The place was flooded with oranges. It was orange and red, the sand a deep rusty hue. Orange trees lining the pavements wherever you go. Giant cacti and prickly pear plans replacing the ivy on house walls. Markets everywhere, carts piled high with citrus oranges and greens. Vendors handing out orange juice, orange peels by the thousands, piled up by the gutter, along with fish spines and bits of brightly coloured material. Alleyways filled with empty, shuttered shops and tall buildings springing up everywhere by the month.
Oranges and fish. Markets and spices. Haughty prideful patriotism. This was Casablanca.
I did not see the Casablanca that tourists see. I was sucked right into everyday family life, because I was visiting distant relatives.
The White house. In Arabic, ‘Addarul-Baydhaa’.
It was not as beautiful as it sounded, when you got down to the nitty gritty. There were far too many people and way too many cars. But there was beauty if you dared to explore. If you waded through the traffic of spluttering cars and cantering horses, the odd mule and innumerable donkeys, you would be greeted by beautiful red desert plains and sunny, sandy beaches.
There was a magnificent white mosque sitting on the water, with the sun reflecting its pristine architecture and the deep blue sky behind forming a serene backdrop to its beautiful image, waves crashing behind.
I did not fall in love with the city at first. In fact, I hated it. I hated the way everything was such a hassle, and how the government did not cater to its people. I hated the cockroaches that teemed the streets, scuttling confidently over the white powder put there to keep them away. I hated the way vendors shoved their ware in your face.
But those were shallow, unimportant things. As I spent more time there, the people began to find a way into my heart. They were so generous, and eager to please and inform. They loved to show their home and their city off to you. They had such pride in their hearts for their beautiful homeland, and gave so very much when they had so little themselves.
They had love in their hearts. A deep, warming love that unfurled its leaves through the earth and spread like ivy along the cracks in the roads. Neighbours were like family and the sense of community was fiery. People went out of their way to make you comfortable.
Soon the little peeves became things to smile about, in fond recollection.
I didn’t feel as though I belonged there at first. I felt isolated and too western. I didn’t feel like I had roots there at all, but they welcomed me and treated me like I was one of their own, even though I was very different from them. I fell in love with Casablanca and her beautiful sunsets. The way the calls to prayer rose gently to the sky, the wide smiles and friendly shouts from complete strangers, the warm, rough hands of thousands of aunts, kneading bread and combing hair.