A few professors at the Ben Msik campus where I’ve been taking classes this year organized a program for a group of visiting American students and their professors. I had the honor of teaching their first seminar: a two hour crash course on Casablanca.
Having to cram for the Casablanca seminar right as I came home from a trip to France, and less than a month before I take off for Chicago, gave me a powerful jolt of excitement for this city, not to mention the rare feeling of having accomplished one of the goals I’d set for this year: to learn about Casablanca. There’s nothing like teaching to confirm what you’ve learned or to expose what you don’t know.
To start, I asked students to give their first impressions of the city along four basic themes—the people, the buildings, the streets, and transportation. They’d been in the city for two days, long enough to have been to a range of places, namely the medina, Maarif, Habbous, and Ben Msik.
The students’ comments focused overwhelmingly on what is possibly the most defining characteristic of Casablanca: contradiction. Students observed that modern buildings sit side by side with old buildings, that some formerly beautiful buildings lay in ruins, that wealth and poverty coexist. Many saw “ordered chaos,” some reported “a lot of traffic, but no accidents.” (If only that were true…)
Another striking sight: “pets” in the streets :-(. This one points to a minor cultural difference that comes up every time my foreign friends or I walk past a stray cat and squeal, “awwww!” Which is to say, every day.