Chilling in Dar Bouazza: The Hunt for Carrefour

This week our weather in Casablanca reached that teasing time that gives you just enough days of clouds and rain in a row to think that the wet journey toward Winter and the re-greening of Morocco has started, then flips around and tosses a day of clear skies and warm temperatures to keep you in climate confusion.

Brian broke out his sweaters and wore them to school instead of wearing his usual suit jacket and tie.  Audrey moved underneath the portico of GWA’s main building to stay dry during her morning greetings of students, parents, and staff.  By midweek Audrey asked when we could have our first fire of the season at home, and Brian happily employed his pyromaniacal skills to comply as we shared some 20-year port we had brought back from a Fall Break trip we took to Portugal two years ago.  Prepared for nightly fires and sweater weather, we welcomed the quick passage of Fall into Winter.

And then yesterday happened:  Clear skies, comfortable temperature, nice breeze, and no tinge of Fall (let alone Winter) in the air.  It was more like a beautiful Spring day bounding ahead of the cold and wet still to come.

We had a lazy morning with Brian sleeping in well past 10 and Audrey poring through recipes to plan how to use as much of this week’s Ferme Bleue basket vegetables before we give away our next installment of what we cannot consume.  Once Brian had risen and lounged for a while, and Audrey had finished planning “Chopped” with our fresh produce basket and made our shopping list, the flip from pre-winter back to beautiful weather enticed us to try something new today.

In June, Carrefour opened its new grocery store in Dar Bouazza, where a number of our expat faculty and staff live.  While many of our single expat staff prefer active city life in Casablanca, many of our expat families prefer Dar Bouazza’s quieter, comfortable lifestyle famous for ample beaches and waves that draw surfers from around the world.  Dar Bouazza is a coastal town about 10 minutes west of GWA along the Atlantic coast. Formerly a rural commune, it has grown from a farming and fishing community into a suburb of Casablanca that has seen its population grow from 45,000 just 25 years ago to nearly 300,000 today.  When GWA moved in the mid-2000s from downtown Casablanca to our current campus on the southwestern edge of town, Casablanca’s city limits had not reached out this far southwest and our largely-unincorporated location was considered the northeastern edge of Dar Bouazza. Since then, Casablanca has annexed territory past GWA, while at the same time built Dar Bouazza is growing toward the city.  In the foreseeable future, the two will be one strip connected by a roadway currently bustling with residential and commercial development projects (at the price of wetlands or dayas that are the last in the Casablanca area and are home to nearly 200 species of birds).

Chains like Mr. Bricolage (like Moroccan Lowe’s or Home Depot without the garden/nursery side), Arborescence (like the garden/nursery side of Lowe’s or Home Depot), and even McDonalds either have arrived or are moving into the area.  Carrefour’s announcement last year of plans to build the new store created quite a buzz in Dar Bouazza, but our driving to downtown Casablanca to shop at Carrefour Gourmet kept us from paying too much attention to the hoopla. Even after it opened in June and we began hearing how big and wonderful it was, we kept shopping at Carrefour Gourmet for its quality produce, in-house Amoud Boulangerie et Pâtisserie, staff focused soundly on customer service, and good-sized Cave for purchasing wine and spirits.

But yesterday we thought we would venture in the opposite direction to see what all the hubbub was about and, with the beautiful day encouraging more of an outing than a mere shopping run, to spoil ourselves by going out to lunch first.  Another place in Dar Bouazza about which we have heard much but also had not yet checked out is an eatery called Bike-Eat-Repeat. Driving down R320 and turning right onto P3012 past the iconic Crazy Park micro amusement park, we followed a familiar route past multiple entrances to prized beaches on the right and the Jardin De L’Ocean neighborhood (where lots of GWA student families live) on the left.  Turning onto a side street, we parked, walked over to Bike-Eat-Repeat, and got a table outside to make the most of the beautiful early afternoon. Its comfortable atmosphere, welcoming staff, and good food let us see why it is a favorite hangout place for Dar Bouazza residents that we know.

Bellies full after a long, slow-paced, and relaxing lunch, and not knowing if the new Carrefour featured an in-house Amoud, we picked up a couple baguettes at the shop next to B-E-R, then hopped back in the car to do our grocery shopping.  We wound down the long stretch of road to the old Tamaris section of town, all the way waves rolling up the beaches our various Dar Bouazza friends either cross the street or at most walk a few blocks to enjoy. Then we turned back out toward R320.  With eyes peeled for Carrefour, as we reached R320 Audrey looked to our right and said, “There it is!” Brian thought it seemed much smaller than the hypermarche he had heard about from so many people – huge store, lots of parking, big Cave – but here was Carrefour nonetheless.  He pulled a Moroccan road move and turned right into the smaller-than-expected parking strip from the road’s left lane, and drove the length of the strip finding no available spaces. At the end of the strip, though, was a guard station with a nice man pointing us toward an underground parking area.  So down we went, questioning why our Dar Bouazza friends considered this store such a big deal, but figuring they thought it an improvement over not having it at all. Parking, we headed up to the store and again thought it sufficient for buying groceries, but not anything comparable to the huge and Walmart Superstore-ish Carrefour Hypermarche in the Californie neighborhood of Casablanca with which our friends had compared it.  Nonetheless, we shopped and got most of what we had on our list. Then we saw the sign for the Cave, but going through the flaps in its doorway we found stacks and shelves of stock inventory instead of bottles of wine and spirits. Confused, we asked an employee where we could find the Cave and he told us there was not one; we had waltzed into a misnamed storage room. “Hmmm,” we said, “They must have decided to nix the Cave.” We paid for our groceries, took them down to our car and loaded them in.

Driving out from the garage, Brian pulled another Moroccan road move and drove 30 meters the wrong way on a road to get back to the left turn lane from which he had performed his previous Moroccan road move, then turned left on R320 to head back toward home.

Before we had traveled three kilometers Audrey said again, “There it is!” as suddenly she saw a huge big box building ahead on the right with Mr. Bricolage and…Carrefour.  Brian pulled into the spacious parking lot and we looked dumbly at each other, laughing at ourselves for going first to the wrong Carrefour on our misadventure. So we parked (now with no problem finding a place), grabbed our big woven basket from the back of the car, and went in hoping to find the last few things we had not found at the wrong Carrefour that we did not know also exists in Dar Bouazza.  Stepping inside, we were awed at its immensity. This was like the behemoth Carrefour in Ceuta, with departments for housewares, electronics, appliances, clothes, as well as broad grocery aisles not requiring expert navigation skills to get around laneless people who shop the way they drive, great-looking produce, long counters for meats and cheeses, and the big Cave that did not exist at our mistargeted Carrefour.  Now we understood the hubbub. This was a store for the small city Dar Bouazza is becoming in its own right. If we lived in Dar Bouzza, we would have no reason to travel all the way into Casablanca to shop for almost anything.

Yet, as impressive as we found it, and as much as we enjoyed our Dar Bouazza outing, we think we will keep shopping at our Carrefour Gourmet.  As we discussed at our table during lunch at Bike-Eat-Repeat, what we love most about Morocco are the relationships we have with people. One can do all sorts of touristy things here, but to know Morocco truly you must spend time with people.  We have good friends here whom we treasure, and now – with Charlotte married – we have good family here as well who invite us to their home and join us in our home for time together over meals. So going to Carrefour Gourmet satisfies more than a need to buy groceries.  We have relationships with people we find inside and outside the store: the woman who weighs and tags our produce bags with a smile and “Bon journee!” each week; the butcher who calls us over to his counter to let us know that he has a beautiful beef tenderloin that he can trim for us; the women at the cheese counter who slice off des goûts (some tastes) of what is good that day for us to try; the garlic man who looks each week for Audrey on the sidewalk outside the store and gives her a handful of fresh walnuts in addition to the garlic she buys only from him; Kamal the parking guardian who tries patiently to build our Darija vocabulary while he parks us or loads groceries from our cart into the back of our car; and others.  They make us feel like we belong there in their neighborhood, rather than pushing a cart through a megastore staffed by people too busy to know their customers.

All in all, we had a good day in Dar Bouazza.  Then we came home, put away groceries, and made some Aperol Spritzes to share on our balcony while looking out over our beautiful view of the school and fields across from us and, down the hill, of the ocean beyond.  The weather will change again soon, so we have limited opportunities to do that before we switch back to sitting in our living room by a roaring fire. Regardless of the scene, we do so love living here.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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