Today Hakim and I, along with our driver Hassan, took the excellent four lane highway from Rabat to Meknes, about 80 miles. Tonight I am staying at the Hotel Ibis, somewhat cheaper ($40/night) than the hotel in Rabat, which, I found out, was only $120 per night, so the embassy must have some kind of deal with them. I then met Mohammed (sorry, I don’t remember last names at this point), my boss at the Centre Pedagogique Regional (CPR). He’s a very nice man who invited us into his home for a traditional Friday meal of couscous with carrots, potatoes, cabbage and beef, followed by a fruit plate of grapes, apples and melon slices. Delicious! I’m finding out that the hospitality of Moroccans is unexcelled. After the meal, Hakim and Hassan went back to Rabat. Tomorrow Mohammed and I will go look at the several apartments that he has been checking out; hopefully, I’ll find a nice one for cheap.
I also met the District Manager for Education, Ahmed Haddachi, a VIP position and another hospitable host. He is coordinating and is very busy with the upcoming visit of the King of Morocco to Meknes next Thursday, when he will tour some of the educational facilities in and around Meknes. This is a Big Deal and Mr. Haddachi is hoping for the best so that more funding will come the way of the Meknes educational facilities. But, much to my surprise he offered to take me on an inspection tour he was doing of some school rebuilding that was taking place in Ifrane and another small town about 40-50 miles from Meknes. I felt that I had to oblige him, to put my best foot forward, though I’m still fighting the jet lag and was quite tired then. It made me somewhat nervous, also, since he and I would be driving up to the Middle Atlas mountain region alone. His English is decent, but I didn’t know how my attitude toward him should be, since he is a VIP kinda guy. But, he was a pretty normal chap, I found out, and on the drive back we talked about literature, mainly, and about a couple of books he has written.
Meknes is a more traditional, older city than Rabat, (at least as far as the parts of Rabat that I saw), with many of the architectural wonders one might think of when thinking about Morocco–elaborate city gates, very old stone walls that might remind you of the old movie “Beau Geste” or “1001 Arabian Nights,” and many men and women in traditional garb. More on Meknes as time goes by. Once out of the city, the landscape began to remind me of Montana, with a number of open spaces checkerboarded with crops, mainly wheat, I was told. We also passed by many grape and olive growing areas in the rolling hills. All of this was backdropped by the Middle Atlas Mountains in the distance. The closer we approached the mountains, the more evidence of the dryness of the area, perhaps presaging the mighty Sahara, appeared in the form of sterile, rocky land, in various shades of brown, dun, beige, tan and dull red, punctuated by dry, green forests. It is very remindful of the American West.
Ifrane is a mountain resort town, and the steep A-framed roofs inform you that you are in snow country. Yes, snow, all you African naifs. Ifrane is close to one of the premier ski resorts in Morocco, a lovely little town that sees many tourists and skiers. Mr. Haddachi picked up a few of his colleagues and we then toured a few schools that were being rebuilt. Afterwards, we took the colleagues home, and the setting sun burnished the surrounding hills and mountains with copper, bronze, gold and rust-red colors, a beautiful sight. In the distance the hills silhouetted by the sinking sun looked very much like the buttes and mesas of many familiar places in Montana, Utah or Arizona. Very impressive sight.
Also on the way back Mr. Haddachi stopped briefly to see his son, who is attending the university in Ifrane, taking courses in Computer Science and Business Administration. He is a very bright, friendly fellow of 22 who speaks very good English. The university hires many western, English-speaking teachers who give their lessons in science, computers, business admin, etc. in English. Thus, the students are very proficient in the language. I just hope my students will be as good. I also found out that classes won’t start until probably November 1st. Between now and then I’m sure I’ll be given something to do, perhaps workshops and informational lectures, or setting up an American cultural center at CPR. It’s all becoming very real, now that I’m actually here. Who could have guessed? More later.