Casablanca, Day 04: Morocco's New Middle Class
Casablanca Travel Blog› entry 72 of 92 › view all entries
Today Iâ€™ll hike from the farthest southwestern corner of Casablanca all the way back into the heart of the cityâ€¦ getting a glimpse of all levels of Moroccan societyâ€¦
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 doâ€¦ 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.
â€śWould you be able to go back to living in the Old Medina now?â€ť I asked him. He shook his headâ€¦ â€śWeâ€™ve gotten used to wide open space nowâ€¦â€ť
For a government project, these apartment blocks arenâ€™t too bad-- built around a courtyard in the center and with spacious streets. Iâ€™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-queâ€¦
But today everything is quietâ€¦ even the market only has a couple of shoppers.
033: Sidi Maarouf Town Center
From Hay Nassim I cross the tracks to another â€śmini-cityâ€ť, 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 shopsâ€¦ Like Hay Hassani and Lisassfa, this neighbourhood feels like a city all to itself, with itâ€™s own distinct atmosphere. It has a much older feel than Hay Nassim, with itâ€™s lower middle class homes crammed tightly togetherâ€¦
Here I enjoy my typical 3 dirhams breakfast it a tiny little eatery only
034: The Sidi Maarouf Frontier.
From the town center I head south a couple of blocks. Here thereâ€™s a longs green stretch along the main road with a couple of park benchesâ€¦ So, of course, a music sessionâ€¦
Music Spot 13: Sidi Maarouf Frontier, Rating: **
A bit noisy, and all the shady benches were takenâ€¦
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 â€śseriousâ€ť working man, so he got rid of his guitarâ€¦
â€śNow I regret getting rid of itâ€¦ I donâ€™t care what people think of meâ€¦â€ť
Iâ€™m glad I donâ€™t have that same â€śimageâ€ť concernâ€¦
From there I head back into town and soon come across another little square, popular with the older crowd, chilling out in the shadeâ€¦
Music Spot 14: Sidi Maarouf Square, Rating****
Some shade, quiet, respectful crowdâ€¦
A couple of kids come to listen for a bitâ€¦ the place has a pleasant, neighbourly feelâ€¦
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 rightâ€¦ A fun little hike, with sweeping views of the surrounding area that give you a gist of entire regionâ€¦
Finally I reach the Marrakech highway, and figure itâ€™s time to head back in towards town.
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 seeâ€¦ Thatâ€™s oddâ€¦ Who would park their car out here in the middle of nowhere? Youâ€™d think there was a stadium or an amusement park somewhere nearbyâ€¦
Then I see two guys coming from an office building about a half a kilometre away, wearing â€śDellâ€ť badgesâ€¦ and it all came clearâ€¦
This is Moroccoâ€™s New Middle Classâ€¦
Fifteen years ago, when I first came here, â€śMiddle Classâ€ť meant you could eat decently, lived in an OK neighbourhood, could put your kids through school, and maybe had a scooterâ€¦
Not any more.
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 â€śconnectionsâ€ťâ€¦ 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 spotâ€¦
Itâ€™s a fascinating developmentâ€¦ and I wonder what this will lead to in the futureâ€¦ Will this new prosperity spill over into other segments of society, or will it create a new divide between the â€śnew middle classâ€ť 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.
Admittedly, most of the gardens are pretty scraggly and full of weeds-- but itâ€™s a try anywaysâ€¦ and it merits a â€śdiscoveryâ€ť statusâ€¦
From there I soon reach â€śTechnoparkâ€ť and another row of Call Centersâ€¦ each, of course, with parking lots packed with carsâ€¦
This now outsourcing industry does have itâ€™s dark side as well. There are a some â€śback alleyâ€ť call centers that have sprouted throughout the city, where it seems unscrupulous employees â€śhireâ€ť folks to be trained as telemarketers and then turn around and fire them without payâ€¦ and then â€śhireâ€ť a new batch of unsuspecting recruitsâ€¦
But here in Sidi Maarouf, call centers seem to be a success storyâ€¦
037: Boulevard Ghandi
From Sidi Maarouf, I cross Casablancaâ€™s east-west freeway and into a rather boring stretch of upscale villas, with nothing to see except wallsâ€¦ This drags on for quite some distance until I finally reach Boulevard Ghandi.
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 Hutâ€¦ and even a little shopping mallâ€¦
I follow Boulevard Ghandi as it heads towards Ain Diabâ€¦ Of course, I donâ€™t want to retrace my steps, so I veer to the east where I finally come across another shady parkâ€¦
Music Spot 15: Anfa Park, Rating: *****
Plenty of shady benches, peaceful-- sometimes a great crowd hereâ€¦
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 2008â€¦
038: The Laajajma No Manâ€™s Land
From Anfa Park, I continue east until I finally reach the border that divides the â€śsprawling villaâ€ť section of Casablanca and the â€śapartment rowâ€ť section of Casablancaâ€¦ I heave a sigh of relief.
Sandwiched in between these two worlds is a cluster of shantytowns that are clinging to lifeâ€¦ or should I say, waiting for the government to relocate them elsewhere. The contrast couldnâ€™t be more stark, as BMWs share the road with donkey cartsâ€¦
The shantytowns have one long â€śshopping streetâ€ť that youâ€™d swear youâ€™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 turfâ€¦
I enter â€śapartmentlandâ€ť immediately feel the differenceâ€¦ the rows of snack shopsâ€¦ people bustling aboutâ€¦ shade from the tall buildingsâ€¦ This is the Casablanca that I enjoy the mostâ€¦
And so, I decide to call it a dayâ€¦ Not that many discoveries made today, but I did cover a lot of milesâ€¦ I can already see peopleâ€™s mouths drop open when I tell them I hiked all the way from Hay Nassim to Laajajmaâ€¦