I think I always know when I feel settled in a place when I start venturing out of my familiar neighborhoods. One of the perks of working at an American institution in a North African country is that you get to celebrate all the holidays. We had two days off for American Thanksgiving…. and then the following Friday off to commemorate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. With so many days off in a row I could have planned a quick trip to Europe… or anywhere really, but I chose to stay home. Well, sort of. I stayed close to home.
El Jadida is a small sleepy town south of Casablanca. There’s not a lot going on there except the old Portuguese City and it’s cistern (now a UNESCO World Heritage site). Over the gate hangs a coat of arms, presumably from the time when this old city was bustling with Portuguese business. The old city is still bustling – but now there are the carpet merchants, ceramics and leather goods sellers, patiently waiting for some tourists to wander into their shop. Outside the Portuguese city is where live really happens now. After sunset, street food vendors are on every corner, the sidewalks overflow with people out and about haggling over the price of everything from recycled car parts to broom handles. But inside the walls it’s quieter. The ancient walls that separate the city from the ocean are weathered and rounded from centuries of use. Children now clamber up and down, leaning out over the ocean scaring their mothers and throwing things over the side. Maybe some things remain the same through the passage of time. Once this city must have been quite the hub of activity. Now it’s quiet. There is an old empty cistern with vaulted ceilings. Once used for water collection and storage it is now a museum of sorts. For ten dirham you can go in and breath in the musty smell of hundreds of years of wet stone, the air cold and moist. For no dirhams at all you can walk up and stand on the walls, look out over the Atlantic Ocean ,and think about all the ships that have sailed into this port over the centuries and the people who have lived and continue to live life in this sleepy little town on the far western edge of Africa.
“Two tickets, please.”