After a pleasant train ride from Marrakesh, we got off at one of the stations in Casablanca, where we were met by a fellow named Khalil, whom we’d be seeing quite a bit of during the coming three weeks. He was a driver and general factotum of British Language Academy, our next volunteer post.
April 26 – Choo Choo Train Leaving Marrakesh
He drove us to the school’s downtown office, where we met Harim, the school director with whom we’d been in touch and made arrangements. Formerly a distinguished high school teacher, Harim founded BLA, which now has 4 campuses. We’d be putting in some time at each of them, having requested the variety — though we also made it clear that we were perfectly willing to go wherever needed.
The first was in Berrechid, about half an hour’s ride from Casablanca. Our train actually had passed through there on the way, but the station was a goodly distance from our destination; and Harim was going there anyway, so he chauffeured us to the door, allowing us an opportunity to get acquainted.
It was mid-afternoon when we pulled up in front of Berrechid BLA, where we were introduced to the staff, shown our quarters, and met our four fellow volunteers. These were Trevor, a sixty-ish Brit; Jason, a forty-ish New Zealander; Derek, a twenty-something from the San Francisco Bay Area (our former stomping grounds); and Vincent, a thirty-ish lad from Little Rock, Arkansas — about 100 miles from where Dennis grew up. We all got along great together and worked well together, and had some interesting conversations with a lot of laughs.
There were 3 dorms, each with 6 beds, give or take. Theoretically, one dorm was for males, one for females, and one for couples. But since Trevor had staked out the couples’ dorm for himself, and we gather, wasn’t keen on relocating, we were assigned the female dorm, which was unoccupied. Except that there was a female housekeeper who apparently had been using it as her base of operations, even taking occasional naps on one of the beds. (There was also a fulltime teacher who lived upstairs somewhere, but she apparently had all her facilities separate, because we never saw her except at work.)
There were sheets on the beds, but only bottom sheets, and we were a bit leery of them. They may have been perfectly clean when installed, but we didn’t know how long they’d been there. What we did know is that people were accustomed to dumping dirty backpacks and all manner of other things onto them, right where people sleep. The housekeeper even stood on one of them to open a window. There were extra sheets in a cabinet, not only enough to change the ones on our beds, but to add a top sheet. And we resolved to wash them as soon as possible. (We also decided to purchase our own damn sheets as soon as we could, since we kept encountering this sort of problem.)
And it wasn’t hard to wash the sheets, since for once we didn’t have to do it manually. There was actually, wonder of wonders, a washing machine. Next to it was the shower, which, if all the cosmic factors lined up just right, actually produced a little hot water — which has been just about as much a luxury as a washer on this tour.
The rooftop had plenty of clothesline for drying our laundry, which dried pretty fast up there. There was also ample space for doing yoga, tai chi, kung fu, and other assorted fitness undertakings. It became the de facto exercise facility for just about all of us. Sometimes several of us would be up there working out at once, turning the rooftop into a regular penthouse YMCA.
The kitchen was well-equipped and spacious enough for all of us to be preparing meals at once — which often happened. On Friday, the housekeeper made lunch for all of us, which she cooked in a tajine (one of those conical clay cooking pots we’ve been seeing everywhere). It was, we learned, a tradition to have this communal couscous every Friday at the school. This one, which we were able to watch being prepared, was quite tasty, with plenty of vegetables. (There was also chicken on the bottom, which we easily could avoid. ) The cook, evidently abstaining from Ramadan fasting, dug in with the rest of us — literally dug in, deftly, in Moroccan fashion, with her fingertips.
The classrooms were on the two floors just above us, so it was not a difficult commute. The way our sessions worked was that all four of us would converge onto the same classroom, and each of us would single out a cluster of 3 or 4 students for the class period, and engage them in conversation — everybody at once, which made things get a little frenetic. We’d chat with them about whatever they were interested in — or about particular topics they’d been studying in their lessons. This might cover subjects like shopping, dating, entertainment, you name it. Sometimes they’d come with a list of questions to pose to us.
Two of the female students invited Vincent and Jason to go out with them one night, and of course they accepted. The ladies drove them all the way to Casablanca, where they attended a fancy jazz club. It was an establishment that normally would have served liquor, but that was off the table with Ramadan in full swing. (Reportedly, some 80 men were arrested in these parts just for eating in public during Ramadan fasting hours!.) Booze or no booze, we hear a good time was had by all.
It’s not hard to see why they would have opted for a night out in Casablanca as opposed to a night out in Berrechid. There just isn’t a great deal to choose from in the latter. But Berrechid did have its charms, and we found our habitual strolls quite appealing. (There was also one particular attraction well worth frequenting, but we’ll save that for another day.)
There were plenty of nearby produce vendors and a couple of fairly large supermarkets that supplied almost all we needed. The mosques were close enough that their frequent calls to prayer contributed to the ambience but far enough away that they didn’t disturb our sleep.
Berrechid wasn’t paradise, but it was a step or two up from Oulad Teima. And British Language Academy was a huge leap up from our previous volunteering position.
April 26-28, 2022