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RIAD HAMDANI, CASABLANCA: MOROCCAN MINT TEA AT MIDNIGHT

RIAD HAMDANI, CASABLANCA: MOROCCAN MINT TEA AT MIDNIGHT

26 December 2016

The flight is about to leave Casablanca for its 6 hours 40 minutes flight to Hamad International Airport in Doha. It all seem so recent, I was passing through here just a few days ago
1400 hours local time, the aircraft leaves the gate.
What was once an American Base with its neatly built housing for the personnel gives way to green rolling hills. It looked so pretty from up here. A nice country to explore, I thought to myself.
Yesterday morning, under the foggy skies of Bretagne, I had been driven from Quiberon from the peninsula bearing the same name to the airport at Nantes, through eerie highway devoid of much traffic on that Christmas morning. After a nice stop at Lisboa, I arrived at Mohammed V international airport close to midnight.
Travelling to and fro Morocco, much like India, if the ticket had been bought on line, one has to produce the credit card in person, which can usually be done at the airport at check in. I had panicked the night before as TAP web site kept on saying that one of its flights , the one from Lisbon to Casablanca was ‘’not disponible’, and I couldn’t locate those flights on other sites, mistaking it to have been cancelled. I had to call the call Centre and talked to an unsympathetic bossy lady who ordered me to email TAP with particulars of my credit card, passport details etc. One hour later TAP had cleared me to check in on line and was able to get the seats I wanted. But by then I had not confirmed by accommodation for the night in Casablanca.
As luck would have it, or as Indians would say, things happen for a reason, I saw the name of Riad Hamdani, for the first time. It looked like a charming Bed and Breakfast establishment, I telephoned the number given and spoke to a kind man who assured me that a room is available and that someone will pick me up at the Airport which was a short five minute ride away.
On arrival I was first in line at the Immigration and within minutes I was outside at the chilly air. As I had spoken to a man, with a stylish French accent, I was expecting him but a pleasant European lady approached me and said, are you waiting for Riad Hamdani, and took me to the waiting car.
Riad Hamdani has been in existence for slightly over one year and now has ten rooms, there are spacious gardens and an open air seating as well as an indoor dining area, where the complimentary breakfast could be had, facing a large enough pool. The lady, Mrs. Hamdani is Belgian from the northeastern part of Belgium close to the Dutch Border as well as the German one exuded warmth. She had the countenance of a person who had lived in Morocco for a long time. As we introduced ourselves, I mentioned that I am an Anthropologist which delighted her as her daughter was studying Sociology and was on a year abroad project at Laval University in Quebec. I was to find out that these two things, Belgium and Anthropology were not only the interests we shared.













Our conversation began spontaneously and began with Morocco, which obviously she loves very much and I am fond of.
An anthropologic discussion on the worldview of the immigrants in Europe especially those who had gone there from Morocco followed. They were in search of better economic situation, they had very little here, neither education nor property, and they couldn’t take that special charm of Morocco, the relationships and village kinship and the religious piety and they arrived in Belgium, stripped off much of their sense of self and having to make sense of their new life.
A strange twist to this incongruity was that they became more religious, in fact more Moroccans seemed be donning the Hijab in Belgium than in Morocco, the educational opportunities were missed and a community of exile and alienation was formed. It is true that there are cultures into which it is difficult to integrate yourself into, such as a cultural identity of being Flemish, which not only has to include your language skills, but a deeper understanding of the history of the Flemish people. They had given up their Moroccan identity or did not nurture it, so that they became very liminal, neither here nor there, much like a boat without an anchor. And became fodders for radical Islamic preachers who arrived to give them comfort in an alternate view of the world incompatible with the enlightened world view of Europeans. One thing she said, which she attributed to her husband, really impressed me. She had read the Koran and as we all know there is no provisions for head to toe coverage of women, there is a prescription of modesty as it exists in all religions. Why are not the men diverting their eyes away from temptation if that is the true cause of this isolation but the women win by telling the world: Our men are perverts and we have to cover ourselves up to protect ourselves. There is some truth to it, in that incest occurs at a much higher rate in Moslem countries or in countries which are multiracial, such as Malaysia where there are Moslem Malays and minority Chinese and Indians, the rates of incest are much higher among the Malays.
Our conversation was flowing along and she offered to make some Moroccan mint tea and offered some sweets. I brought into the conversation, Bernard Lewis and his interpretation of the progress or lack thereof in the Islamic world in recent history; talked about Cuba and its magnanimous history of Humanitarian medical help. More and more tea was drunk and she told me about her family and her life here in Casablanca, I would meet her husband Mohammed Hamdani the next morning and about her daughter and also about the Riad which has existed only for a short while.
I thought of the other times when I had to seek out shelter at the Atlas Sky Airport Hotel which is just a place to sleep and without any great charm and the front desk staff too harried to even chat to you. The hotel complex and the Airport have the same family of owners, so the conflict of interest overrides the necessity of pleasing the customer. Casablanca is the hub for the national carrier, Royal Air Maroc and many a connecting passenger has to spend the night and the only place available until recently near the airport was the Atlas Sky Relax Hotel complex.
I thought to myself, this is what an ideal layover accommodation should be. Short distance from the airport, genial hosts, spacious accommodations in pleasing surroundings and one could have morning coffee and breakfast if you like before departing for the airport. The Atlas Sky Relax airport hotel does not offer complimentary breakfasts.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Hamdani were amicable, full of advice lest you wish to explore the rest of Casablanca or Morocco and very knowledgeable about the situation in Morocco, in a loving fashion rather than a pragmatic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and look forward to my next stay there and will get their advice about exploring Casablanca.
As befits a Riad or for a westerner, a bed and breakfast establishment, the rooms are large and comfortable with attached bathroom, with hot water which is necessary when the temperature drops in the morning under the blue star lit sky of Morocco. There is a heater air conditioner on site.
I recommend that you book directly on their website, riadhamdani.com and in Google searches as travelers know most of the initial websites belong to on line travel agencies. I was also told that some hotel chains such as Atlas shows preferences to the agencies through which accommodation is booked, but for a small establishment which is a very personal affair I recommend that you book directly on their website.
One thing about the changing face of tourism in Morocco was of interest, the influx of Chinese tourists. Morocco like many other countries around the world has abolished visas for Chinese nationals and there are arriving in their hundreds and would be soon in their thousands bringing their own peculiar Chinese cultural preferences. On the breakfast table I enjoyed the Moroccan pancake which looked and tasted like Parrotta of Kerala and Sri Lanka. Chinese guests much prefer hot water and a package of noodles. And Of course the Chinese manners take a little getting used to, and most of the Chinese visitors seem to be monolingual.
One thing is very certain and it is reinforced to me each and every time I am in Morocco, these are genuinely nice people. Please do not judge Morocco by the Moroccan people you would meet outside or are descendants of Moroccan migrants. Migration whether from India or Morocco alters ones sensibilities, as I see it every day among Cubans in the island and Cuban migrants to Miami, and from an anthropological stand point of view very rarely are these changes very positive.
So on this short stopover in Casablanca, my respect for Moroccans has increased and I have made two friends: Mr. and Mrs. Hamdani of Riad Hamdani