Casablanca, Day 13: The Most Notorious Neighborhood in Casablanca

Casablanca Travel Blog

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View From Lalla Meriem

From an adventure perspective, today will be the highlight of the entire tour:  I will accidentally discover a neighbourhood nicknamed “Chechnya”… Yeah, you get the picture.


105 High school Crowd


I start out the day in the heart of Hay Salaam, where Colonel Driss Boulevard meets another north-south boulevard.  Here the boulevards are lined with apartment buildings and a couple of classy cafes, giving the area a “big city” feel once again.

I backtrack a little bit to a park that I skipped yesterday, right in front of a high school.  Well, it turns out that today it’s is absolutely packed with high school students waiting, I assume, for classes to start.

Lalla Meriem


I feel a bit self conscious, a 36 year old man just showing up in a crowd of teenagers and pulling out a guitar, and for a moment consider just skipping this park.  But then I spot an empty bench, and decide I’d better just go for it.


Nobody seems to look at me funny, instead soon a small crowd gathers around, as if this were the most normal thing in the world… First it’s a group of girls… I sing a Spanish song and of them tries to translate for the others as I sing.  Then these girls head off to class and a group of guys amble over… one guy asks me for a riff and then starts rapping at machine gun speed… Another fellow asks to borrow the guitar… and plays a Moroccan Arabic song set to a Western folk style tune.


I start to wonder if I’m contributing to student truancy, as hours go by and no one seems to be in any hurry to head to class… Then somebody seemingly pulls out a guitar from thin air, and next thing you know, we’ve got a full blown concert going with lead and solo guitar!


It’s an unforgettable morning, jamming with the youth of Hay Salaam… A full two hours go by and no one seems in the mood to leave… until it suddenly starts raining, and we all have to rush to a nearby shop for shelter.

Hay Salaam Crowd

I finally decide I’d better head on my way and I bid my new friends farewell.


            Music Spot 55: Hay Salaam High School Park, Rating*****

            Very cool experience, jamming with the high school crowd.


106 Lalla Meriem


I continue on south, through a cozy neighbourhood known as Lalla Meriem, with narrow streets and little markets tucked away, and folks that seem cheerful and neighbourly.

Lalla Meriem Park


Then suddenly, I reach the edge of the city.  Or at least that’s what it looks like.  There is a big cluster of new apartment buildings far across the fields to the west, but I figure it won’t be worth trekking across the fields just for that.  So I follow this wide boulevard east, figuring I’ll head back north into town after a short ways.


It’s a strange mix of scenery.  To my left are gritty apartment blocks. To my right is a mixture of open farmland, garbage dumps, and a few little country huts here and there. 


107 Beautiful Lalla Meriem Park


Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, pops up a beautiful park, rivalling even Murdoch Park on 2 Mars.

  It has lush gardens with tropical style palm leaf umbrellas for shade… separate area for sports, with bright murals painted on the other side… Even some modern art metal statues…


But what is most surprising is the location.  Why would this very well maintained park be put right on the edge of town next to a rather poor neighbourhood?  The answer lies right up ahead to the southeast:  a new neighbourhood is being built that is clearly aiming at being a bit more upper class.  In the middle is a magnificent, huge mosque.


Apparently, here they decided to build the mosque and the park first, hoping that these will set the tone for a more classy neighbourhood.


            Music Spot 56: Lalla Meriem Park, Rating:*****

            Perfect Park


108 The Outer Slums


After leaving the park, I figure I should head over to get a closer look at the beautiful mosque.

  I head down a road going south, I notice that there’s an awful lot of traffic heading south, seemingly to nowhere.  Most of it is pedestrian and horse cart taxi--  but not the classy horsecarts I’ve been seeing lately, just very basic, no frills horsecarts.   I know these people must be going somewhere, so after the mosque, I continue on south past empty fields. 


I come upon the grid of a “preplanned neighbourhood” with the streets, utilities and a forest of lightpost set up, even before any houses have been build--  a common way of doing things here in Morocco.  These will be lots for single family homes--  thus it’ll probably a middle upper class neighbourhood someday.

But so far there are no takers, and I can see why.  Just on the other side is a sprawling slum area, which apparently has not garbage collection system, thus trash carpets the entire area.  I wonder how these folks feel about an upper class neighbourhood encroaching on their turf… Where will they be driven off too next?  They’re already at the very edge of the city!


I continued on south, actually quite fascinated by this discovery.

Approaching the slum area
  I guess I hadn’t realized what a clean, well organized city Casablanca is until I saw what it might be like with no street sweepers or garbage collection.  I wonder if this is even considered Casablanca… I see one lone city cab--  this means I’m still in the city limits.

I get some funny looks as I trudge through the squalor… over to the side is a huge donkey cart parking lot… these look like the donkey carts used by folks who wander around the city, scavenging through the garbage dumpsters.

I think about what it must be like to live and grow up in this neighbourhood.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if this were all they knew… if they just assumed the whole world looks like this… But just across the fields to the north a clean, well organized city with running water, gardens and paved streets--  things we all just take for granted…


109 Derb Chechen


Suddenly I reach a bridge.  I have reached the “Second Freeway” once again.


But there’s still a lot of horsecart traffic going over the overpass, so I figure I’ve got to go see what’s on the other side.

A quick photo beyond Chechen
  I head up and over… and into a whole nuther world.


It’s like going into the scrappiest, most forgotten backwater village in all Morocco.  In fact, it feels more like Mauritania than Morocco… I ecstatic about this discovery… just in walking distance from Casablanca!  Soon I’m wandering down “Main Street” through a rugged little market and then on down through alleys past all kinds of eclectic shanties.


The good news is that this is certainly a whole new town that I’ll be able to add to my collection. The bad news is that that means I’ll have to have a parkbench session here and take a video clip… and this really does not seem like the kind of place you just whip out a camera and start taking photos!


110 “Downtown” Chechen


Chechen does have a few modern amenities.

My very quick clip in Chechen
  It has two cafes--  one of them actually kind of nice, a pharmacy and even a dentists office… but other than that, it look pretty much untouched by modern civilization.  There are a couple of shanties that have cars in front… but clearly the horsecart is the mode of transportation here.  No buses, city taxis or even collective taxis are visible anywhere. 


Sewage runs in the streets, some of it in dirt troughs, other “classier” alleys actually have concrete troughs for the sewage to run through.


I get calls like “amigo!” or someone playing air guitar as I go past… One guy asks his companion “what the hell is that guy doing here?”  But for the most part, no ugly or unwelcoming looks.   There’s so much that would be fun to photograph here, just as such a contrast with Casablanca, but that would really be pushing my luck… Walking around with a guitar and a camera and not getting robbed… I think I’ll settle for that…


111 The Edge of Chechen


I reach the edge of Chechen.  To the east I can see the road to Tit Mellil which I took 2 years ago… To the south are fields, yet another “preplanned neighbourhood” with grid of streets but no houses being built yet… and piles and piles of garbage… Some of it looks like plastic and metal scraps that are brought out from the city, probably on donkey carts…


I look up around the perimeter of the town, past what looks like a school that’s been built recently… It looks like a hopeful sign… Maybe this village hasn’t been entirely forgotten.

I figure if I’m going to do my music session, it’s now or never, before I head back into the heart of town.  I very quickly set up my camera next to a electric pole where there aren’t a lot of people, whip out my guitar and do a very short clip… Then I sit down and hurry through five super short songs… then put my guitar away and move on my way.

I have officially “parkbenched” this town, whatever it’s called.


            Music Spot 57 Chechen, Rating: 0 stars

            Never want to have to do that again…


112 Chechen Café


I’m in no hurry to move on from this town, so I figure I’ll sit in one of the two cafes and chill out with the locals.  I pick the not so nice one and enter a dingy room with some gnarly looking fellows sitting in the corners. 


«You don’t say hello ? » an older fellow asked me in French, probably testing to see if I’m foreigner or not.  I give him a « Salaam Aaleikum » and that ends the conversation.   The waitress is female, which seems a bit odd in this off the beaten track town.  I ask her the name of this town, and she seems a bit confused.


“Medioni” I’m finally told.  But I’m not quite convinced—“Mediouna” is the name of a town a good ways south of here.  So I stop in a little shop and ask again.  A friendly shopkeeper tells me again “Medioni—but it’s also known as “Chechen (Chechnya) because of the rough people that live here”


I want to shout in excitement... Chechnya!  I’ve only heard rumors of this place!  This is the most dangerous neighborhood in all of Casablanca!  I can’t believe my luck!  Now I’ll be able to boast that I wandered around Chechnya neighborhood and lived to tell about it--  with my guitar slung over my shoulder I might add...


Suddenly the friendly gestures I’ve received throughout the neighborhood seem so much more meaningful.  During this expedition I’ve also debunked the stereotype that everybody in this neighborhood is so “dangerous”.


But then again, there must be a reason why there are no taxis, no buses and no police in this area.


The downside of this discovery is that, since this is technically still part of Casablanca, it doesn’t “count” as a new town--  which is crazy I think.  This place is about as un-Casablanca as you can get.  In fact, I don’t think it should be called Chechnya--  maybe Chad or Mauritania, but not Chechnya.


113 Hay Salmia


I head on back. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to experience one of the darkest corners of Casablanca.  Truly this is an essential facet to really discovering the city--  I have to see all of its angles… the good, the bad, the ugly, and the really ugly!


Back over the bridge, I follow the slum on the other side west for a ways, until I reach that big new apartment development that I’d seen earlier in the day--  this is Hay Salmia.  Now we’ve got paved roads, buses and signs of modern civilization.


114 Back in Casablanca


After a mere two hours outside, I feel an incredible reentry shock coming back into Casablanca.  Paved roads!  Running water! Cars! Sidewalks! regular shops and houses! I feel like I’ve just walked into Beverly Hills… I want to bow down and kiss the pavement… and I feel so safe and free as I walk up and down the streets.

I’ll never be able to look at Casablanca quite the same, now that I’ve seen its darkest corner.   Nor will I look at the dumpster divers the same way, as I think of the places they have to go back to at the end of the day.  It’s been an amazing and very sobering experience.

Dr_Seuss says:
:D. The area along the port next to the mosque was pretty shabby as well, but not quite as bad as Chechnya if you were wanting to kiss the ground when you got back into Casa :D
Posted on: May 29, 2010
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View From Lalla Meriem
View From Lalla Meriem
Lalla Meriem
Lalla Meriem
Hay Salaam Crowd
Hay Salaam Crowd
Lalla Meriem Park
Lalla Meriem Park
Approaching the slum area
Approaching the slum area
A quick photo beyond Chechen
A quick photo beyond Chechen
My very quick clip in Chechen
My very quick clip in Chechen
photo by: nathanphil