Casablanca, Day 13: The Most Notorious Neighborhood in Casablanca
Casablanca Travel Blog› entry 81 of 92 › view all entries
From an adventure perspective, today will be the highlight of the entire tour: I will accidentally discover a neighbourhood nicknamed “
105 High school Crowd
I start out the day in the heart of Hay Salaam, where
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.
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.
I finally decide I’d better head on my way and I bid my new friends farewell.
Music Spot 55:
Very cool experience, jamming with the high school crowd.
106 Lalla Meriem
I continue on south, through a cozy neighbourhood known as
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
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:
108 The Outer Slums
After leaving the park, I figure I should head over to get a closer look at the beautiful mosque.
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.
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.
It’s like going into the scrappiest, most forgotten backwater village in all
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.
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
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 (
I want to shout in excitement...
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
113 Hay Salmia
I head on back. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to experience one of the darkest corners of
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
After a mere two hours outside, I feel an incredible reentry shock coming back into
I’ll never be able to look at