The City and Me (2) A Moroccan Welcome

View of the city: Our writer felt very welcome in Morocco
View of the city: Our writer felt very welcome in Morocco | Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

“This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Anne Allmeling, participant in the Close-Up journalists’ exchange, tells us her Casablanca story.

My flight from Frankfurt to Casablanca is late. Should have known, I think to myself. The Moroccan airline apparently is not very concerned with punctuality. Too bad I have a connecting flight to Rabat. “Will I make it?” I ask the flight attendant. He calms me. “No problem!” A young Moroccan woman turns to me and offers to accompany me to the gate. She is also going to Rabat. How considerate of her, I think. That has never happened to me in Germany.

Hanane and I begin talking. She is returning from a business trip in southern Germany and tells me about her impressions of Nuremberg and her work with a Moroccan telecommunications company. I want to know more. We talk about our families and friends, about our everyday lives in Cologne and Rabat.

When we reach Rabat, Hanane’s suitcase has disappeared. She is crestfallen. The suitcase contains many personal items that are important to her.

A hotel room has been reserved for me in the city centre. Hanane lives close to the airport, but insists on driving me to the hotel in her car. She refuses to listen to my reasoning that I can easily take a taxi. It is already after ten pm. I am speechless at this helpfulness. On the way, Hanane suggests that we go get a bite to eat together. “At this time of night? Will anything be open?” I ask in amazement.

Hanane laughs. Moroccans, she says, can always eat (a sentence I will hear more frequently over the following weeks). So the restaurant kitchens are still open at this hour. Hanane takes me to my hotel, I leave my suitcase and we head to a typical Moroccan restaurant. We are seated outside on the roof terrace. We have fresh mint tea and tajine, a baked potato dish with chicken. Hanane and I talk and talk until we are the last guests.

Finale with couscous

The next day we are already communicating on Facebook. We want to meet up, but something is always in the way. During the three weeks I spend in Rabat, Hanane has to travel to Casablanca three times to take care of her lost suitcase problem, but in vain. I spend a few days in the south of Morocco and we miss each other once again. But we stay in almost daily contact.

Then, shortly before my departure, we do manage to meet again. Hanane invites me to her home for couscous. It is a tradition in Morocco: every Friday following the noon prayer people have the popular national dish. I take the tram to Rabat’s neighbouring town of Salé where Hanane lives. She picks me up at the tram stop and drives me to a street with many cosy little houses. Salé is the “sleeping town: for Moroccans who work in Rabat but cannot or do not want to pay the expensive rents in the capital city.

I am welcomed by Hanane’s mother and father. I also am introduced to three of her sisters, her sister-in-law and little nephew. We converse in English, French and Arabic and laugh a lot. Hanane insisted that I be received in the family’s living room and not in the official best room as is customary for guests. I feel at home here right away. A mountain of couscous is carried in in a huge earthenware bowl and everyone digs in.

I have a little trouble shaping a couscous ball with my right hand, but Hanane’s mother helps me, her sisters give me tips and make sure I get the biggest pieces of vegetables. The meal is delicious. Afterwards, everyone is given a glass of milk and the pastries I brought from my favourite bakery. Then I have to return to Rabat, so Hanane drives me to the city centre.

Late in the evening, she drops by my hotel once again and she is beaming. Her suitcase has been found. Hanane bought me an earthenware pot so that I can make tajine at home and promises me, “I’ll show you how next time I come to Germany.”