Meknes, Morocco Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Meknes, Morocco

Meknes, Morocco 08/26/06

Background:

1. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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2. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Teacher.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

NYC to Casablanca is 6 hours directly, but can only be flown on the Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc, which is considerably more expensive than other options. It's also possible to fly via any major European hubs, as well as travel overland from Spain.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartments are located throughout the city center, which is relatively small. Personally, I walk to work (most language centers and major businesses are located in the center). Other teachers and foreigners live in outlying neighborhoods, which require a car (although taxis are available). Many apartments in the city center have balconies, though there are no houses with yards there.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are relatively inexpensive. Two major Western-style grocery stores (Marjane and Label' Vie) provide imports that can't be found elsewhere, but most people do their daily shopping at either the Central Market or their local hanut (a small corner store not unlike a bodega).

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I bought all of my furniture there, but couches and other Western conventions are rather expensive, although there are several Western furniture chains not unlike Ikea, where things like that can be found. Peanut butter and real maple syrup are nearly impossible to come by anywhere in the country, and American-style coffee is impossible (there are excellent Arabia and Columbian coffee beans, but most are ground for espresso although American-style coffee percolators are widely available, which makes for a bizarre cup of coffee). Good quality sheets and pillows would be a good thing to bring, and clothes are not always of the best quality.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is a McDonald's, as well as a food court offering Thai, Tex-Mex, Lebanese and soon, a Domino's Pizza. There are also quite a few decent French or foreign-cuisine restaurants that won't break your wallet, as well as a few clean Moroccan restaurants which cater mostly to tourists. There are about four or five good pizza places now as well.

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Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is widely available and extremely cheap. I pay a woman to clean my house top-to-bottom once a week for $7. Daily help (cooking, cleaning, laundry) averages $5-10/day. I'm not sure about nannies (particularly English-speaking ones), but if you're willing to pay enough, it's definitely possible to find an English-educated one.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are widely available and mostly reliable. Credit cards are only accepted at the supermarkets, nice restaurants, and a few large stores.

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3. What English-language religious services are available locally?

No. There is one Catholic Church and one synagogue in Meknes. The church offers services in French (and is actually only attended by foreigners/expats) and the synagogue in either Arabic or Hebrew.

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4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The Economist, Newsweek, Time and the International Herald-Tribune are available on the day they come out, and occasionally other magazines can be found for a price. Satellite TV is currently in the process of being replaced by ADSL, but right now we get BBC World, CNN, CNBC, MTV Austria (with programs in English), VH1, Nickelodeon, EuroNews, and a few Saudi channels that only show programs in English (MBC2, MBC4, and OneTV).

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Arabic and French are both spoken by nearly everyone, so if you do speak French, you'll be golden. Getting by on only English is a bit tricky, although it can be done. The toughest part would be bargaining for produce and meat, I would imagine. It's a good idea to learn a little French or Arabic, and lessons in both (particularly the former) are offered at several schools in the city.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Meknes isn't particularly adapted to those in wheelchairs, though it is common to see locals lifting a wheelchair-bound person up the stairs. People are extremely helpful and accommodating, but as far as wheelchair ramps are concerned, there aren't many.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The train route covers all major cities and is very affordable. It's a good idea to spring for first class, as second class fills up extremely quickly and often overflows. City buses are crowded and unreliable. Taxis are the most common form of inner-city transportation and are cheap, but the drivers don't always follow safety regulations in driving and auto maintenance. Large taxis are also used inter-city.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Moroccan drivers don't exactly follow the rules, so it's best not to bring anything you wouldn't want to get scratched up a little. Most cars are made by VW, Toyota, Citroen, Renault, Peugeout, and BMW, but other parts can be found assuming they're available in Europe (Spain mostly). Much of the country is quite rugged terrain, which should be taken into consideration if you plan to do a lot of traveling.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet access is inexpensive (about $15/month right now) and ADSL, so the quality is usually fairly good, except during the busiest times of day (5-10 pm and sometimes in the morning). Internet can also be accessed at many cyber cafes scattered throughout town. Dial-up is, as far as I know, no longer available.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are two companies - Meditel and Maroc Telecom (also known as IAM, the short version of the Arabic name, Itisalat Maghrib approximately). Meditel offers better deals for international calling and roaming in Europe, but Maroc Telecom is cheaper for local calls. Both offer prepaid and contracts, and prepaid cards can be bought at most stores. The phone is refilled either by calling and punching in the numbers or by SMS.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Kalimat cards, which can be used on any landline phone, are reliable and fairly inexpensive. Mobile phones are pretty expensive, but Meditel (one of two carriers) offers contracts with international calling. Pay phones are another option.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There is one veterinarian in Meknes who works with smaller domestic animals and he is very good. My cat is well taken care of. I'm not sure about kennels, but most domestic help would be reliable in taking care of a cat or dog.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Only in teaching English. If you were to speak French, you could be considered for plenty of jobs.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

As a teacher, my dress code is extremely casual, but conservative (i.e. t-shirts and jeans are okay, anything low-cut or short is not). Most professionals would dress in what we might call office casual (no ties or jackets). In public, men can wear mostly whatever they want, but women should cover the chest area and upper arms, and should not wear anything cut above the knee. Proper shoes should be worn, as the streets are quite dirty.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Mainly pickpockets (in the medina and other traditional areas), but occasional break-ins occur. Most modern apartments have a concierge and a locked front-door so there are few housing concerns. Cars aren't often broken into, but vandalism occurs.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The biggest health concern is contaminated food. You should be extremely careful when eating out (especially street food), and wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Find a good, clean butcher as well, as several are known for selling day-old meat. Medical care is pretty good, but I wouldn't want to have surgery or a baby in Meknes (although the capital, Rabat, is only two hours away by car and offers quality medical care).

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Meknes is excruciatingly hot in the summer (100F. average) but tolerable in the winter. The biggest problem in the winter is that none of the houses come with central (or any kind of) heating, so you will want to invest in a good heater of some sort.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There aren't any English-language schools although there are several private French-language schools, including the excellent Lycee Paul Valery, located in the city center. I have no experience with these, only the language schools (of which there are three - American Language Center, Goethe Haus and Institut Francais). I would also imagine that families posted here might send their children to the Al Akhawayn School, located an hour away in Ifrane.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

I have no experience in this realm, and I would imagine that many foreigners choose to have a home nanny instead. There are plenty of unemployed locals with degrees in English, as there are few jobs in this field.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Fairly small. There are currently only 10 Americans that I'm aware of, a few Europeans, and a sizable number of Chinese.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Most of the current expats know each other, so the social scene is fairly small and close-knit. Alcohol is considered shameful in the culture, yet wine is produced in Meknes and other forms of alcohol are widely available. The newer restaurants are all pretty nice, and there are a few bars that provide live music.

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3. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. The young, single expats seem to enjoy it the most, probably because of the bar/music scene (which is rather small, but inexpensive).

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

For families that only speak English, there are few activities (for example, all cinemas show films dubbed into French), but there are plenty of outdoor activities in the surrounding areas, and Ifrane, which is an hour away, is a common place to spend the weekend hiking or skiing. Singles might have it a bit more difficult, but couples will enjoy the myriad new bars and shopping centers creeping up around town.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably not, although there haven't been any homophobic incidents that I'm aware of. There isn't a gay scene, however.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Racial, not really. Religious - not that I'm aware of, although those not of the three main monotheistic faiths might encounter quite a bit of questioning, as there isn't much awareness of Eastern or other religions. There is a bit of gender prejudice and single women encounter lots of stares and comments on a daily basis (which is, in my experience, only solved by wearing a fake wedding ring or claiming to be married). Women should also be advised to dress conservatively, as Meknes is still more traditional than the capital and elsewhere. I haven't seen any racial, religious or gender-related violence, however.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Ifrane is located and hour away and provides hiking, skiing, and water sports to some degree. Many people choose to travel there or to the beach (Rabat, Casablanca, the north) on the weekends. Meknes just got its first (very small) shopping mall with food court, and if you speak French, there are about four cinemas dotted throughout town, two of which are excellent. There are quite a few restaurants, a few tolerable nightclubs and several bars where foreigners would be comfortable, but most are in hotels.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Beautiful artisanal products. Rugs, wool blankets, clothing, lamps, jewelry, leatherwork, woodworking....

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9. Can you save money?

As a teacher, hardly, but someone working in the corporate realm could easily.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely - Meknes can be a hassle at times, but the mostly nice weather and laid-back atmosphere are great for awhile.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Furniture. Moroccan furniture can be custom-made and fits apartments better than any Western furniture.

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3. But don't forget your:

Western food you can't do without (spices, peanut butter, maple syrup, pancake mix, etc) and your space heater.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Paul Bowles, an American who lived in Tangier for 50 years, wrote a score of fiction about Morocco, the best of the bunch being: The Sheltering Sky (P.S.)
A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard.
Great Moroccan authors of fiction include:Leila Abouzeid, NaTahar Ben Jelloun, Mohammed Mrabet.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Paul Bowles, an American who lived in Tangier for 50 years, wrote a score of fiction about Morocco, the best of the bunch being: The Sheltering Sky (P.S.)
A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard.
Great Moroccan authors of fiction include:Leila Abouzeid, NaTahar Ben Jelloun, Mohammed Mrabet.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Hideous Kinky
(also a book by Esther Freud) is actually about Marrakesh, but gives some great scenery. Ali Zaoua
and MaRock are two films about Casablanca that also give a sense of urban Morocco today.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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