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Society & Lifestyle
Here we present unique adventures from the modern society and lifestyle.

Morocco, Casablanca mon amor! Part 2 of 2!

On my second day in Casa I call Meki, the cab driver who picked me up at the train station on my arrival the day before. He spoke good English and said he would give me a tour of the city for a price we agreed in advanced.

Photo. The King Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. © Joe Gill. This building is the world's third-largest mosque. It was built to commemorate the former king's 60th birthday and rises above the ocean on a rocky outcrop reclaimed from the sea.

This is a sore point as a lot of the hustlers who pray on tourists say vague things like "I give you a good price" and then when you press them they come up with some outlandish figure which seems to be designed so that you bargain down to something still outrageous.

Unless you lop 90% off the price, you end up paying way over the odds. With that particular headache out of the way and the fact that he seemed like a genuine person, I asked him to take me on the tour. He turns up in a bashed up Mercedes with a friend to drive us.

Meki learned his English when he was in the military, he says. He was trained by the Americans as a Radar technician. That was 15 years before and now he drives a cab and teaches English. We drove south along the Boulevard Sidi Mohammed ben Abdullah, to the magnificent, shiny new Hassan II Mosque. The mosque was finished in 2003 at a cost of $1 billion, raised from public subscription.

Meki explains that everyone received a kind of certificate for their donation. You can see where the money went - the construction is awe inspiring in scale and craftsmanship, with a perfect location on a promontory extending into the Atlantic.

Beyond the mosque along the coast road are exclusive beach clubs, sea front properties and restaurants. He points to a number of palatial million dollar properties along the sea front, adding matter of factly that the gap between rich and poor in Morocco is very large. But life under the young King is getting better, he says, with more being spent on housing, education and reforms in favour of women's rights.

Photo. The scene of the fishermen at the quay is from Essaouira in southern Morocco.
© Joe Gill.

Along the Boulevard de la Corniche we pass one of Casablanca's many McDonalds. "The American embassy," says Meki, there are many in Morocco." He adds by way of explanation: "We don't have a complex with the Americans; we have a complex with Mr George Bush."

Meki adds an unmistakable emphasis on the US president's name, leaving no doubt about his feelings. The war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and support for Israel may have something to do with this. We stop at the picturesque outcrop where Moroccans come to seek blessings at the mausoleum of a marabout (holy man). On the beach tourists ride horses along the sand.

Next we pass through the green and leafy exclusive neighbourhood of 'Ain Diab back from the seafront. We pass a race track where a number of handsome Arab horses, still sweating from a race, are led by stable hands back to the stables nearby. With its palm trees, neat lawns and whitewashed walls, I am reminded of the better off neighbourhoods of Caracas, where I used to live. When I say this to Meki he replies: "Venezuela? I like Hugo Chavez, he told Bush to go to hell."

We return to the centre of town, Place Mohammed V and the Palace of Justice, with its fountain and army of pigeons, something like London's Trafalgar Square. Meki says you can tell the king is in town because of the extra police on the streets. We finish up in a cafe. Every public establishment in Morocco has a portrait of the king.

I ask Meki whether it is compulsory. He smiles. "No one forces you, but everyone knows you must have one," he says. Just like England was in the 1950s I suggest. With a little probing I discover Meki is about my age and like me is not married - still waiting to meet his princess from Europe. He lives with his parents, which is normal in Morocco before marriage. Meki, as a good Muslim in a country without a welfare state, gives alms to the needy wherever we go, even as he admonishes those like a boy who approached me on the beach. We say goodbye after coffee.

That night I finally went to Rick's Cafe. I did not stay long. The decor was in keeping with the film, but in truth some things are better left to the imagination. And if Bogey had tasted the caipirinho I was served, he would at the very least have sent the barman scurrying back to his mixer with a carcastic wisecrack, delivered through the smoke of his cigarette. At the end of the bar there was a reserved sign by an empty barstool. I couldn’t help but think I was being kept for its legendary owner.

The city of Hollywood myth lives now in the seedy bars with dim lighting that are common around the central market, where older men pass the time with the good time girls who are the only Moroccan women to frequent those places. And the beating pulse of the modern city lives in the Medina, with its raucous markets transcending ancient and modern. Casa, as Rick once almost said, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Joe Gill, 23 January 2008

Additional information

General information about Morocco:
The country`s officially name is the Kingdom of Morocco. It`s located in North Africa with a population of 33,241,259. Morocco has a coast on the Atlantic Ocean that reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. The country borders to Algeria to the east, Spain to the north - a water border through the Strait and land borders with two small Spanish autonomous cities, Ceuta and Melilla, and Mauritania to the south.

Presentation of the author:

Joe Gill is a freelance journalist working in London, specialising in the non-profit sector, international development and Latin America.

Photo. Joe Gill from England.
© Joe Gill.

Contact details:

Joe Gill, journalist, London 44 207 607 4120.
(M) 07748597168
(H) 0207 6074120
E-mail: joegill00@hotmail.com.

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