On reflection, I think my issue with the lavishness of the Hassan II Mosque began in downtown Casablanca when I happened upon a rubbish heap on an open plot, smack bang in the middle a residential-cum-business district.
In the background, the imposing minaret of the mosque towered over a jumble of plastic – bottles, crates, bales of bags, you name it – and rusty satellite dishes scattered across the unpainted, raw plaster walls of the dwellings. It seemed telling that my first glimpse of this famous landmark was in stark contrast to the surroundings.
And then I saw her. A woman of indeterminable age, she was dressed in black from top to toe, pulling a shopping bag on wheels as she picked her way across the dumpsite. When she began rummaging through the detritus, I was stunned. I had assumed she was taking a shortcut through the open lot on the way to the Medina a few blocks away. Instead she was scratching through what looked like scraps of plastic sheeting.
Even coming from a country where millions of taxpayer’s money is wasted on renaming streets after Apartheid Struggle heroes rather than uplifting previously disadvantaged communities and tackling poverty and unemployment, I still really battle to get my head around extremes like these – in this case the need to rummage through a dumpsite that shouldn’t be in the middle of a city in the first place, while millions of dollars were spent building a work of art like the Hassan Mosque a few streets away.
A little overwhelmed, I moved on before she noticed that I had noticed her.