topics: Pigier Schools, education, economy, Internet access; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: October 4, 1997

Breakfast: Churros is the result of a heavy batter being poured into a wide pan of hot oil. A coil of denser-than-donut-like pastry is removed and snipped into short lengths. The churros we bought did not come sprinkled with sugar (which we really wanted), so we added our own.

Lunch: Following our visit to the Pigier School, the school's director (see our Person of the Day) invited us all to his home for lunch. We enjoyed the homemade meal, eaten in traditional Moroccan style — with bread as our utensils. We were so hungry and the meatball dish was so good that it almost disappeared before our host had a chance to sit down with us. The liver, of which we are not usually big fans, was so fresh and yummy that we ate every piece!

Dinner: The biggest meal of the day for Moroccans is usually lunch. Unfortunately for us, since we are usually cycling at lunchtime, we have held on to our Western habit of eating our major meal during dinner hours. This has been difficult at times, since the post-lunch pickings left in some restaurants are quite slim. So we take what we can get.

Food of the Day: Bite-size burgers

Local (non-tourist) Moroccan restaurants are often very simple, serving no more than the ubiquitous soups (like herira), basic meats — sliced steak, chopped meat, chicken, other "unusual" sausage-like meat parts — french fries, and mixed salads usually composed of tomatoes and onions. Ethan enjoyed the chopped meat cooked as little hamburgers. When combined with bread, a little mustard or hot sauce, and a bit of onion and tomato, they were just like bite-size burgers.

Person of the Day: Mr. Saïd El Hammouti click to view a photograph

Mr. Saïd El Hammouti is the directeur of Pigier — Al Hoceima. The Pigier Schools were begun in 1848 in France and have since expanded to include 100 establishments throughout the world, including 36 in Morocco. Pigier offers qualified instruction in many professional fields, including computer studies. Mr. El Hammouti welcomed us into the computer classroom of Pigier where he was instructing a motivated group of three men and one woman. We followed his well-delivered lecture on the basics of how to work with a computer, until he invited us to present information about the Internet and BikeAbout. He took careful notes and assured us that very soon he will take steps to get himself and his classrooms connected to the Internet. When he does, we will pass along the news to you and you will be able to communicate with him and his students directly!

After the class and some informal conversation, he invited us all for lunch at his home in the nearby suburbs of Al Hoceima. There, in a beautifully decorated room with two large tables, we enjoyed food and a rich discussion about life in the changing city of Al Hoceima. (Mr. El Hammouti remembers 1973, when he first arrived, and the house we were in was one of only two, standing in open fields dotted with trees. Now there is nothing but buildings.) We were also proudly welcomed by his 27-month-old son, Hassim, who provided and demanded great entertainment throughout the meal. The one word he spoke that we were actually able to understand was "Superboy," which he yelled frequently while throwing his hands out before him. (Superboy is his favorite hero.) Anthony, standing more than six feet tall, was able to give some lift to Hassim's dreams of flight.

Place of the Day: Computer Club of Al Hoceima click to view a photograph

With windows looking out onto the Place du Rif and very near the busy souq, or market, the Computer Club of Al Hoceima occupies a second floor, five-room, corner office. Stuffed into nearly every nook and cranny are 15 computers (and a lot of chairs), of which two can connect to the Internet. The Club was originally financed by two pharmacists and an ear doctor who saw the value in making computers and computer instruction readily available to the public. For a minimal cost, anyone can come and use the hardware under the surveillance of trained monitors. Mustapha and Mohamed, the monitors on duty when we visited, did everything possible to make us feel welcome. They set up an opportunity for an Internet tutorial and some lively conversation; and, since their server had been out of order for a week (and would remain so for at least a few more days), they allowed us to use their telephone line so that we could attempt the Internet connection we have been unable to make since Wednesday. Unfortunately, our Moroccan server did not respond either.

If you would like to begin a correspondence with anyone at the Computer Club, please write an open letter to them at They only speak Spanish, French, and Moroccan, so try writing to them in one of those languages with the help of a bilingual friend or a language teacher. Please mention that you learned about them from BikeAbout—the Mediterranean!

Group Dispatch, October 4

picture of Ethan

Our day in Al Hoceima was very busy, spent running between meetings and personal errands. We did not even have time to take a look around this fishing city and tourist center of 60,000 inhabitants. Although the European maritime powers had vied for the deep, protected bay of Al Hoceima since at least the 17th century, today's Al Hoceima was only really founded in 1920 by the Spanish, who occupied it until the mid-to-late 1950s. Now, so near to the Rif Mountains and some beautiful Mediterranean beaches, Al Hoceima is coming into its own.

But the beaches were not for us. Right after breakfast, we had a 10 o'clock appointment at the Pigier School of Al Hoceima to give a presentation about the Internet and BikeAbout. Ethan spoke in French about the Internet in general, email and the World Wide Web in particular, and the importance of both to BikeAbout.

The BikeAbout riders and the director of the school, Mr. Saïd El Hammouti (see our Person of the Day), got along so well that the director invited all five of us to his house for lunch! We gladly accepted, eager to continue our conversation and sample some real Moroccan home cooking. The sumptuous lunch was also shared with Mr. El Hammouti's energetic son, "Superboy" Hassim.

By 3:30, running a little late after our long meal, we were standing in front of a crowd of eager listeners of all ages who had been working at the newly opened Al Hoceima Computer Club (see our Place of the Day). Ethan made another French presentation, with help from Anthony in Spanish (many residents of Al Hoceima speak Spanish as their second language).

At 4:30, Ethan and Driss (one of the Moroccan friends, like Essaida and Soumia, accompanying the BikeAbout crew) left the others and skipped out into the torrential rain that had begun to fall and was seriously flooding the city. Wading through three-inch (eight-cm) deep rivers of muddy water coursing through the inclined streets, Ethan and Driss finally found a taxi to the Nekor-bit Institute, a private school geared toward computer studies.

For the next three hours, Ethan was at the center of an intense and often heated debate with 30 students between 15 and 25 years old. They were eager to learn about the Internet, America, Americans, and what Americans know about Morocco. Many of the students came from poor families and did not see how they would ever be able to get access to the Internet. It is unfortunate that we may have to wait a few years before their voices join ours in cyberspace. There is so much that they are eager to share about Morocco, their unique northern Moroccan culture, the promise and problems they face, their hopes and aspirations, and how they contrast with those that we face in the U.S. If you would like to start a letter exchange with anyone from this Institute, please write to:

Mr. El Bachrioui Khalid, Directeur-Entreprenant
Institut Nekor-bit
Rue Salah Eddine El Ayoubi, No. 69
Al Hoceima, Morocco

Since English is not widely spoken here, if you are able to write in Moroccan Arabic, Spanish, French, or even Dutch, that would be best. So work with a bilingual friend or a language teacher. There are also a few English teachers present in Al Hoceima who can help translate letters to and from English.

During this meeting, Driss had to leave and meet Padraic and Anthony with Mustapha of the Azir Association.

Meanwhile, the director of the Nekor-bit Institute took Ethan on a brief nighttime driving tour of Al Hoceima, especially the night-shrouded protected beach and fishing harbor. In the evening every day down at the harbor, local fishermen display what they catch for people and restaurateurs to buy.

By 8:30, Ethan had found andrEa and Corinne in a restaurant near the hotel. The three of them were joined for a brief meal by the director of the Nekor-bit Institute. By 9 p.m., everyone was so tired from the long day — and concerned about the early time set for the next day's wake-up call — that they returned to the hotel and fell fast asleep.

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