Casablanca Day 9: To Bernossi and Back
Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
39Trip End Ongoing
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Today I trudge through the gloomy industrial zone of Ain Sebaa to see what treasures I might find way out east.
Casa Voyageurs Train Station
From Ouled Ziane I head east once again, this time right north of the train tracks towards Casablanca's main train station. Although I usually opt for the bus rather than the train as buses go to more places and have a more flexible departure schedule, I still have some fond memories of this station-- particularly as this is the first place you arrive when taking the train from the airport, welcoming you to Casablanca
The station is reasonably attractive, with its distinctive clock tower. Right across the street are a couple of cheap eateries where you can get some rotisserie chicken or ground beef sandwich, a shady little plaza, and a high rise apartment building. To the right is a somewhat expensive Ibis hotel and to the right a cheap 50 dirham hotel.
Highway to Ain Sebaa
From the train station I continue on east and soon find myself on the old Rabat highway, that cuts through a long, dreary industrial area. There are a couple of interesting buildings along the way, and some old abandoned little French villas overgrown with bushes-- which I would find very attractive if I were a hobo needing a place to squat.
I finally reach an unusual residential neighbourhood with apartments with tall, two story pillars and gardens in front-- a style I haven’t seen anywhere else in Casablanca
Then the landscape goes back to dreary industrial and warehouse until finally after about an hour of solitary walking, I reach central Ain Sebaa.
The area starts to cheer up a bit with big car dealerships and major businesses. One building that deserves discovery status is Morocco’s most popular TV station, 2M. This is also where a aspiring singers and musicians go to participate in the "Studio 2M" American Idol style music contest.
I came here some 14 years ago hoping to work out a cultural exchange program with a TV station in northwest Mexico… it didn’t work out, but I still feel proud of myself for trying.
Next to it is Addoha, Morocco’s main low income housing construction companies
The Ain Sebaa Lions
A little square down a side street catches my eye, so I decide to check it out. There I find a small but pleasant little market and a shady circle with two little lion statues in the center. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a “neighbourhood center” here in Ain Sebaa, and is a pleasant little surprise. It looks like there is a little life here after all-- although clearly industry takes priority in this section of the city.
From there I continue on east to see what else I can discover here in Ain Sebaa. I find a row of very classy cafes over looking a large semi-maintained park area
Veering off to the west a little bit is a recent apartment development-- this is part of a huge construction project stretching almost all the way back to Hay Mohammedi. This neighbourhood has a nice layout with wide but quiet streets and little clusters of green here and there.
Next to it is a huge “Marjane”, Morocco’s “Walmart” you might say… I’ve come across a couple of these on my tour and have been reluctant to go inside and give them any mention, mainly because of my concern of the long term effects they will have on Moroccan culture and economy.
I know it’s very inefficient to have to hike around a market buying 10 vegetables from 10 different vendors, and Moroccans are entitled to streamlining their economic system just like anyone else. But there’s more to a market than just an exotic timeless experience. See in a market, each of those vendors has a sense of pride and ownership and the hope that if he runs his business right, he might be able to grow and someday buy a house a live a better life
These big supermarkets, however, can pay less than a living wage, fire and lay off at a whim and can exploit young folks who will do settle for anything just to have a job. From the conversations I’ve had with friends working at these places, it’s not the kind of job that will allow you to marry, buy a house and start a family…
But then again, I could be wrong.
Anyways, I begrudgingly decide to go inside and explore this Marjane, and I must admit, I am quite impressed by the options. Here you can buy a computer, refrigerator, a scooter, a swimming pool, a shark, a freshly baked bread or any of 20 varieties of olives-- more options than any Walmart I can remember. But it’s still completely generic. I could be anywhere in the USA, Brazil, China, France or Australia-- there’s nothing Moroccan about this place other than maybe the variety of olives. It’s majestic and depressing at the same time.
Ain Sbaa Lake Park
Back outside I can breathe freely again
I head back towards the “open space”, the center of Ain Sebaa. In front of it are a couple of government buildings including the royal looking Prefacture of Ain Sebaa, with a super wide palm tree lined entrance. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this were the entrance to the capitol of Australia or something like that.
At the street entrance there are two columns with bowls at the top that welcome you to Ain Sebaa.
Ain Sebaa seems to be very confused about its identity… Is it an abandoned French colonial neighbourhood? An ugly semi abandoned industrial zone? A progressive new residential area? A proud government center? A modern big business district? A cozy little tucked away neighbourhood? I’ve seen nothing but contradictions all day
The Ain Sebaa Zoo
If you tell Casablanca folks that you visited the “Zoo”, expect to hear a chorus of sarcastic guffaws… Admittedly, it’s a bit embarrassing that a city of 3.5 million has a zoo that consists mainly of chickens, rabbits and sheep… but that’s all we’ve got, so we might as well appreciate it.
I can understand why this zoo has been slowly dying. Folks here don’t usually like to spend money going out. They’d much rather spend their money on buying homes, or on festivities like Ait Kebir, Ramadan and weddings-- but not on trips to the zoo or amusement park. So the Ain Sebaa has been slowly dying, one animal at a time.
It does have a couple of lions that roar ferociously at the gazelle put in the cage right next to them, and a handful of monkeys (the smaller ones climb in and out of their cages at will!)
So visiting the zoo can be a memorable experience if you’ve got a bit of imagination
I continue on a bit further. I’ve got one last big neighbourhood to conquer. So after a stale stretch of empty lots and big businesses, I finally reach a my first really friendly neighbourhood of the day.
I stop for a raib (yoghurt) and take a stroll down main street, relishing the homey feel to the place. An older man comes walking beside me and we strike up a conversation. He’s from Figuig, a city way off near the border with Algeria and lives here in Bernossi. He congratulates me on my project of exploring all of Casablanca on foot and fills me in a bit on Figuig, which I hope to visit next summer.
Next I reach the Sidi Bernossi square
It’s a very fun little encounter. I don’t get a lot of middle age guys who join me for a singalong. He says that he’s the responsible for one of the bus lines, and even though his coworkers keep calling him to get to work, he can’t seem to be able to pull away… He spends a full hour with me there, belting out song after song.
“Music is in my blood” he tells me. No question about that. “Maybe we could form a band or something”…
Looks like Bernossi is getting off to a very interesting start.
I continue on my way down a very pleasant Main Street. Sidi Bernossi seems to be a perfectly balanced neighbourhood
The I come across the first “upscale” mnsimmen shop. Here you can choose from 10 different traditional Moroccan breakfasts: mnsimmen, harcha, begrir, bitbot, etc. etc. and a glass of tea and eat in a shiny, eating room with mirrors and tiled walls.
I opt for begrir this time, and enjoy a unique experience. Right outside is yet another square in next to a wall with some interesting paintings.
The neighborhoods get quieter and quieter as I gradually approach the edge of town. Here I find some middle class “gated communities” closed off streets with a guard at the entrance. It seems people out here really value their privacy.
To the north I can see a small industrial strip and then the ocean… to the south, just a little ways away is the Autoroute
And then it happens, I come to the end of the block, and there in front of me is an open field. A kilometre or two beyond city starts again… Could it be? Is there more of Casablanca beyond?
No. The spires of the refinery are clearly visible not far off. That is Mohammedia. That is an entirely different city.
At first I’m tempted to just keep walking. It’d be pretty cool to say that I hiked all the way to Mohammedia. But I decide against it. I need to finish my Casablanca tour before starting something new, and to do so, I need to head west one last time and end my journey right where it started: at Bab Marrakech.
So somewhat reluctantly I turn around and head back into town
Sidi Bernossi Main Market
Winding up and down Sidi Bernossi’s lively back alleys, I come across yet another square with kids playing soccer and old men chatting in the shade. Sidi Bernossi certainly has no shortage of spots to play music in!
Continuing on I reach Sidi Bernossi’s main market area, which includes a rather cramped indoor market and a colourful street vegetable market. Fun place to wander around.
At the north west edge of Sidi Bernossi, is yet another park with an unusual monument in the center: A couple of gears interlocked together. I’m assuming this is in honor of all the industry there is in this part of town. I guess it’s an appropriate monument. If it weren’t for all the ugly industry out here on the eastside, Casablanca would not be the economic powerhouse that it is.
Finally I must bid friendly Sidi Bernossi farewell and head back into the No Man’s Land of factories and empty lots of Ain Sebaa. On the way I come across the Ain Sebaa Train Station. It seems to be put in the wrong place-- there are no houses anywhere nearby, just a big grain silo. It seems it would make sense to move it a mile up the road and then folks could use it to commute between Sidi Bernossi and Downtown Casablanca… Just a thought.
Ain Sebaa Mosque and Market
In order to not retrace my steps, I’m going to need to head north a little bit further towards the coast, so I take the only road that goes north. But instead of the ugly industrial area I was expecting, it’s actually a quite attractive neighbourhood of upscale villas, life, and kids heading home from school! What a pleasant surprise! Maybe I was too quick in judging Ain Sebaa.
Now normally I turn up my nose at villa neighborhoods, but when I was expecting ugly warehouses, this is absolutely beautiful. I continue on down the road towards the coast, to big mosque with folks coming out from noontime prayer and another cozy little market right next to it.
I think I need to give Ain Sebaa a second chance and explore it a little more. But that will be another day.