By Dr. Joe Dunn
With generous funding from the Converse College Golden Club (50th Year Reunion Class) and contributions from other Model Program alums, members of the Converse Model Arab League team were able to participate in the first Rabat (Morocco) International University Model Arab League (MAL) last November. Seven senior and junior members of the delegation along with three sponsors traveled to the country for a fabulous experience.
The two-day model was hosted at Universite Internationale de Rabat, a new French-language university based on the European educational model. Four U.S. institutions–Converse, Georgia State University, University of Arkansas—Little Rock, and the U.S. Military Academy–who all compete annually in the National University Model in Washington, DC, were joined by teams from Rabat International University and Al-Akhawayn University, an English-speaking Moroccan university based on the U.S. educational model. The facilities were outstanding and although a small conference, the debate was excellent.
All the Converse delegates received awards in their respective councils and the delegation shared the Outstanding Delegation Award with Georgia State. Georgia State was the U.S. sponsor and was to provide all the council chairs and train Moroccan students to fill those roles in succeeding years. When one Georgia State chair could not make the trip, Converse’s Sidney Jones ‘17 stepped into the role and won the Distinguished Chair Award.
Although the MAL was the core event, the real adventure was the three-day trip to southern Morocco for all participants at the end of the conference. Following a bus ride through the night, the group on Sunday traveled to Errachidia, Errissani, Erfoud, including a visit to the Mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, the founder of the Alaouite Dynasty. The highpoint of the entire Moroccan visit was an evening in the desert at Merzouga complete with a camel ride into the dunes to watch the sunset from the top of the dunes. By pure fortune, this was the night of the Super Moon, the closest and largest shining in the last fifty years. The painted sky of the sunset was magnificent and the moon, which seemed to fill half the sky, was stunning. The stars seemed so close that one could reach up and touch them.
The night concluded with a camp fire, sub-Saharan drummers and dancers, and another wonderful Moroccan meal. Every meal on the trip, usually the traditional Moroccan tagine slow-cooked blend of meat and vegetables, was incredible. We slept the evening in Bedouin tents, admittedly rather tourist style with Western amenities. The next morning some of the group trekked back to the dunes for the sunrise. From the top of the center’s building, the rest of us observed morning life in the surrounding Bedouin encampments and village.
The following day we went through the Todgha Gorge, a magnificent sight that reminds one of a tour along the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. or Petra in Jordan. Yet another grand meal at the bottom of the Gorge enhanced the experience. The following day, we visited Ouarzazate and spent the night at a four-star hotel. Ouarzazate is the Hollywood of Morocco, where scores of movies with a Middle East base are filmed. Our stop at the Museum of Cinema was a touristy display of props from famous movies such as Ben Hur, Gladiator, Cleopatra, and more recent action films. Another stop at the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou afforded a hard climb to the top of the mountain, but it was well worth it for the view.
On the return to the north, we traversed the winding highway through the Atlas Mountains with colorful fall foliage and snow at the top of the highest mountains. Amidst the huge evening carnival in Marrakech, we had dinner at a roof-top restaurant and arrived back in Casablanca in the middle of the night. We spent the evening on a rather cold airport floor before our morning flight home to Greenville/Spartanburg with stops in Paris and Detroit.
My thinking prior to the trip was that the generous funding had provided a one-time lifetime experience for a fortunate group of Converse students. However, after the trip, I concluded that this opportunity was too valuable for only one select number of students to enjoy. I don’t know how this will be accomplished, but I will investigate ways of gaining funding so that future groups of our Model students can experience this rare opportunity. I would like to repeat the trip every two or three years to allow all Model participants to have the opportunity during their tenure on the delegation.
We effusively thank all the donors who made this trip possible, and we have the fondest admiration for our Moroccan hosts who created the opportunity. It was a lifetime experience.