My First Visit to a Mosque

The highlight of my visit to Casablanca (Casa) was by far my visit to the Hassan II Mosque. I met my guide, Anis (pronounced and named after the spice) who again spoke French and had a fabulous one on one tour of the mosque, which is the third largest mosque in the world (after Mecca and Medina).

The mosque was built from 1986 to 1993, and required over 10,000 artisans and 12,500 workers to complete the work. They worked day and night, non-stop.

The minaret (the tower) is the largest in the world (200 m above sea level) and is quite impressive.

Here are some more shots of the outside of the mosque and the minaret:

The colors of the mosque symbolize the colors of Islam: Green and White. Green symbolized peace and white represents universalism.

I was in awe with the immense beauty of the mosque and it’s exquisite detail:

This is my favorite picture…the sun just happened to capture me and lighten my soul:

The inside of the mosque holds a capacity of 25,000 people and the outside courtyard area holds up to 80,000 people.

This is the ONLY mosque in all of Morocco that allows tourists inside (due to ancient French law, not due to religious reasons).

The official religion of the Moroccan kingdom is Islam (Sunite Malekile) and there are about 70% practicing Muslims. In the Islam religion, there are five official daily prayers at: Dawn, Mid-morning, Mid-Afternoon, Sunset and Night. Each day a minute is added to the prayer time to reflect the change in the rising and setting of the sun. The call of prayer can be heard throughout Morocco and the first time I heard it, I was mesmerized. It is loud and melodic, calling all Muslims to come to prayer. An amazing event to experience!

The inside of the mosque is constructed with all Moroccan materials. The ceiling is made with Moroccan cedar that is sculptured and then painted in beautiful colors and images.

Here is a picture of the elaborately decorated ceiling:

The mosque has three levels. The bottom floor level contains the fountains of water for purification. Men and women each have a separate door to enter and separate rooms that contain 41 marble fountains full of water where Muslims wash every external part of their body before they are allowed to enter the mosque.

Women and men are completely separate in a mosque. Women are allowed only on the second level and there is a capacity of up to 5,000 women. Here is a picture of where the women stay:

Here is a picture of the “jalousie” or “moucharabia”, an intricately carved door made out of cedar where women can “hide” and not be seen:

Other interesting facts about the mosque:

1. The ceiling completely opens up so you can see and have contact with the sky which is extremely important for Muslims.

2. Le Mihrab: Is like the alter in a church where the IMAM (leader of prayer) heads the prayer. It is of course facing Mecca.

3. There are four positions of prayer, called in french, Les genuflections. First, you face Mecca and greet by lowering your head to show humility. Second, you place your hands on your knees. Third, you slightly flex your knees. Fourth, you lay on the ground on your knees with your forehead touching the ground.

4. Muslims only use right hand to greet and eat. Left hand if for doing the “other” dirty stuff involved with being a human (i.e. blowing nose, using bathroom, etc).

5. Muslims are called to prayer five times per day as mentioned above. However, Moroccans are the most modern Muslims in the world thus it is not obligatory that you go to the mosque five times a day to pray.

6. There are varying degrees of how religious a person is. Just like in the States.

7. Not all women where the hijab (veil). Many more women are dressing western nowadays.

What I discovered is that Islam is a very fascinating religion. Obviously it is a religion that is very misunderstood thus I look forward to sharing what I find.


An Afternoon in Casablanca

After my experience in the Rabat medina, I was utterly exhausted yet for some reason, I kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. I couldn’t stop. I was mesmerized by what I’d seen and the Casbah was only a short walk away. The sun was beginning to set and cast a beautiful rainbow of pinks, reds and oranges against the whitewashed buildings of Rabat, and the Casbah’s grand presence was overwhelmingly alluring. So, instead of going back and relaxing I crossed the busy street, jay-walking, following the well-versed Moroccans and headed over to see one of Rabat’s oldest parts of the city.

The Casbah is a lovely, tranquil place to wander. There are beautiful, hidden alleyways and whitewashed buildings with varying hues of blues. It is mostly residential now and apparently many rich foreigners are buying up the picturesque homes. At the end, you enter and enormous open space which affords a spectacular view of the river and the sea. It is gorgeous and I could have spent an hour there just relaxing if it wasn’t for the hordes of teenage Moroccan men who were obviously on the prowl. I couldn’t help laughing that a young man who could practically be my child was harassing me in french and giving me looks! If only they knew I was almost 40!

Here are some photos of the Casbah:
View approaching the Casbah from across the street:

View looking down in central Rabat:

Inside the whitewashed walls of the Casbah:

The view of the ocean and Rabat from the Casbah:

I returned to the hotel at seven o’clock, extremely tired yet knew that I had to stay up. That is the number one rule of jet lag. You must remain awake all day long and if you sleep during the day, you are finished! So, despite the fatigue, I grabbed my glass of wine that I saved from my Air France flight to Rabat and headed upstairs to the Riad’s rooftop terrace. The view was spectacular and there was little noise except a couple of nearby chickens. I savored my wine and then headed downstairs for a delicious Moroccan meal of Chicken tagine with a seventy-year-old couple from Boston who were traveling with their thirteen-year-old grandson. It was their grandson’s first trip out of the US and he was in for quite an adventure (which included a trip to the Sahara desert for a camel ride, a hike in the Atlas Mountains and visit to Berber villages and a journey to magnificent Fez). Wow! The dinner was delightful and I enjoyed my first glass of Moroccan Red Wine. It was so ironic to be drinking wine in a Muslim country yet I was soon to discover that Morocco is much more modern than any other Islamic country in the world. The Muslims of course are forbidden to drink alcohol yet it is widely available for tourists and the large sum of ex-pats that live in Rabat and Casablanca.

View from the terrace:

The call to prayer could be heard five times a day from the minaret (tower) off in the distance (starting at 5 am and ending at dusk):

And the chickens could be heard at the neighboring residences:

It was lights out by 9:30 PM. I was proud of myself for making it so long! What a wild and crazy day! The United States, an eight hour flight, a visit to Paris for a cup of cafe creme, a flight to Rabat, a visit in search of body lotion to a souq and my first Moroccan meal! I’m tired just remembering all the things I did in a twenty-four hour period….nuts!

I slept hard for four hours, then was up for two (when I decided to write on my blog) then back asleep again until 7:30am. Not bad for my first night in Morocco!

Breakfast was served on the terrace. I was served a traditional Moroccan meal that included Moroccan crepes, mint bread, coffee and four wonderful, homemade condiments to put on the crepes.

Here is a picture of my meal: From left to right, the condiments are Honey, Strawberry jam, Apricot Jam, and best of all, olive tapenade! (I initially thought it was some kind of date jam but was pleasantly surprised):

Me looking very tired:

The morning view of Rabat:

I was really looking forward to the day ahead. I had hired a driver, Mohammed (same driver that picked me up at the airport) to take me to Casablanca (aka “Casa”) where I would meet a french-speaking guide and receive a city tour. Thank goodness I speak French because French is the second language of Morocco thus most Moroccans speak Arabic and French. English is rare.

The drive to Casa is about an hour south of Rabat, following the Atlantic Ocean. There is not much along the way except farms and countryside. Mohammed was very proud to inform me about the government’s great improvement plans to the infrastructure. A third lane is currently being added to the autoroute linking Rabat to Morocco.

I was still feeling jet-lagged yet Mohammed could not stop talking to me so I used the opportunity to learn more about Morocco. Some of the interesting things Mohammed told me include:

1. The name Mohammed is the most popular male name in Morocco and is given to the oldest son. Means “The Prophet”.

2. Fatima: Is the most popular female name. It means “Daughter of Mohammed”.

3. The government in Morocco does not give unemployment benefits. So if you don’t work, you are out of luck.

4. Average cost of petrol: 11 Dirhams/1 Euro per litre of gas.

5. In Morocco, now about 50% of women work. The generation before was only 1-2%.

6. Population of Casa city center is 5 million.

7. Rick’s Cafe is a HOAX! Movie Casablanca was fllmed completely in Hollywood studio. Producer had never been to Casa. There is a fabricated Rick’s Cafe in Casa. Tourist deal.

8. Casa hosts the first McDonalds in all of Africa. It opened on December 18th, 1994 (funny fact here: that is my guides birthday AND my husbands birthday…December 18th!).
Here is a photo of McDo:

We had lunch outside at a posh Parisien style cafe overlooking the beach in Casa:

Besides the public beaches, you can also go to one of the four main outdoor pools for the day:

I also saw this cafe which made me laugh because I am originally from the town of Excelsior in Minnesota:

Coming up in my next post….. My next stop was to the only mosque in Morocco that allows visitors inside.


Searching for Body Lotion in a Moroccan Medina

The flight to Rabat was uneventful except for all the crying babies who kept me awake. I was really looking forward to sleeping the entire way yet it wasn’t in the cards.

As we made our approach, I looked out the window longingly at the beautiful countryside and array of colors. There were greens, earth tones, yellows and the brilliant blue sea. It was gorgeous. The landscape was such a contrast to brown, barren Minnesota! It was like eye candy and I gobbled it up.

We landed safely and I was relieved to finally be here in Africa after such a long journey. For some reason, I didn’t have much luck with customs and was questioned for at least ten minutes about what I was going to be doing in Morocco. It was becoming a pattern. I was stopped in Minneapolis and had the pat down due to an oversize tube of toothpaste, my beloved face lotion was seized at the Paris airport and now I was being grilled over and over again about my volunteer work in Morocco. I think he must have been simply messing with me. I looked tired and was easy bait.

My “chauffeur” met me outside the arrivals gate and we headed to his old white Mercedes car where I practically collapsed into the seat. It was very warm and I was sweltering. Probably due to my Nordic blood.

I was thankful to know French. Yes, it has been eighteen years since I lived in France but suddenly and magically it all came back and it was pouring out. My driver, Mohammed, was full of information and facts about Morocco. I wasn’t in the mood to chat but it helped me stay awake and everything he had to say was of course very interesting.

We arrived at the hotel in less than thirty minutes. I was staying at a Riad, or private historical mansion, in the center of Rabat. The windy, whitewashed walls of the medina were like a maze that somehow lead to the green sign stating RIAD DAR KERIFA. Atlas, we arrived!

Here is a photo of the entrance of the hotel:

The inside of the hotel was like a hidden treasure. One would never know from the outside that there was a gorgeous mansion inside! I was instantly impressed. Here are some pictures of the inside of the raid:

The architecture and furnishings were all traditional Moroccan:

Even the light fixtures were spectacular:

I unpacked my stuff and took a quick shower. There is something about being on a plane and traveling for hours that just makes you feel disgusting. The shower felt fabulous and gave me that much needed second wind and energy to go on my next quest: In search of body lotion in the Moroccan Medina.

I left the hotel and immediately got lost. There were many Moroccans in their traditional attire, the jellaba (hooded robe) and caftans (decorated robes):

The old medina was amazing, like nothing I’d ever experienced. It felt like being in some kind of crazy maze full of endless twists and turns against whitewashed ancient buildings. I somehow managed to find the “souq” or the market. I looked around and realized that I was the only foreigner in sight. But I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Nothing like what I experienced in India. Thus I was able to fully take in the unbelievably overwhelming experience of searching for American Body Lotion in a Moroccan Medina. Ok, I’m at a souq which is an enormous open air market where they sell pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. No big deal, huh? It would be no problem at all to find the lotion and head back to my peaceful, relaxing hotel for a glass of wine. Right! I should have known better! I was in a foreign country, North Africa, to say the least! My mission to find some lotion was absolute madness.

I saw EVERYTHING that is for sure. I saw turtles for sale, ladies underwear fancily displayed (hilarious given I am in a Muslim country), fruit stands packed with dates, olives and figs, jean shops, electronic shops and stuff I couldn’t even guess what it was. It was the most crazy place I’ve ever been. There was shouting, there was chanting, there was clapping….there was absolutely every sales tactic employed to get a sale. It was the most incredible market I’d ever seen! Yet, the lotion was no where to be found.

After two and a half hours of searching frantically, I finally gave in to the pressure of getting a little help. A nice Moroccan man asked if I need his assistance. Yes, this is a no no for sure. I knew he’d probably want money but I was so utterly exhausted and I was lost. He walked me to a place where I purchased some crazy “milk lotion” and then showed me my way back to the riad. He was a friendly guy yet was missing several bottom teeth so I was a little weary but quite frankly too tired to deal with the situation. Finally when I found the way out of the medina and said my farewell, he surprisingly walked away, of course after a request for a small donation, which I gently refused. I was angry with myself for accepting some help but then again, at least I found my lotion!

In the coming week, I know that I’ll definitely be back for more experiences in the souq. Hopefully this time I won’t be so tired and weary! It a place that one could spend hours in. A place of wonder that makes me remember why I travel and see the world.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the market:
Ok, this first one was the beginning where I freaked out because everything looked like it came from a garage sale. But trust me, it got much better:

Now we are talking:

Pet turtles for sale (they bring good luck in Morocco!):

Now the beautiful, fresh dried fruits, olives and figs:

More wonderful things:

Moroccan beauty supplies (for making homemade facials):

Anything is possible to buy (except lotion!)

I returned to the hotel, beyond exhausted, and headed up to the lovely terrace affording a gorgeous sunset view of Rabat. I had a glass of red french wine (which I grabbed from the Air France flight) and listened to the call for prayer from the nearby mosque. This is quite a country!