There are many differences between Morocco and the United States. When we first got to Casablanca, we would drive down the street, and my kids would go “Hey, look!” eight or nine times. There’s so much to see that is different from what we are used to seeing, that it’s hard to explain it all. Instead of trying, I picked 10 things that are common place to see here, that you will NEVER see in the streets around Atlanta, Georgia, where we moved from.
1.) A donkey pulling a cart down the road (and in the cart is a washing machine). Donkeys are used in the city and the country as a beast of burden. They pull carts with vegetables, they pull carts for the “Eeep Guy” who comes around the streets saying “Eeep” to let you know he is willing to buy anything you have to sell (metal, plastic containers, old clothes etc.), they pull carts for the man selling prickly pears (the fruit that comes off a cactus), and they even pull carts with high tech items like washing machines and refrigerators.
2.) Eight people in the back seat of a car. There is no enforcement of seat belt or carseat laws here, so it is not unusual to see kids sitting on their parents laps in the backseat of a car, and multiple people squished together along the backseat. This happens both in individual citizen’s cars and in white taxis which hold 3 grownups in the front seat and 4 grownups in the back – as well as as many kids as necessary sitting on people’s laps.
3.) An entire family on a small motorbike. It is very common to see motorcycles, scooters, pedal bikes etc. on the road with cars, trucks, busses, donkeys – I have even seen golf carts and fork lifts! Each different type of vehicle often has more people than it is intended for, but the the one that takes the cake for me is the family of 5 (mom, dad and 3 kids) all on a motor scooter. The way it is achieved is that mom will have a baby strapped to her back and sit on the back of the scooter, then dad will sit on the scooter, with one child seated in front of him and another child standing between his legs. Most of the time all of the kids are under the age of 6 and it makes me shudder to think of safety – but I’ve never seen one involved in a crash!
4.) People praying in lines on the street. Right now it is Ramadan (a time of fasting and prayer in the Muslim religion), so this is more common – but it is not uncommon on Fridays on a regular basis, depending on how full the Mosques are. What happens is that people go to the mosque to pray during prayer times (not all people go to the mosques, many pray at home and others choose not to pray – it is a very personal decision here), and the mosques get too full. So, rather than leave, you will see lines just outside a church where people can pray together. When the lines are very long, it is actually a very powerful thing to see, although I try not to stare, or let my kids be too loud, as I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone’s quiet prayer time.
5.) Goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, or chickens grazing on the side of the highway. Nothing is wasted in Morocco, nothing! This also pertains to the small patches of grass on the side (or even in between two sections of ) the highway. This one is more common outside the city, as you head into rural areas, but you will often seen shepherds (yes there are real life shepherds in Morocco – they aren’t just in storybooks) taking their herds to these patches of grass to graze. Near my father in law’s house one day, we had to stop for about 5 minutes while we waited for the sheep to cross the road!
6.) People carrying things in vehicles you’d never thought would be carried there. (My husband and I call these thinking outside the box moments). This one encompasses so many things, and is hard to explain, so here are some examples: The man on a bike (a pedal bike) carrying the front fender from a car as he rides down the road. Four sheep riding in the backseat of a BMW. A sewer system strapped to the top of a brand new car. Two guys riding on a motor scooter, each carrying large jugs of some liquid (we think it was olive oil). You get the picture – if there is a way to transport what needs to be transported – it will be figured out.
7.) Wild cats nursing baby cats on the street. This specific example we actually saw at the open air market near our house a few days ago. A mommy cat laying on her side while 4 baby cats nursed. However, we are very familiar with wild (stray) cats, as they live all over our neighborhood (and most neighborhoods in Casablanca). They are often seen as helpers, not pests – as they keep the true pests (rats and roaches) at bay. However, that can depend on their numbers and the issues you have in different neighborhoods. We don’t mind them – in fact my kids love to watch the babies play around the street, although they have been warned that they are not pets, and not to be picked up.
8.) A police officer changing the light from green to red. I have yet to figure this one out – but yes most large intersections (which are actually a meeting of 5 or 6 roads in a circle roundabout or rompoan) have street lights that are controlled by a police officer. You can see the man standing at the control station with a key and when the traffic begins to back up, he changes the light. Unfortunately, everyone knows this man is in charge of the light, so when traffic builds up, they lay on the horns (heavier than normal) to get his attention and make sure he changes the light – believe me this can get quite loud!
9.) Street cleaners who come to clean the street with a broom and a garbage can. I see this one as a plus and a minus. It’s a plus because it provides jobs and aims towards clean streets (something very lacking in Casablanca), but I also see it as a minus because people have no problem throwing trash on the street, as they know the street cleaner will come by and clean it up, so they don’t feel any responsibility to find a trash can. I will say that trash cans are hard to find, as scrap metal is a serious business and anything metal will be taken by someone looking to make a buck. However, either way, the street cleaner does come – on foot, with a broom and a garbage can every day. The garbage truck comes every other day to pick up trash left on the street (not always in trash cans or dumsters) in small grocery bags – not the large garbage bags we think of in the states. It is not rare for the cats to have gone through the trash, or for people to separate out certain things from their trash (we often put old bread in a bag and leave it in telephone booths for the homeless, and put chicken bones and meat pieces in a separate bag for the cats and dogs), also homeless or the less fortunate will often go through trash for things that can be sold – such as plastic bottles, metal cans etc.
10.) Musicians walking down the street drumming and swinging the tassles on their hats. I think this is Ramadan specific, but my kids LOVE it and I couldn’t end the post without mentioning it. Men with drums and ghanoas have come down our street on multiple times playing, dressed in traditional Moroccan musician outfits, which include long tassles on their hats that they swing by twisting their neck around. I assume they are looking for money, as they will stop if you come out on the balcony to watch and wait for someone to give them a few dirhams. It is a great show they put on, and I generally will send Kal down with a few dirhams!
This completes my list for you – but trust me, this list could go on FOREVER! I do not have pictures of these things, because I am trying not to look too much like a tourist, going around taking pictures of things that the average Moroccan considers common place. It is starting to be common enough to us that we don’t point, or go “Hey, look!” anymore, but I’m not sure they will ever be so common to me that I won’t notice.