A Sister In Casablanca
I loved the old movie, Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. So romantic. But, did you know not one scene of that movie was shot in Casablanca? All in Hollywood. How disappointing!
46 years ago, my sister Liz lived in Casablanca for awhile. Her husband Carter was stationed there at Nouasseur AB two years. I remember Sis was never impressed with Casablanca or Morocco either. Of course, she was a young mother who had never really been away from her large l family of 10 people. It was difficult for her to adjust to the change.
She shared with me about her life in Casablanca, Morocco in 1962.
“The people here all wear heavy robes and hoods all the time, hot or cold weather. Anytime they get sleepy they lay down wherever they are and go to sleep. They pull that hood over their eyes and curl up in that robe. I don’t know if any of them are homeless, but if they are I don’t think it would bother them too much. The women all wear veils and those robes and hoods. They are really a sight, but you know I heard that in the summer they go to the beach and wear bikinis! Isn’t that something?”
“The farmers live in little old shacks that looks like tee-pees and made of grass. They look worse than a chicken coop. They have these villages all along the road to the base here. They have houses built onto houses. Some are just lean-to, one side and just a back and top. They have a wall built around them and they put all their animals inside the wall at night. It is really funny looking to see these little old shacks with this big wall around it and all the animals inside it. You can hardly see the shack for the animals. It is so sad.”
“Also, the people all go to the bathroom in the middle of the street or where ever they are. My friend, Carol has seen about 4 different men stripped and standing side of the road. She was so embarrassed."
She went on, “Up to about a week ago they were going through a phase here of what is called Ramadan. They don’t eat from sun up to sun down. When it was over last week, they had this big feast and celebration. I don’t know where it was, but my friends told me that the Arabs all go wild and do crazy things like killing people. Where we are at the hotel, we didn’t see anything though. It was really quiet here and there were hardly any people around on the streets or anything. I am told the men get really mean and won’t work, because they haven’t eaten in so long. From our hotel, you can see the beach and a friend here have seen some Arabs go and pray at the beach, during the week, doing all these rituals.”
She said, “Living here at the hotel is okay. The rooms only cost us $6.50 a day, and the meals are only $1.15 each. (Remember? This was 1962). The dinner at night is a 5 course meal. They serve you family style. First they serve you French bread and butter (delicious), then soup (also delicious), then they serve meat with some kind of vegetable, then another meat with vegetable, then cheese, and last comes dessert, which is usually fruit. If I keep eating like this I will get fat!”
Her children loved staying at the hotel, which had a large yard on a side street, with a wall around it for the kids to play in, and the hotel staff watched the kids all the time, to keep them safe. She spent a lot of time in the lobby visiting with other couples and wives, there from the air base, that were all waiting for housing to be available there. A patio was nearby, where the men spent time playing ping-pong that was set up there.
Also near the lobby was a bar, of course. They didn’t hang out at the bar, but some of the couples did.
She was disgusted with one couple, “There is this one sergeant and his wife with six kids. They make the kids stay in their room and eat sandwiches and the parents go down to the dining room and eat steak and guzzle beer. I have seen them drinking a lot. They have a daughter about 15 years old and she takes care of the kids while they sit down in the bar all night. I have heard the mother griping about the trouble it is having so many kids. Honestly! Some people! "
Only a few people in the hotel spoke English. That helped a little. One hotel they stayed at, no one spoke English and it was very difficult. She said the hotel staff there at this hotel was so sweet and would do anything for you. The beach was also nearby, and some days she took the kids to the beach to swim. They loved the ocean and the waves.
Casablanca is on the Atlantic Ocean. There were nights they slept with their windows open and as she lay there in the dark, her husband asleep beside her, she could hear the crash and roar of the waves outside. It was both exciting and foreign and a little scary. So far away from Texas and all that she knew that was familiar was a little frightening.
Here she was with a husband she was trying to understand. A “Yankee” from Vermont, who called cars “automobiles”, and creeks “cricks”, and going downtown “going down street”. Now here she was in a strange, foreign country, on the other side of the world, among people who walked around in long robes and their faces covered.
But one thing she was grateful for, and that was having her children nearby and all the new friends she was making from the States, who were in the same boat as she was. They too were lonely, with their husbands at the base working all day, while they sat bored and a little afraid to venture out in the strange city of Casablanca. So, in a way, this short interval in Casablanca, at the hotel, was a sort of vacation for the U. S. Air Force families.
But after three months in a hotel it began to get old. Finally, in April that year, their 90 days were up at the hotel, and they had to move to the El Zhan Apartments in Casablanca. A nice change but yet another move.
She said then, “If one looks at Casablanca from a long way off, it looks real nice, but when you get inside of it, you have a different picture altogether. There are some sections that look real nice, but they are small and far apart. We went up to Rabat last month and that is a much nicer city than Casablanca. They keep it clean. Maybe that is because that is where the King lives! Our pipeline runs right by it and you can’t see the palace, except for a big wall around it and plenty of guards to go with it.”
Then May came, and my sister wrote with the news, “We finally got our house on base. I am so glad. It is just like being in the States. When we drive out the gate, it is like going into a different world. It feels really weird. It is a nice big house, sort of stucco. We have a water cooler, because it is so hot here. And no rain. They say in the summer we must put blankets over the windows to keep the sun and heat out, and the house will stay cool all summer. (She later related to me this is what they did indeed have to do).”
She wrote later, “I have a maid here, who we call Fatima, and she comes once a week, to do washing or anything else I need for her to do. It is very inexpensive. Also, Carter has a gardener, and he has planted us a garden, with lots of vegetables. That will be nice. The gardener is cheap too.”
She ended with, “We haven’t been anywhere since we went to Rabat in April. There are rumors going around that they are going to close Nouasseur AB. They claim the King isn’t going to renew the contracts, by the end of 1963, because they want the base for an International Airport.” (They eventually did close that air base).
My sister and her husband and children stayed in Casablanca, Morocco until July 1963. They very seldom left the base. Their life centered on the activities there, the chapel, and all their friends. Lisa started school there at the American base. It was a good time and a lonely time.
Now my sister Elizabeth, says she wishes she had been there when she was older, then she could appreciate it more. Back then, she was only learning how to survive with a new life, a new husband, raising children and being away from her big loving family.
Casablanca now has over 3 million people and is a modern thriving city. The pictures of Casablanca now are not what they were back then. It was not a fun place to live in back in 1962, 46 years ago. The movie, Casablanca made it a romantic intriguing city. Maybe it was really like that. Then again maybe it wasn't.