Thursday, June 29
The journey to find our “inner teenagers” began for most of us at JFK International Airport on June 29th where we met up with those who were going to the reunion on the charter flight. Tahar Meddoun from the class of ’68, who made all the travel, hotel, and banquet arrangements for us in Morocco, was there to greet us and hand us our tickets for the JFK/Casablanca leg of the trip.
Our flight over to Casablanca on Air Maroc was smooth and many of us spent the whole time catching up with old friends and talking excitedly about the reunion. We landed in Casablanca around 7:00 a.m. the following morning.
Friday, June 30
When we reached the Safir Hotel in Rabat, there was quite a crowd of former alumni and faculty gathered about in the lobby. People registered at our reunion registration table, picked up their reunion t-shirts, and then socialized or went up to their rooms to rest after the long trip.
Many of our reunion gatherings and meals took place on the Safir’s roof which had a beautiful outdoor pool and a penthouse-type room. The room had all-glass walls with magnificent views of Sale, the Bou Regreg River, the old Rabat Medina, and the Oudaias Casbah.
We had this whole floor of the hotel almost completely to ourselves for the whole reunion. Just looking over the balcony into the streets and over the city you could see how much the city has changed over the years. Rabat now has a rush hour; with the growth in population have come huge swells of traffic. The Bou Regreg River still has the same old wooden fishing boats, but swirling in among them are jet skis. Apparently the new (and young) king, Mohammed VI (they call him “M6″ for short, or the “Cool King”) is a real jet ski fan and he introduced them to Morocco. Sometimes he goes jet skiing himself on the Bou Regreg.
Our 5:30 Happy Hour on Friday was a very nice affair. The hors d’oeuvres were a mix of Moroccan and American goodies: popcorn, peanuts, and Moroccan and French pastries–another one of the many examples of how Tahar had gone out of his way to make sure everyone felt at home. The Happy Hour was a relaxed way for people to get reacquainted with each other after all these years.
Saturday, July 1
The highlight of the reunion for most of the students occurred the next day when we took two chartered buses to our old school in Kenitra. Arranging this trip was a major undertaking on Tahar’s part because the base is considered a sensitive military area. He had to get permission up through the highest ranks of the Moroccan military brass and finally even had to get the King’s signature. We didn’t get the final permission until two days before the reunion!
We drove through the town of Kenitra and went to one of the bases’s gates down near the Sebou River. There was some discussion with the Moroccan guards and we were told to enter by the old familiar gate on the other side of the base. The gate looked much the same except the American military insignias had been replaced by Moroccan ones. We spent about 10 minutes in the buses while Tahar and the Moroccan soldiers had more discussions. Even though all the official permissions had been granted, there was still some reluctance to let us freely sail on through. Anyway, it all got settled and we began the journey into our past.
The groves of eucalyptus trees were still there on either side of the road, as was the old football field on the right. However, straight ahead of us, between the fork in the road, was a new-looking mosque. It was nicely painted and surrounded by flowering bushes. The buses drove down past the old dispensary on the hill and the PX on the left. The dispensary was covered with Mickey Mouse graffiti and the PX parking lot was completely empty. The building looked like it was locked up and unused.
Proceeding down the main road (still lined with date palms), we passed the old base chapel. The stained glass windows in the front had been boarded up. It was being used for something because soldiers were milling about it; however, the identity of the building was painted in Arabic, so it was difficult to tell what it was being used for.
Then, the final and glorious appearance of our old school. We pulled up in front and there was more discussion between Tahar and the Moroccan soldiers. After awhile we filed off the buses and went to look at the front of the school. At first the soldiers were reluctant to let us take pictures or walk around much, but after awhile they relaxed and let us take any photos or videos we wanted.
The front of the school looked pretty much the same, with taller trees of course. The Marine Parade Ground across the street (around which we had to run tortuous laps for P.E.) had some kind of stone monument in its center with a Moroccan flag; all the big, old, beautiful eucalyptus trees around it had been cut down.
There was more discussion again between Tahar and the soldiers and they decided to let us in to see the inside of the school. This was a very generous act on their part because there was a group of pilots in our old auditorium taking exams. We tried to be as quiet as possible when we filed in. We walked in through the front entrance where our athletic trophies used to be displayed, then to the right down the hallway towards the old library. Everything looked much the same though the walls were now painted grey instead of Navy pea-green.
The floors still had the original black tiles but were not polished as they used to be. We actually walked back into some of our old classrooms and they also looked familiar. The doors to the downstairs portion of the school were locked and we were not allowed to go down there. But we didn’t care; we were thrilled that they let us in at all. After we went back outside we split up into different groups to wander around. One group walked up the hill toward the base chapel to find the very first high school (apparently there was another one before this one came into being).
The back of the school was terribly run down and paint was peeling all over the walls. There were lots of scrubby bushes, and the field out back where we used to have P.E. and build bonfires was covered by a grove of Eucalyptus saplings. The view out over the Sebou River was still relatively unchanged however.
Eventually, we climbed back aboard the buses and drove over to the officer’s housing section, then to the old elementary school which many of our students also attended. It is still in use as a school, probably for the Moroccan children who live on the base. We drove all over the base, passing by the quonset huts on the way to the movie theater.
Our next stop was the swimming pool which is in excellent shape and still in use. The soldiers got the keys to our old gym and let us in.
It too, was in very good shape. In fact, it smelled EXACTLY the way it used to! The ghosts of our athlete’s perspiration must still be wafting around there. A few of the students shot a few baskets while others broke into some of the old school cheers we had during our games. Finally, we all gathered by the bleachers for a group photo.
Our last official stop on the buses was the golf club where the Moroccan military brass had a very touching and warm reception for us. Long tables were set up on the verandah with all sorts of soft drinks and munchies. The wing commander gave a short speech in English, welcoming us back to our old school and homes. It was VERY moving. Many of the folks in our group had tears in their eyes.
On the way out, we stopped off at the old Oasis cafeteria, our hangout for good American greasy fries and burgers. It looked rundown and was obviously not in use anymore. The old sign was still up above the door with some Arabic writing painted over it. Through the door you could see the dusty interior which looked as if it had closed its doors the day the base was turned over to the Moroccan government. The old aluminum grills were still there in the back.
When one of our former Moroccan students was queried about why the initial reluctance and suspicion changed so dramatically into a “no-holds-barred” attitude later in our visit, he said there were two parts to our visit from the Moroccan point of view. First were the”official” permissions we had to get from the military/government bureaucracy Then there was a judgment call from the wing commander who supervised our visit. After talking with us for awhile in front of the school and observing our behavior, he concluded we were no threat and did not want to steal military secrets. When he could see that we only wanted to visit our old school and see our old homes, there was almost nothing he wouldn’t do for us.
After leaving the base, we drove back by way of Mehdia Beach, which like the rest of Morocco, has grown considerably. It has many commercial beach establishments down by the water, but you can still see the old French cottages up on the hill. The field trip took much longer than any of us had anticipated, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time before the gala banquet at Tahar’s house that evening. Most of us relaxed by the pool or wandered about in the medina which was only a block away from the Safir.
About 7:00 we boarded the buses to the gala banquet at Tahar Meddoun’s house. We drove past the Chellah and on into Souisse. The road into Souisee which was only a two-lane road when we were there is now a 6-lane highway!
Tahar’s house was on a quiet residential street. The buses dropped us off in front of his gate and when we entered you could see why he had chosen his place for the banquet. His yard is ENORMOUS with large, open, grassy spaces shaded by lovely fruit trees. There were round garden tables shaded by large umbrellas with gorgeous place settings. Tahar had hired a special band to play all the American hits from the 50s through the 80s–representing all the decades of students at the reunion. The band was situated under a large, traditional Arab tent. We got there about 7:30 p.m. and spent the next two hours shooting the breeze, enjoying munchies and drinks, and taking group photos.
Around 9:30 the waiters began serving what was to be a spectacular 5-course dinner. Here’s what we had:
Harira Soup(tomato, beef, rice, and chick peas)
Lamb Tagine (with prunes and sesame seeds)
Chicken Tagine (with lemon and olives)
Couscous (with seven vegetables and beef)
Takhtoukha (pastry leaves with crushed, roasted almonds in a custard sauce)
People gorged until they were spent and couldn’t shove another thing in. After the banquet, acknowledgments and gifts for the people who had helped make the reunion come together were given. Each person was presented with a handmade pen with 24-carat gold-plated fittings. Tahar was presented with a pen and also a wood platter with an engraved plaque for the EXTRAORDINARY lengths he went to make this reunion such a flaming success.
After the acknowledgments, we danced to tunes from our old school days. Around midnight a bunch of us decided it was time to call it a day, so one of the buses took us back to the Safir (the other one left at 3 a.m.).
Sunday, July 2
The official reunion brunch took place on Sunday around 9:30 a.m. so people could sleep in bit after the previous night’s banquet. And what a spread it was! It was like something you would find on a fancy cruise ship with everything so artfully arranged it seemed like a shame to eat it.
In the afternoon, most of us went over to the American Embassy 4th of July picnic to which we had all been invited. The American club, just a few blocks from the American Embassy, was huge with several nice buildings and nicely landscaped grounds.
It was held outside where they had all sorts of typical American fare like grilled hamburgers and hotdogs. They even had a small McDonald’s stand with Happy Meals for the kids. Ambassador Edward Gabriel kicked off the festivities with a short speech and even gave us a special welcome. Then the marines had a short flag ceremony and everyone made a beeline for the games and the food. The weather was beautiful and not too hot.
The next exciting event was a chance to go into a traditional Moroccan home to enjoy mint tea, pastries, and entertainment. This event was sponsored by Tahar El-Korchi ’76, whose parents graciously invited us to their beautiful home. A group of us gathered in the Safir’s lobby around 6:45 to walk over as a group. Although we had a map, most of us felt better about walking together; the medina can be very confusing with its small alleyways–even with a map. Several folks in our group had bought Moroccan outfits which they wore to the party. The women wore belly-dancer outfits (they got quite a few interesting looks as we walked along the medina wall) and the men wore djellabas and fezzes.
We entered the old Bab Challah gate and were immediately caught up in the bustle and exotic smells of the medina. After a couple of turns we were on a narrow street in front of a large, heavy, very old, wooden door that was slightly ajar. We assumed this was the place and had our guess confirmed when the first person in our group stepped over the threshold and wild drumming began from within. We walked through a narrow hallway and into a huge, sumptuous room that looked as if it had appeared straight out of an “Arabian Nights” fairytale. This home was actually three stories high with the top two floors containing run-around balconies overlooking the enclosed, courtyard. At one time, we heard, this courtyard had been open to the sky. This home has been in Tahar El-Korchi’s family for 129 years. All the floor and wall surfaces were richly tiled, there were lavish Moroccan couches all around the main room and in all the surrounding rooms. A mint tea pourer sat on a hassock next to a table groaning with all sorts of wicked pastries. A group of lively musicians robed in blue djellabas were singing their lungs out and having a rip-roaring good old time. It didn’t take long for a group to get up and begin dancing.
Soon the waiters came out bearing drinks: water, freshly squeezed orange and apricot juices, and of course, mint tea. Then they came came out with trays and trays of both sweet and savory pastries. In one of the side rooms a soccer game (Morocco’s national obsession) on TV engrossed the attention of several people. Whenever the whooping from that room reached a certain pitch, the musicians would stop briefly so people could peek in and see the score. After several hours of nonstop eating and merriment, we bade our hosts goodbye and thanked them for a spectacular evening. Tahar El-Korchi’s parents could not have been kinder or more hospitable hosts to invite such a horde of us (over 60 people!) into their beautiful home; it was an evening none of us will ever forget.
Monday, July 3
On Monday, quite a few folks left to travel in other areas of Morocco. The only official reunion activity left was the trip to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. One bus was all we needed for this group event. The mosque itself was exactly as Tahar had promised it would be: one of the premier architectural marvels of the 20th century. It is one of the few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter.
We had an excellent English-speaking guide who made this an incredibly fascinating 2-hour tour. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of traditional craftsmanship and new technology. All of the carvings were done by hand; however, the enormous ceiling is retractable and on clear, still nights opens to the sky and stars in only 5 minutes. Sensors in the ceiling automatically retract the ceiling when winds reach a certain speed. We were awed by its immensity and the fact that part of it is actually resting out over the ocean. No expense was spared for this building and all the materials came from Morocco at the taxpayers expense. It is the third largest mosque in the world and certainly one of the most opulent.
This concluded a most fantastic reunion, one which none of us will ever forget. Most of us never even dreamed we’d be able to see our old school again and visit some of our old homes and haunts on the base. What a special privilege and treat it was to do be able to do that! Not only did we reestablish old bonds, we made new and dear friends from other classes we had never met before. Although it will be hard to top this reunion, we plan on having reunions until we all croak! Stay tuned for announcements of upcoming reunions and until then….ma’ as-salaama….
Next Stop: Reunion 2005 in New Orleans!
The next large all-school reunion will take place in New Orleans in 2005, probably in the late June/early July timeframe. Plans are underway for a steamboat ride with dinner/Cajun band, a tour of the French Quarter, and much more! If you have ideas and/or would like to help with this reunion, please contact Debbie (Gerth) Smith ’73 who is organizing it.
If you would like to organize a smaller regional or class reunion, post it here on the web site!
Additional PhotographsIf you were a registered user or logged in, you could post and read comments.