Casablanca, Day 04: Morocco's New Middle Class

Casablanca Travel Blog

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Hay Nassim

Today I’ll hike from the farthest southwestern corner of Casablanca all the way back into the heart of the city… getting a glimpse of all levels of Moroccan society…

 

Discovery 032: Old Medina Relocation Project

 

From Lisassfa I take walk along the El Jadida highway for a bit, heading northeast towards town--  but when I reach the turn off to Hay Nassim, I realize I still have a bit more frontier exploring to do… So I veer off to the south once again, through a mixed stretch of industry, empty fields and an odd shop here and there.

 

Hay Nassim was actually built by the government as a place to relocate people from the Old Medina when portions of it were demolished to make space for the Hassan II Mosque.

Hay Nassim
  People say that these were very cramped, dingy neighborhoods (like Derb Abdellah, see Discovery 014), so most would agree that it wasn’t a big loss. However talking to people who were relocated, they say it took them years to adjust to living out in the middle of the fields, miles from the ocean.

 

“Would you be able to go back to living in the Old Medina now?” I asked him.  He shook his head… “We’ve gotten used to wide open space now…”

 

For a government project, these apartment blocks aren’t too bad--  built around a courtyard in the center and with spacious streets.  I’ve been here in Eid Kbir, and the neighbourhood has a vibrant, festive atmosphere as neighbors gather in the courtyards to slaughter their sheep, and the streets fill with smoke as young fellows set up makeshift grills, and scurry about collecting sheep heads to bar-b-que…

 

But today everything is quiet… even the market only has a couple of shoppers.

Downtown Sidi Maarouf
  I stroll around imagining what it must have been like to move out here from the Old Medina…

 

033: Sidi Maarouf Town Center

 

From Hay Nassim I cross the tracks to another “mini-city”, Sidi Maarouf. 

In contrast with Hay Nassim, Sidi Maarouf has narrow alleys, a cramped, bustling market, and very colourful little town center with alleys lined with all kinds of shops… Like Hay Hassani and Lisassfa, this neighbourhood feels like a city all to itself, with it’s own distinct atmosphere.  It has a much older feel than Hay Nassim, with it’s lower middle class homes crammed tightly together…

 

Here I enjoy my typical 3 dirhams breakfast it a tiny little eatery only 4 feet wide…

 

034: The Sidi Maarouf Frontier.

Sidi Maarouf Border

 

From the town center I head south a couple of blocks.  Here there’s a longs green stretch along the main road with a couple of park benches… So, of course, a music session…

 

            Music Spot 13: Sidi Maarouf Frontier, Rating: **

            A bit noisy, and all the shady benches were taken…

 

A fellow stops by on a scooter asking if I wanted to sell my guitar.  He started talking about how he used to play guitar when he was a student, but afterwards he wanted to have more of an image of a “serious” working man, so he got rid of his guitar…


“Now I regret getting rid of it… I don’t care what people think of me…”

 

I’m glad I don’t have that same “image” concern…

 

From there I head back into town and soon come across another little square, popular with the older crowd, chilling out in the shade…

 

            Music Spot 14: Sidi Maarouf Square, Rating****

            Some shade, quiet, respectful crowd…

 

A couple of kids come to listen for a bit… the place has a pleasant, neighbourly feel…


From there I continue on west, on a road follows along the border of Casablanca, with a mix of poor homes and rich homes on my left, and wheatfields on my right… A fun little hike, with sweeping views of the surrounding area that give you a gist of entire region…

 

Finally I reach the Marrakech highway, and figure it’s time to head back in towards town.

Sidi Maarouf
  I have officially and thoroughly explored Casablanca’s Southwest bounderies…

 

035: The Call Centers Of Sidi Maarouf

 

As I approach the city once again, with only a couple of poor hamlets dotting the open fields, I suddenly come across two lines of parked cars that go on as far as the eye can see…  That’s odd… Who would park their car out here in the middle of nowhere?  You’d think there was a stadium or an amusement park somewhere nearby…

 

Then I see two guys coming from an office building about a half a kilometre away, wearing “Dell” badges… and it all came clear…

 

This is Morocco’s New Middle Class…

 

Fifteen years ago, when I first came here, “Middle Class” meant you could eat decently, lived in an OK neighbourhood, could put your kids through school, and maybe had a scooter…

 

Not any more.

Sidi Maarouf Mosque
  Now, “Middle Class” means a car… And no where is it more obvious than here at the call centers outsourced from France.  These call centers don’t pay people just barely enough so they can survive--  they actually pay a decent wage…


These call centers have also played a role in changing the way you get a job here in Morocco.  Traditionally, the only way to get a job here in Morocco was by having “connections”… you had to know somebody or be related to somebody to get a job. But not any more.  Now there are many companies where you can walk in with a good CV and get hired on the spot…

 

It’s a fascinating development… and I wonder what this will lead to in the future… Will this new prosperity spill over into other segments of society, or will it create a new divide between the “new middle class” and the people still stuck in unemployment and miserable wages?

 

036: A New Neighborhood Design

 

On past the Offshoring Center, I come across a long stretch of apartment blocks that seem to cater to the lower middle class.

Technopark
  But this neighbourhood has a different design: the apartments are built along long walkways, each one with a garden in the center, thus ensuring that every apartment has a view of green. 

 

Admittedly, most of the gardens are pretty scraggly and full of weeds--  but it’s a try anyways… and it merits a “discovery” status…

 

From there I soon reach “Technopark” and another row of Call Centers… each, of course, with parking lots packed with cars…

 

This now outsourcing industry does have it’s dark side as well. There are a some  “back alley” call centers that have sprouted throughout the city, where it seems unscrupulous employees “hire” folks to be trained as telemarketers and then turn around and fire them without pay… and then “hire” a new batch of unsuspecting recruits…

 

But here in Sidi Maarouf, call centers seem to be a success story…

 

037: Boulevard Ghandi

 

From Sidi Maarouf, I cross Casablanca’s east-west freeway and into a rather boring stretch of upscale villas, with nothing to see except walls… This drags on for quite some distance until I finally reach Boulevard Ghandi.

Call Center Row

 

Boulevard Ghandi has a shady, palm tree lined upscale shopping strip that is a welcome relief from the surrounding boring neighborhoods.  Trendy shops, classy cafes, and of course KFC and Pizza Hut… and even a little shopping mall…

 

I follow Boulevard Ghandi as it heads towards Ain Diab… Of course, I don’t want to retrace my steps, so I veer to the east where I finally come across another shady park…
           

            Music Spot 15: Anfa Park, Rating: *****

            Plenty of shady benches, peaceful--  sometimes a great crowd here…

 

This is a popular hangout for high school students during Ramadan, when teachers tend to not show up for class--  I had a great jam session here back in 2008…

 

038: The Laajajma No Man’s Land

 

From Anfa Park, I continue east until I finally reach the border that divides the “sprawling villa” section of Casablanca and the “apartment row” section of Casablanca… I heave a sigh of relief.

Technopark
  Hiking past sprawling villas gets pretty boring after a while with nothing to see and nobody out in the street.

Sandwiched in between these two worlds is a cluster of shantytowns that are clinging to life… or should I say, waiting for the government to relocate them elsewhere.  The contrast couldn’t be more stark, as BMWs share the road with donkey carts…

 

The shantytowns have one long “shopping street” that you’d swear you’re in the old medina, where tailors, barbers and vendors go on with life seemingly oblivious to the Big City that is encroaching on their turf…

 

I enter “apartmentland” immediately feel the difference… the rows of snack shops… people bustling about… shade from the tall buildings… This is the Casablanca that I enjoy the most…

 

And so, I decide to call it a day… Not that many discoveries made today, but I did cover a lot of miles… I can already see people’s mouths drop open when I tell them I hiked all the way from Hay Nassim to Laajajma…

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Hay Nassim
Hay Nassim
Hay Nassim
Hay Nassim
Downtown Sidi Maarouf
Downtown Sidi Maarouf
Sidi Maarouf Border
Sidi Maarouf Border
Sidi Maarouf
Sidi Maarouf
Sidi Maarouf Mosque
Sidi Maarouf Mosque
Technopark
Technopark
Call Center Row
Call Center Row
Technopark
Technopark
Laajajma--Casablancas skinniest a…
Laajajma--Casablanca's skinniest …
Casablanca
photo by: nathanphil