After teaching a few days at British Language Academy in Berrechid, Morocco, we were picked up, along with fellow volunteer Jason, and driven to Casablanca, where our van collected two more volunteers – these brand new, freshly arrived in town. From there we had a drive of about another 45 minutes to El Jadida, site of another branch of the school. This campus was going to have a busy Saturday, and it needed all, or least most, hands on deck.
Although the sessions we were being summoned for didn’t begin until mid-afternoon, we were transported there in the morning so we’d all have time to get out and explore this colorful historic seaport of El Jadida.
El Jadida means something like “the new”, even though it’s actually rather old. Founded by Portugal as a seaside fortress-city in the Sixteenth Century, it was taken over by the Moroccans a couple of centuries later, but still retains much of its Portuguese flavor, especially in its historic structures.
After stopping at the school to drop off such belongings as we’d toted along for a day’s outing, we all went our separate ways to see what we could see. The first order of business was to round up some grub, which was a bit of a challenge with many restaurants being closed at this time of day because of Ramadan, and the grocery stores being few and skimpy. There were, however, plenty of produce stands.
Naturally the first place we wanted to see up close was Mazagan Fortress (Mazagan was the city’s original name) along the shore, which still looks pretty much as it has for the past five centuries, except that the cannons are a bit rustier. Strolling through the gate to the original heart of the city, a walled Renaissance era settlement with narrow alleys/ streets, we ascended the stairs to the top of the battlements, getting a commanding view of the sea just as the watchmen had way back in the city’s early days. At first, we had the platforms pretty much to ourselves except for a lone female tourist and a lone male local (he was trying to pick her up).
Near the Fortress is the Portuguese Cistern, which is about the same age. Reportedly constructed originally as some sort of warehouse (probably to store weapons and/or ammunition), it was converted into a cistern in 1514. Its distinctive Manueline architecture has made it a frequent filming site – most notably for the 1951 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello directed by Orson Welles. So it really would have been on our must-see list. Unfortunately, it was temporarily closed.
But we enjoyed walking through the bustling streets and the marketplace of El Jadida. All the while, we were keeping an eye out for those new bedsheets we’ve been hankering for. But alas, we didn’t find any such, anywhere we looked. Not even in a shop that actually specialized in bedding.
Back at the school, we had our lunch and relaxed a while before our shift was to begin. And we got a good look at the accommodations we’d be using a few days later when we’d come back here for a resident stint. They were the most spartan quarters we’ve encountered yet: one room with two beds (one of which Jason was using to crash on at the moment), a small bathroom, and a “kitchen” that consisted of a tiny nook with a sink and a few dishes and utensils, plus a single gas burner. No refrigerator, which is a most useful thing to have. Oh, and quite a few cockroaches, pretty much the first of those varmints we’d seen on this entire tour. So we started trying to figure out some sort of homespun repellent for them. Ultimately, we settled on baking soda, with uncertain results.
Meanwhile, Dennis was really, really craving a cup of tea – just enough of a caffeine kick to get him through the rest of the day – and he hadn’t brought any along. So he took a stroll in search of a hot cup, only to come up empty. He was desperate enough that he would have settled for McDonald’s, but the one we passed coming into town was as couple of miles away. So sadly he returned back to the school, and lo and behold, a tea bag had appeared on the counter in the kitchen, among the oddments of food that people had abandoned or left to share. Clearly it was a miraculous gift from Allah, and not to be questioned. So start the water boiling already.
The classes we taught that afternoon, for our WorkAway exchange, were fun and lively, with groups of young and middle-aged professionals – and one younger fellow whose ambition was to be a professional boxer, an ambition he took most seriously. There were some interesting discussions about their country, their culture and their government. And they also were curious about ours. So we told them a little about these things, and even tried to explain the Electoral College. It didn’t make sense to them, either.
We finished up our classes in late afternoon, piled into the van, and headed back to our “home” in Berrechid. Along the way, we passed the aftermath of a horrendous accident. A large truck had overturned onto the shoulder, and one person was killed – we could see his body covered up. Because it was a very wide shoulder, with space on the other side of it, there was plenty of clearance, and traffic was not being blocked, at least not yet.
And on that somber note, we returned to Berrechid, and settled in for a night’s rest in preparation for a full day at the school Sunday.
Birds belong here
April 29, 2022