Situated approximately 30 Km south-west of Casablanca is the satellite town of Berrechid, my home from home for the next month or so. The British Language Academy lies on the southern outskirts: a rectangular 3 story building, into which are crammed 12 rooms. Of these, eight are primarily classrooms. Depending on the volume of volunteer teachers, numbers dictate whether they remain so, or are used for sleeping quarters. It is one of these classrooms (on the 2nd floor) that has become my bedsit.
During the last week, I have made numerous walking trips around town, and the following blog is my perceptions regarding several viewpoints.
Berrechid appears devoid of any architectural imagination, probably due to the fact that the town is an overspill from Casablanca – a bit like the new towns created in the UK. The majority of buildings are standard rectangular shaped blocks, whose exteriors are painted magnolia or a dusty shade of pink. Posing as apartments, these (predominately) four stories buildings lack any communal green space, and are the standard fare for lower to middle income families.
Around eighty percent of these buildings have the ground floor area converted to space for business use: coffee shops, general stores or small specialist shops like pharmacies, bakers, hardware etc.
Coffee houses are an essential part of male daily life in Morocco (and indeed most north African states and the middle east). It is to these places that every morning men come to drink strong black coffee, smoke, read the numerous daily newspapers and discuss all manner of things. Discussions appear intense and indicate that they are a vital part of the social fabric. Ashamedly, my Arabic is limited, despite living and working in Saudi Arabia for ten years. While there is no law forbidding women to congregate in such places, in practice, I suspect that local culture would frown upon any female presence.
Cafes are invariably open fronted, and from these advantage points one can watch daily life evolve. Women can be seen hanging washing from their respective balconies, or trudging past, often carrying heavy loads. More women appear escorting children, often carrying babies who are supported by improvised strapping. Others just scuttle past with blank faces. Perhaps they wonder, as I do, why the female gender is burdened so unfairly.
By and large, one can reach the conclusion of a culture that is torn between old and new. Change is snail pace, possibly due to a depressed economy and other factors, but definitely a reluctance due to religious dogma. Yet, whatever the combination of reasons, shoots of change are evident. As in most societies, technology is the driving force of change, and the youth are the willing vanguard. For those who can afford, mobile phones and western dress is the attainable status, and in a general sense, a willingness to embrace different attitudes. Young females eschew the traditional dress for jeans and trainers, and while the majority still adhere to head covering, there are sufficient numbers who feel empowered enough to go without. Small groups of young men are conspicuous everywhere, appearing to drift aimlessly due to the lack of employment and opportunity. It may be another country, another culture, but no different to so many others: lost generations.
Infrastructure is creaking. Infrequent refuse collections, clogged sewers, poor road maintenance and illegal garbage dumps.
The main beneficiaries are the vast numbers of flies that permeate daily life. In any bakery, you can hardly see the bread or cakes for the mass of black winged insects feasting. All in a days experience, as they say, but they are a scourge. Meanwhile, from the numerous giant billboards dotted around town, faces of empowerment smile down: an unspoken message translated into one of patriotic subservience. ‘I’m all right Jack’ is written in their glowing faces.
next – Chefchaouen Blog (1)