very unusual experience. Just relieved the heated exchange didn’t get physical.
Visit into Casablanca #2
Mr Harim drives us to his Mexican Taco restaurant for lunch. He owns a small shop on the outskirts of Casablanca city in an area called Mandarona in Ainchock district that serves French-style tacos and also tasty avocado smoothies (they are so delicious). Apparently, the demand for certain international cuisine is reaching Morocco. I’ve never eaten so much in one sitting! Then he serves us fruit as a cleanser – large pieces of cool honey dew and then lovely figs. Mr Harim stopped off at the mosque to purchase the figs. He tells us a tip when in Morocco to always buy fruit closest to the mosque as it’s cheapest due to the number of people buying it. And due to prayer times occurring five times a day, plenty of people are coming to and from the mosque and they tend to buy fruit from the closest stall.
We enjoy the food, but mostly sitting down and chatting with Mr Harim about what life in Morocco is all about. We talk food, alcohol, the religion Islam, women’s roles and all the versions of covering up their bodies and heads. It’s a lot to get our heads around, especially the religion and the role of women. I can feel my bubble boiling but keep an open mind to try and better understand the purpose of covering and hiding in this society. I don’t like it, but that’s only because I don’t understand it completely.
We depart, back in the car and head to the French Quarter known as Habous area. We pass shanty towns or slums that Moroccan’s have built on government land. And although the government has offered to build an apartment block and give them an apartment, the slum dwellers know that the land they have settled on has increased in value. So they think they can negotiate – the slum dwellers don’t want an apartment, they want larger accommodation otherwise they won’t move.
We arrive into the Habous area famous for its lovely rounded archways, whitewashed walls and famous streets (parts of the latest Mission Impossible movie was filmed here). The whole section of this particular street Mr Harim informs us was shut down to make film scenes for the movie and all the shop keepers were paid money for the entire time the street was closed.
We visit the oldest bakery in Casablanca, a fully tiled shop that sells everything sweet. And then we delve deeper into the new medina and discover the world of olives and spices. There are so many varieties. I’m a little unsure as to whether or not I can take photos freely, not many Moroccans seem to like the camera so I snap discreetly. Mr Harim is also telling us to mind our belongings as being on the streets of Casablanca is reason enough to be a target for pickpockets and robberies.
We walk around the tourist and market stalls in the Habous area – anything Moroccan can be bought here from decorative magnets, tangines, decorative cups and glasses to clothing like tops and pants. We haggle lots. Mr Harim tells us to go down to one third of what the vendor asks for. It’s customary for tourists to pay way too much for items in Morocco. We purchase a couple of items – loose pants pants and T-shirts and Mr Harim leaves us as he needs to collect two French women from the train station who have travelled to Casablanca from Fez. They’re in Morocco for just two weeks and Mr Harim is helping them out.
After shopping at the market, we walk towards the main street in Casablanca – a smooth triple lane on either side. It’s 7pm and the people spill out from the crowded market areas onto the main street. There are cars and taxis everywhere. Hailing a taxi however is harder than anticipated as many of them are busy. Mr Harim has given us the specifics of catching a taxi and what to pay and what not to pay. We are to initiate a sign that means crazy place. Apparently Berrechid was home to an asylum many years ago and it’s still known as “the crazy place”. We are not to pay anything more than 100 Dh for all of us to get to Berrechid.
We finally find a taxi, Steve does the action with his hand next to his head for “crazy” and we are in and heading back to home base. The agreed price is 100 Dh, but along the way the man tries to make more out of the trip. We confirm the price is set at 100 by bringing out a 100 Dh note and he nods. The driver goes quiet again and continues driving.
Lately we’ve been experiencing Internet issues. We mentioned this to Mr Harim at his Taco restaurant yesterday and he said of we could do some measuring of upload and download speeds he would call the company. He is paying for the best speeds, so he will look into it. The way it works in Morocco is that you have to regularly be on the company’s case otherwise the service you’re buying and expecting can become worse. Happens everywhere – keep them on their toes I think it is.
Bart measures the speeds for upload and download and we are under 1 Mpbs which is just impossible for us to get any school work downloaded or uploaded. We have a chat about what we can do if the situation doesn’t get any better and it means we’ll have to depart the dorm house and maybe Morocco earlier than we hoped. This semester is the pointy end for Charlie and she’s got quite a few tests coming up.
We head to the rooftop to enjoy the cooler night breeze. We actually need jumpers tonight it’s that much cooler. The French boys Fares, Alexanders and Antoine are up there with their shisha pipe as well as the French girls Nella and Fanny who arrived yesterday. We sit down and start chatting then decide to play a game of spoons. I just love listening to them talk French together.
Steve’s slowly worked out the year to date overall daily spend for our trip. It’s taken a while due to the on and off wifi and internet connection we’re experiencing here at the dorm.
At Day 203 we are averaging a daily spend of $276 for the six of us (or $42 per day per person) which includes all flights, accommodation, food, sightseeing and spending money. Next month we should see that figure come down as we live a very basic lifestyle here in Morocco. For how long we’re uncertain.
There’s no water in the dorm building. The dishes have piled up from last night’s cooking, and the toilet…well…let’s just not go there. Apparently this happens often, and is some sort of Berrechid water issue. But later today we’re informed that we need to reset the water switch – wherever that is – and all is back on and working fine.
Charlie is not feeling well again today. She’s been a bit off the last couple of days since returning from Casablanca on Sunday. She’s going to spend the day relaxing in bed.
I’ve checked the whiteboard schedule for classes and I have many classes today – 12.15pm, 3.45pm, 6.30pm, 7.30pm and finally 9.30pm! That must be a record!
We are beginning to notice the wifi here at the school dropping out continuously. We’ve run tests and it’s not looking good. We have had a chat with Mr Harim and he pays for a good quality speed service but he’s not receiving it. Apparently, we need to go and place pressure on the company to do something about it as often is the case they get lazy with their service and promises. Steve and I have a feeling that the internet speeds are not going to work out for Distance Education school work uploads and downloads. So we are starting to think of alternatives – personal wifi dongles and not staying as long as we might have been able to.
So our family has a meeting in the dorm room before heading out for lunch. The topic – where to next? We have worked out that Charlie has a test each week in the first part of term 3 and to make that work we’re going to need wifi. So it looks like we may only stay here for a total of 4 weeks which would mean leaving Morocco at the end of July. Then where? First and foremost, we need solid and reliable internet. A lot of research goes into finding places that cater to our needs – wifi speeds, number of beds, kitchen facility and close to public transport. And due to it being peak season in August lots of places are already off the vacancy list.
The girls are all keen on visiting and living in Japan. Originally we planned to stay in China for a longer period of time, but we have concerns about internet connection with China’s Great Firewall so who knows – will it work for us? Will Charlie be able to download and then upload all her work? So we have been thinking Japan for the home base, and then China for a holiday tour from Beijing in the north to Shanghai in the middle. Dacey pulls out the whiteboard on a stand and writes down the itinerary we are discussing and some key dates. Steve take a photo and afterwards starts researching the viability of these ideas.
We head out with the girls to have lunch at a local café that Steve has found that sells small quiches. But there was nowhere to actually sit – more or less a take away bakery set up. We walked further down the street, meeting locals along the way who are happy to say hi and have a photo taken. We notice a shop with a large sign above its external door – all in Arabic writing but some photos. We walked in and the café was full of fruit and panini with plenty of seats and tables out the front. So we sat there and ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, avocado and banana shakes with almonds. Dacey ordered an apple juice but they added milk to it and she didn’t like it one bit. The grilled chicken and cheese panini were quite tasty too with a small serving of French fries on the side. The men working there sent over an on the house drink – a huge shake with chocolate and fruit wedged into a healthy serving of whipped cream!
This afternoon Billie and Dacey walked to the local BIM supermarket to buy some pasta sauce to make dinner and a boy threw a rock at Billie. She tells us it missed her head and hit the wall behind her. There have been some young boys following the girls in and out of the supermarket but there was nothing serious or cause for concern, until now. The girls have also been targets for unwelcome comments and slurs when walking on the streets such as the most common saying “f*&% you”. The teachers explain to us that the young boys watch too many Hollywood movies and that’s what they pick up – the swearing! But I think they know what they’re saying, and they’re also wanting a reaction from it.
Then last night while walking back from enjoying a tea out at one of the cafes, two men sitting down at a door step said out loud to Billie and me “f*&$ you”. For no reason other than trying to belittle foreign women, or get a reaction from us. I think they were old enough to know what the word means. Steve walked up to them and told them not to be so rude, it’s so unnecessary. They apologised. But it doesn’t leave a positive vibe. The girls are quite reluctant to walk out on the streets of Berrechid on their own now which we can fully understand. We only feel safe when we are walking with Steve. So we are sticking together from now on. It’s a real shame that incidents like these force us to be wary in and around the local streets we are staying in.
Berrechid is a conservative town. It’s famous for being home to one of the country’s first mental asylums and even Mr Harim told us to use the hand gesture of crazy (turning the hand near the head) which would ensure the taxi drivers knew exactly where we want to travel to: Berrechid.
The first psychiatric institution in Morocco was built in 1920 by the French. Berrechid Hospital, a large asylum-type structure with 2,000-bed capacity was the first to be operational. I think there was the colonial era of “Berrechid” where the asylum was strictly segregated between the French and the Moroccan patients. And it is still known of today, with a simple hand turning gesture to the side of the head that will get you to your destination if language won’t.
We enjoy a cup of mint tea or Louisa tea (more of a calming tea) at another local café as a large volunteer group tonight. It’s nice to leave the dorm building and enjoy the cooler night air with the others. We are starting to pour our tea from lofty heights just like the locals do.
Tonight we sit up on the rooftop and play the card game Spoons with the French contingent in the house – the three French boys and the two French girls versus the six Aussies.
Result: 1 France, 1 Australia. We’ll have to play a final one night.
We have just looked at that the temperature for Fes/Fez and it is reaching 47 degrees on Thursday and will remain in the mid to high 40s over the entire weekend. So we feel that our trip to Fez with the kids just won’t work and will need to cancel that itinerary and plan another one. I’m thinking coastal touring – it’s cooler and we can catch a train.
Today in Berrechid it’s 38 degrees. Tomorrow it’s forecast to be 39. And we are sweltering in the dorm house as there’s no breeze. Outside is the worst in the midday sun – there’s no cool breeze it’s just hot stifling air. But by about 8:30pm when the sun is about to set there is a pleasant coolness that awakens the streets. I look forward to that time of day, and I think the locals do too.
Steve head to the local electrical store and buys a fan for our room to assist with the conditions. It at least makes lying there bearable. Charlie is feeling slightly better than yesterday which is good news and last night Antoine didn’t come out for tea as he was also feeling sick but today when I saw him he’s fresh as a daisy.
We do some research and decide to still go away but decide to hug the Atlantic Ocean coast of Morocco which is 10 degrees cooler than anywhere inland like Fez or Marrakesh. We are planning on travelling to the capital city Rabat and then onto Tangier – two nights at each city staying at Airbnbs and we plan on returning sometime Monday afternoon. My brother Jarrod will be flying out from Melbourne late on 14 July and arriving into Casablanca in the early afternoon on 15 July after a mammoth flight. He’s staying the first two nights at a hotel in Casablanca and will be checking out on Monday and looking at catching up with us.
We are all really looking forward to seeing another member of our family overseas. The girls are ultra-excited and we have planned a 4 night-5 day tour into the city of Marrakech for a camel ride and one-night stay in the Sahara Desert and a visit to the Atlas Mountains. Hopefully we can do some day tours with Jarrod too as he is only staying in Morocco for a very short time – 12 days (15-27 July)– so we need to make the most of it. Unfortunately, Charlie has many tests and SACs scheduled each week this term three so we may not be able to do everything with him.
The wifi here is not working well at all. Next week with the school term starting we need to be ready. So Steve has caught the train into Casablanca today to go to the Maroc Telecom shop and purchase a USB wifi unit loaded with plenty of GB. We need a backup plan for the girls to have access to more reliable wifi for their school work. The rest of us are staying indoors today to avoid the scorching hot conditions and keep participating in English language classes.
I get to chat to the new volunteers that arrived late last night. Raphael, 24 years from Mexico and Anais, 22 years from France. They met last September in Seville, Spain and have been travelling together as a couple ever since. I take the opportunity to ask Raphael what he thinks of Trump and the building of that stupid wall and he tells me it’s already started! No one is happy (of course) about it in Mexico. I’m ashamed that something like this is actually happening in our world right now. Just ashamed and humiliated as a human being. Raphael has been living and working in New York, so he tells me that half of the Trump voters regret voting for him now and he’s the only President with such a low level of support ever. Anais is a languages expert and speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese. She’s not sure what she wants to do, and hopes that they can get work back in Seville. They are staying in Morocco for three months so they can re-enter Europe under the Schengen visa agreement and stay another 90 days. Lovely couple.
Tonight our 7:30pm class is cancelled. So Steve and I take the opportunity to get out and explore the local streets in Berrechid. We walked around the block in effect – through the vacant dumpster block, up the main street and mixing with the many Moroccans coming out from their homes to enjoy the cooler part of the day. The sun is about to disappear for another day and the locals are out with their bikes, their donkeys, horses. The kids are playing soccer on the concrete or out near the dumpster block and plenty of people are saying Bonjour to us. I’m sure they believe all foreigners are French, and when we respond with Bonjour and nothing else they must think we’re rude. Some of the men call us over for us to take a photo of them with their donkey or their horse. Due to not being quite sure of photography etiquette here in Morocco, I usually aim the lens at the animal which actually makes the people want a photo!
Steve’s in many of the photos and he’s making many friends in Berrechid as usual.
Tonight we make bookings with our Airbnb lodgings in Rabat and Tangier.
Pup, Couscous Friday, update: Great news. Couscous Friday is not being kept in the small box across the road, but is back at a home. This is very reassuring for us. It was a pleasure getting to know the little pup Couscous Friday and we hope he has a good life in Morocco.
We depart for Rabat via train today. It’s a two-hour journey and we have arranged to stay at an Airbnb in Rabat (where previous volunteers had stayed) that is located within the old medina itself and an excellent location to be able to walk to all sites.
We hail one blue petit taxi in the streets of Berrechid and three of us jump in and drive to the train station, while Steve, Charlie and Ash wait for another. We arrive at the train station and there seems to be a problem – lots of people are lining up to purchase tickets but no one is selling tickets behind the counter. I can make out some problem from the French notice. Steve and the others arrive not long after us and we discover there’s a problem with some train in Casablanca. The earlier Rabat train has apparently been sitting on the tracks at the station waiting to go for over an hour!
We sit ourselves down at the train station café, order waters and a coffee for me while Steve works his magic with the people trying to find out what’s going on and if in fact it would be better for us to catch a taxi into Casablanca to avoid this waiting game.
A man approaches us at the café and asks Steve if he needs a taxi to the airport. We respond we are heading to Rabat. Later we realise there are a number of men who speak both French and English assisting passengers through the delay. He was making sure foreigners would not be missing international flights.
Not before long the train ticketing booth is open again, and we can purchase tickets for the train that’s been waiting on the tracks all this time. It’s worked out amazingly and we go through the station ticketing entrance and board the train on platform number two. The train is nearly full, but the girls are really good at finding seats for the six of us. They’re like hounds let loose on the train carriage. They find a compartment of eight with two other Moroccan women already seated inside.
If you’d like to read more about our two-night stay in the capital city of Rabat, please go to post titled Days 207-208 | Three: Moments of Morocco in Rabat | 13-14 July 2017.
As we’re on the train passing through a very unique landscape, I’m pinching myself that we are on a train travelling in northern Africa. In many ways Morocco reminds us of our travelling journey through India just on a much smaller scale in terms of land size and population.