Casablanca is a big, sprawling, and complicated city.
Last Sunday, NSLI-Y and YES Abroad were tourists for half the day, and volunteers for the next half. In the morning, we went to the Hassan II Mosque and Morocco Mall—in the afternoon, we went to the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center on the outskirts of Casablanca.
From eating msemen (Moroccan pancakes) in the early Casablanca morning, to getting pulled on the stage and spontaneously dancing to Cotton-Eyed Joe before we left late at night, Sunday was a good day. And I got to talk to some really cool people: the NSLI-Y language partners that I don’t see often, and the youth at Sidi Moumen!
Here’s a chronological overview of October 22nd.
Hassan II Mosque
The Hassan II Mosque is a major tourist destination in Casablanca. We all became tourists for a few hours.
Started in 1986 and completed in 1993, the Hassan II mosque sits on the Atlantic Ocean and is the 13th largest mosque in the world.
After the death of King Mohammed V in the 1960s, King Hassan II wanted to build a mausoleum to honor him:
I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time … I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.
Much of the construction for the Hassan II mosque was financed by public donations, some as small as 5 DH (fifty cents).
It can hold over 100,000 worshippers.
Here are some pictures:
Here are some pictures from inside the mosque. The inside is made of marble, and the roof is retractable:
Tourist destination or not, I do love seeing people who come from all over the world.
Another expensive/touristy place, but pretty interesting. Everything we visited in the morning seemed to be about numbers, so I’ll just add another statistic: Morocco Mall is the second largest shopping center in Africa.
Sidi Moumen Cultural Center
Their mission: to encourage at-risk children and vulnerable youth to stay in school and avoid delinquency, drug addiction, and extremism. Through various activities, [they] provide opportunities for these children to be good citizens and future leaders.
Sidi Moumen is a sprawling shantytown on the outskirts of Casablanca, and one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city. It’s also where the suicide bombers from the 2003 and 2007 Casablanca terrorist attacks grew up.
The conditions in Sidi Moumen, though, have improved since the early 2000s. The Moroccan government has taken efforts to eradicate the slums with government-subsidized land and housing, but some families do not take this option because apartments = rent, and slums = no rent. There are still some slums left—they’re mostly sectioned off, but they still exist.
The Sidi Moumen Cultural Center was founded in 2006. It’s operated by a group of local volunteers. The center offers a safe space for local youth to pursue their interests: they offer courses in French and English, allow children to learn musical instruments, play sports, use the computer labs, and so on! You can read more about Sidi Moumen from this New York Times article.
At the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, we American students…
- graffitied the walls with local students
- learned how to play drums
- sang to the song “Aicha”
- helped kids with watercolors. clouds! rain! hearts! ❤
- participated in a talent show that included parts of the Hamilton soundtrack, the Fifty Nifty States song, Killian playing cello, and everyone who knew the cup song doing the cup song
- taught Moroccans “ten things you might not know about the United States.” National parks are owned by everyone, the US was colonized by lots of countries, and, uh… President Taft got stuck in a bathtub
- learned “ten things you might not know about Morocco” from kids at the center! Did you know that in Morocco, the liver is the symbol of love, so “I liver you” :’)
- talked to everyone and had a good time in general
- danced Cotton-Eyed Joe with the Moroccan students! This was completely a coincidence. Some of the American students decided that we’d do Cotton-Eyed Joe as part of the talent show, but we had no idea that the Moroccans had prepared their own version as well. I didn’t know the dance, but a little girl pulled me up and I ended up dancing anyway 🙂 it was great.
here’s a group picture of all of us!
The day in Casablanca was long (woke up at 5:00, got home around 11:00), but it was also too short. I miss it. I miss talking to the people in Sidi Moumen, the amazing language partners, the NSLI-Y students that we don’t see that often sans excursions and Global Citizen class…
I don’t speak Darija well at all, but I communicate with others with the few words that I do know. I got that feeling at Sidi Moumen, that no matter how little Darija I knew, they appreciated my efforts, and we still could communicate.
I also hope that we made a positive influence on the kids at SMCC. Everyone seemed to enjoy our presence. Missing them so much right now, and currently thinking of them instead of school until 5:00 tomorrow oops…
Morocco, and to an extent Casablanca, makes me want to stay somewhere for a long time and just tell their stories—spending every single day talking to people, and then writing something for others to read.
I’m excited to go back to Casa this Sunday to watch Colleen (our programs officer) run the Casablanca Marathon!