Saturday I decided to travel to Casablanca with a friend to check out what all the hype is about Morocco Mall, which just opened to the public a couple weeks ago. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had the idea. Luckily, we got there in the morning and didn’t have trouble getting in, but when we left around 5PM, there was a long line leading to the front door. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a ginormous mall like that (since my middle school band trip to Mall of America). I heard it’s the fourth largest in the world.
Strolling into the mall, it was pretty amazing to see the glittering store signs of all the major European and American brands, such as Payless Shoes, American Eagle, H & M, and Gallerie Lafayette. For many of these stores, this was their debut appearance in Morocco. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just fashion the mall shared with Paris, but the price tags too. …Continue Reading
The international variety of the sprawling food court was equally astounding. It was simply too long for me to check out all the chains in the time we had, but from what I could see, there were the typical pizza places; Mc D’s and Burger King; Chinese, Thai, and Japanese / Sushi places; a traditional Moroccan place (called “Tagine,” how creative); a Lebanese place; French sandwich and pastry shops; a salad place; and, of course, ice-creameries/ gelato stands . While the cafetaria seemed endless, we still had trouble finding an empty table! Oh, and there’s a Starbucks too (the first of its kind in Morocco), but on a different floor, not in the food court.
The mall was full of the usual craziness that tends to go with crowded places: A woman running around and crying frantically, looking for her lost purse; another– for her lost child. And there was a highly festive atmosphere that accompanies grand openings: Live music and a parade of people dressed in colorful costumes, playing drums. There were also some interesting permanent features of the mall: An indoor aquarium with an elevator inside, though you had to wait it line and buy a ticket to take a ride up.
When I came home and excitedly told my host family about my day trip to Morocco Mall, they simply shrugged. Why go to a place where you have to pay five-times the usual price of everything? I pointed out that my friend had a good time with me even though she didn’t even buy anything, and that all kinds of people made their way there. Still, my host parents’ comments did get me thinking about the meaning fo the mall for Moroccan development: Was it positive modernization? Or something else?
Well, I’m still searching for answers, though my initial reaction is that Morocco Mall, and many similar projects in Morocco, might be good for the country overall, though they do seem to signal the rising inequality that often accompanies rising development.
UPDATE: For more information about the controversy surrounding the mall’s impact on economic and human development, see my friend Nora’s report for the BBC here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16209692
UPDATE 2: I visited the mall a second time New Year’s day afternoon. A couple observations. Perhaps I chose a particularly bad time to try to get in, but my experience in the entry line was so bad that I think it is worth mentioning as a warning to anyone contemplating a visit. I have never seen a line so poorly managed in my life, and I fail to understand how that could be with all the security personnel there supposedly to manage it. You hear about people getting trampled to death at places and you always wonder how it can be. But with all the pushing in the line and so many people cutting in (budging) with none of the security officials doing anything to stop it, I was getting worried that there could have been a big tragedy. Actually, the security officials were making things worse. The whole reason for the bubble in the line is that they were supposed to be checking people’s bags. But actually, they were just pulling out those people who, I suppose, looked suspicious. And then stopping the line so they could do a more extensive search on those people, while doing nothing to create real order in the line and stop the budging and pushing in.
Another observation: The second time I visited the mall, it actually didn’t seem that big. The first time, I thought there were whole other sections that I hadn’t yet seen, but the second time I realized that I had actually seen it all. I’m starting to doubt that it’s really the fourth biggest mall in the world, as everyone here is saying. Though, one new thing I discovered there was the outdoor section with cafes and ice-cream parlors that look out to a huge fountain, which glows with multi-colored lights at night. I suppose it will become a popular hang-out spot in the summers, but only if people don’t first get trampled trying to get in.