Friday, January 9, 2015


I'm not ready to say ba'slama yet. But I guess I have to.

I need to come back here. It's on my list.

For now we took our final exam this morning in our Media in the Muslim World class, and Becca and I are just now wrapping up our visual appendix for our script, which we finished about thirty minutes ago.

We're exhausted and sad to leave. Sad to leave a place we've come to love so much.

I need to learn Arabic, and I need to graduate and I need to be a better visual story teller and I need to learn how to conduct anthropological research and I need to go to Spain, I need to keep traveling, flying walking taking trains taking boats and taking photos. Because at the end of these journeys that I make from time to time I feel whole. This trip was exactly what I'm meant to do. I'm a story teller and I'm just starting to learn how to do it. I'm fascinated by people, I'm fascinated by culture and language and clothes and food and geography, and I never ever want to stop learning from everyone around me.

More than even my time in Nepal I have really realized in the past four weeks how isolated we are as Americans. Home will always be home, and number one in my heart, but people are not the same everywhere and I think the best way to spend my life will be to talk to all the people, to learn from them, to photograph them, and to tell their stories, so that we can all learn from each other.

See you soon America!

(Next stop is most likely Spain so stay posted for a new blog in the coming months!)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wrapping it Up, and Not Enough

Today Becca and I woke up super early before class to head to the souks (market) and buy a zillion last minute gifts. So early in fact that no one else was awake, including the shop owners themselves. We sat on a bench and watched a man nail his car front and back on the curbs approximately 7 times in the process of attempting to parallel park. After, shopping was a success but left us feeling extremely, extremely poor. We raced home in time to grab our laptops and notebooks and speed walk to class. Class was class. Slow. Kind of boring today, though we did get to talk about Detroit and Dearborn which no worries I gleamed while it happened and explained triumphantly that my sister works there! When my professor asked if she ever brought home any goodies I was proud to say Hijabs and Baklava appropriately. 

We made it home, went through all of our gifts and I hate to say it but I started packing. I chose my last four outfits that I would wear in this magnificent country and started to shove the rest in every nook and cranny. We got shawarma for dinner, as we nearly do every night, and then have worked on our documentary script the rest of the night until I started to sleep answer Becca's questions. We both showered and are off to sleep early because we have class in the morning, along with a long day of scriptwriting and reading and studying for our other final on Friday. We are all completely exhausted here. At our wits end. 

Amongst that though, Becca and I have already had the discussion about coming back to Morocco after graduation and further working on this project. We have come so far integrating ourselves into this community, making bizarre connections with people I never dreamed of meeting. This project falls so perfectly into a realm of anthropological research and journalistic coverage that I don't know how I could resist coming back. 

Four weeks was not enough. I'm just now learning the money and the languages and my way around. There are streets in every direction I still haven't explored. 

Four weeks is barely enough time for you to taste a culture, but I did. I came, I came to Morocco with no clue what it would be like, no expectations in mind. It's Arab but it's Africa but Islam but Europe but Spain but the ocean but hijabs and Arabic but French? But wait what? 

I had no clue what an amazing complex culture I was stepping into. This place is bizarre with strange cultures and traditions and practices and beautiful wonderful people and camels and cows and goats, beaches and soccer, and trams fancier than I've ever seen, busses and taxis and petit taxis. Souks and cats everywhere. Cats. On cats on cats. Graveyards and rituals and women in strange red snuggies with puppies on them. Yala shabeb. Gelabas that are not to be confused with KKK robes and women in white when they are in mourning, but only for four months and ten days. Shawafas. Le bes. Bread. Cats and Tagine and Cous Cous, cucumbers and juice and paninis and fries and paninis and pizza and paninis and fries and paninis. Fromage. Weird Fromage. Mint tea, everyday all day in small glasses out of a silver tea pit who's handle is so hot you are guaranteed 1st degree burns if you accidentally touch it. Humdullah. Bread. Yala. Cats and the ocean and graveyards. Bus rides and markets and medinas and mosques and cookies and soccer and tagine and Cous Cous. Shawarma. Shoukran. Fiqh. Clementines until you're itchy, well at least until I'm itchy. French and Arabic combined into one. Dirija. Bread. Friends on the street. Bread and eggs. Leather shops that smell like death. Yala shabeb. Shawafas. Tight winding streets of the Fez Medina. Women in Nikabs and Burqas and Hijabs and Tight jeans, and tight dresses, dyed hair flowing with mounds of make up. Arabic TV, soap operas. Yala. A red flag with a green star. Shawafas. Giant posters of the King wherever you go. Literally wherever. Every single store, shop, library, office, school, etc. Cats. Paninis. Henna. Mint tea. Cats. Bread. Yala shabeb. Shawafas. Fiqh. Shoukran. Fez. Meknés. Casablanca. Marrakech. Tangier. Chef Chaouen. Asilah. Rabat. Morocco.

Four weeks is barely enough.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tangier and the Beginning of the End

It is bizarre how quickly four weeks in a foreign country can fly by. With two classes, a documentary script project, learning a language or two and a culture and where to find food and how to get a taxi and how to ride a tram and which alleys of the streets have the cheapest items and which are a little sketchy and how to get to the beach and, figuring out how to stay warm in a freezing country where heat isn't a thing, bus rides on bus rides on bus rides, desperately searching for internet and wall outlets to charge things and downloading and uploading photos and editing and transcribing and desperately searching for bathrooms and toilet papers or something that will at least serve its purpose and lions and tigers and bears ...  we've been sort of busy the past month.

I've tried to blog. I've tried. Constantly being on the road and having wayyyy too much to do has been a challenge but here is my attempt to catch you up.

This weekend we went to Chef Chaun, which can be spelled a zillion different ways. Here is what I have to say about it. You. Have. To. Go. ... No really, you have to. You're entire life will change the moment you see those blue doorways in front of your eyes. I will try to post photos before I go home. Everything is blue. It is hilly and curvey and twisty and turvey by far the most beautiful place I've ever been. Cats and children and old women and fruit and scarves and rugs and kids playing soccer and Moroccan tea and everything in between. We only got to stay for one night and leaving was awful. If I ever make it back to Morocco, which I plan on doing. I will most definitely make time in my travels to stop in Chef Chaun again.

Next we headed to Tangier. In Tangier, from the coast, you can see Spain. I'm not kidding, at all. Spain. Like Spain. It is a 37 minute ferry ride from Tangier to Spain, but we weren't allowed to make the journey. From my bed I could sit up and no joke see Spain out the window. Out hotel was right across the street from the beach. For the day we drove to Assilah and toured the market and then Becca and I bought a soccer ball and brought it to the beach to play with everyone. We had a really great day. It was beautiful also.

We went back to Tangier and hung out our last night and morning. Becca and I worked on our project a lot and had the comfiest beds in the world. 

We took a long bus ride home and last night. Becca had bought a movie on iTunes so we ordered Pizza Hut and we watched a movie and passed out.

So that's my update. Now we're working on starting our script this week and doing some initial packing along with final shopping a long with studying for finals. Yikes.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chef Chaouen and Beyond...

So today we took our lovely bus to the city of Chef Chaouen. Wifi doesn't work in our rooms and the lobby is a little too smokey for my asthma to handle BUT- I promise to post photos from this remarkable place in a few days! Wifi will be harder to come by this weekend as we travel around near Tangier. I'll be sure to blog about it all, because this is by far the most beautiful city I have ever set foot in in my entire life. On that note, 2015 is off to a great start here in Morocco! Happy New Year everyone! Baslama! 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Meknés, Fez, and Back...

We've been extremely busy here in Morocco. So busy, that I haven't had a moment to even blog. All has been going well for the most part. Last week we had a lot of hours of class and documentary screenings, both of which are questionable uses of my time. We wrapped up four interviews here in Rabat last week, which was fun and yet tiring. Then, last Friday we hopped yet again on the bus and headed east to see Meknés and Fez for the weekend.

We stopped at the most beautiful Roman Ruins in Volubilis, and took as many photos as... well as we were allowed. (Yes, there was someone who tried to rush us around and limit the number of photos we took... No, I didn't take lightly to it.)

We walked through the Medina (main market) in both Meknés and Fez. In Fez we sat for lunch at some restaurant where I couldn't eat much (anything but mushy cooked vegetables and bread). Later we made it to this cafe where we were supposed to order things like hot chocolate and milk shakes, ... except they had a menu, ... that had food, and yes, yes they had felafel, my all time favorite food. So, since I was starving I indulged as Becca shared a slice of double chocolate cheesecake with the rest of the table. The waiters there all wore hoodies as their uniform, navy blue sweatshirts that said "CLOCK" on the front in Orange, the name of the cafe... and well you see, we had all been so cold all day that many of us all bought the sweatshirt while we were there. No regrets. Solid decision. So soft, so warm.

Quite honestly all of the tours have been so jam packed that I honestly can't think of anything else that we did. But at least the ruins stick out right?

Now here is the real story:

Over the weekend we got to spend two nights in Meknés... not in a hotel, not in a hostel, but with a host family. Three students to a family, me, Becca, and Kaitlyn. I don't even know how to start this story. We had the most amazing host family ever, that's the main point. Mom, Dad, Hamza who was 20, Omar who was 10, and Muhamed who was 5, a house of three boys welcomed us three girls beyond graciously into their home. There is just something to be said about people who open up their homes to foreign students, and all of those things are extremely positive. From Mamá in Oaxaca, Mexico, to Shila in Kathmandu, Nepal, to this glorious, beautiful, smiling, laughing, Moroccan woman, I love them all. Our host father owned a shop just underneath the house, a tailor, tried desperately to communicate with us in French, with no success I might add. Hamza got away with a few phrases in Spanish, but no english, not out of any of them. In the morning they asked us if we had been cold the night before (after they brought us 24 zillion thick heavy blankets) by putting their hands in front of their chests and pretending to shiver, then placing their palms together and tilting their head, hands under head, to signify sleeping. We were asked every night and every morning if we wanted to shower, but this was communicated through mine and Becca's knowledge of "ducharse" in Spanish, meaning to shower, similar in French and our host parents and Hamza motioning a shower of their heads. Every time we denied they looked a little disgusted, no lies.

The real best part though is little five-year-old Muhamed. Muhamed drew with Becca, ran around singing the Qur'an, (and we would clap for him after), renamed the three of us, Zineb, Salawa, and Ikram from the Qur'an, pointed at a picture from a childrens book and yelled "Satan" in Arabic and jumped away, dropped the book and pretended enthusiastically to scream, rode around on a little plastic tricycle, drew on the walls with a black marker and got in trouble, played enthusiastically with a small rattle, and never stopped rambling on in Arabic despite none of the three of us understanding a single word he said. He was a beautiful, wonderful little man. We nearly cried saying goodbye. It only took two days for that family to completely steal our hearts. I would go back in a heart beat.

So that was our weekend trip to Meknés and Fez!

Christmas in Casa

On Christmas, since we had the day off, most of us refused to work on our documentaries. So, instead of just hanging out we took the day as our one opportunity to visit Casablanca!

First though Becca and I had gifts our mom's packed for us, including full blown stockings from her mom, containing candy galore and little stuffed owls. Maybe Becca and I take them everywhere with us now... maybe we don't...

We got up and got on a train. First, we stopped at the Hassan II Mosque which is HUGE and beautiful and RIGHT on the water. We spent forever taking photos and sitting on the rocks on the water. Next we walked to Rick's Cafe, but unfortunately it was closed until dinner and we weren't going to be in Casa all day. We took taxi's to the strip of cafes that line the water front. Being the American's we are we all settled on a cheaper, safer, and guaranteed delicious meal of Burger King. We got barbeque and Heinz ketchup packets with our meals and I think that was all it took for us to shed a few tears. We headed outside to watch the sunset then met up back at the train station. I bought a Starbucks and my heart melted a little. It was great to get out of the Capital and see a city we otherwise wouldn't have, and to get away from the constant tours and schedules and being told where to go and when. The independence was a huge bonus.

A quick train back to Rabat and we had dinner with the whole group including our favorite IES worker, Majid. We exchanged Secret Santa gifts we'd all bought in Rabat, which was more fun than I think it sounds. People dispersed to Skype home and a few people watched The Grinch in the lounge and that was that!

Christmas full of Christmas music, friends, gifts, good food, travel, adventure, photos, sunshine, the coast, and Starbucks. What more can a girl ask for? As sad as it was to be away from family, I wouldn't change a thing about my first Christmas away from home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Very Merry Christmas Eve

Moroccan Witchcraft is kind of a heavy topic. It's extremely secretive and hidden, its sometimes considered shameful and against God. Moroccan Witchcraft and the research of the culture surrounding it has brought Becca and I to many frustrating and confused moments. Why is it so hidden, why is it such a secret? How on God's green earth are we going to find Moroccans willing to talk with us, let alone be recorded, let alone be photographed talking about this subject? On top of that how were we going to find a practitioner of Moroccan Witchcraft, something that is considered illegal against the state and the Islamic faith, to talk to us?

We started interviews a few days ago. The first people we found willing to talk to us about this were academics. Professors of culture, sociology, and Islamic studies filled us in on both their professional knowledge as well as their own stories they've heard and been told throughout life.

... blah blah blah, cool, interesting, but not that interesting. Until...

This morning Becca and I rolled out of bed, checked every piece of equipment we possibly could. Lenses, batteries, charging everything, clearing space on SD cards, CF cards, so on. We walked down to the ocean near the cemeteries, where we met our translator. We waited. Waited. Our translator made a few calls. Then two women across the street waved to the three of us. And across we went. Words were exchanged in Arabic, we shook the women's hands. Salam Alaykum. Wa Alaykum Salam. Finally we asked our translator what was going on, what was the plan, what were they talking about. "Okay you can stay here, take photos, they will try to get a Shawafa to come out of the cemetery," he told us. (Non Muslims are not allowed in Muslim cemeteries, so we needed to get the Shawafa to come out to meet us.) We stood from the top of the hill looking down shooting photos with our telephoto lenses. We now understood the Shawafas are sometimes just women who sit in these cemeteries, waiting for people to stop by and "talk."

We watched as one of the women we met went down to talk to her. We watched as she called our translator from inside to tell him the verdict. She was refusing to come out. So a beautiful Moroccan woman adorned in hijab and all began to look like she was deep in thought. She spoke in Arabic with our translator. Finally, "have you showered today? Are you clean?" we were asked. "Uhm, well last night, like I showered and then slept," Becca lied. "And you?" our translator looked at me. Oh crap, if anyone knows me at all you know that me and lying do not go well together. "Uhm, yeah, same." To which the Moroccan woman rambled again to our translator. Then, "are you clean though?" "Yeah, I mean we're clean..." Becca said. For a solid thirty seconds I thought perhaps the woman was just offended by us, maybe I stunk, oh Jesus, I stink don't I, oh Lord. I swear if I don't get to talk with this Shawafa because I stink, I will pray to deodorant and never miss another shower the rest of my life as long as I live. Then, our translator just turned to us and said... "you aren't going to get it, you aren't going to understand." Becca and I just looked at each other until Becca said "ohhhh that kind of clean." To which our translator said something about a certain type of cleaning related to after women have intercourse. Yes this does go on my top list of awkward things that have had to be translated to me through a male Muslim in a foreign country... Poor guy was very uncomfortable, but credit to him he really stepped up today from being so reserved and came through for us, helping us out every step of the way.

We were going to be taken inside. Inside the Muslim cemetery to meet the Shawafa.

"Could you cover your hair, it'd be best." Becca and I were so prepared for this moment. The moment in this Muslim country we'd be asked to cover our hair. Yet here we were fiddling with secretive, hidden camera equipment and setting audio recordings to the right levels and walking into this holy land that was not our own, and now we are whipping out scarves and desperately panicking to throw them on. Hold on hold on. We're in a frenzy as I try to explain to our translator this isn't something we do everyday, we aren't good at this... The beautiful Moroccan Woman looks over, and says, "that's good, no problem, no problem, it looks good." And bless her soul, was that all the English she knew in the world it was just enough to set me at ease and let me realize this group of three Moroccans surrounding the two American girls were there to help, support, and protect us, none of them had to be there, but they welcomed us not just in their country, their culture, but on their holy land to explore a secretive, hidden, part of their culture. Her few words of English pushed me forward.

There she was. All dressed in red. A friend next to her, our translator, these other two women helping us, and me and Becca. It was quite the scene. I felt like such a journalist, like a local team had been developed around us to help us tell this woman's story. And to do it with my best friend, it was a really special moment. We were invited to sit down. Our equipment was welcomed, but no photographs of her face were allowed. I had a man next to me, her friend, and the two women helping us behind me, who after my first shot tapped me from behind to see it, and they approved. I shot her feet, her hands, as much of her body as I could from my one angle. We ran an audio recorder, meanwhile the group behind me chatted away in LOUD Arabic just over my shoulder, Becca, and our translator worked hard to hear the conversation with the Shawafa and plan what question would follow. Question after question we learned so much, so much we'd been seeking to hear first hand.

We did it. We made our way to a Shawafa. After months of planning, contacting, researching, calling, reading, discussing, presenting on Moroccan Witchcraft, here was one form, a Shawafa, sitting right before our very eyes. If accomplishment could be an emotion I was experiencing it in that moment.

We were so nervous sitting down we sat uncomfortably until Becca, our translator, and my feet were all asleep. The beautiful Moroccan woman offered to take our photograph with the Shawafa; the Shawafa faced us in the photograph so you can only see the back of her head, still so worth it.

And that is the story of the day I met a Shawafa.

I'm just radiating with journalism happiness now.

So, at this same time, today is Christmas Eve and it's my first Christmas away from home, and family. If anyone knows me even an inkling you know that home is my holy land and my sacred place. Nothing is better than being in the Mitten, Otis and Oliver on each side of me. Being away today was hard. Having not heard my dad's voice in over a week is beyond what I can typically handle, again if anyone knows me even at all you know that nothing can get between my *practically, (and sometimes literally)* hourly phone calls to my dad.

But here is the thing people: we are talking the most awesome combination of photojournalism and anthropology and world travel and foreign language and religion and cultural exchange possible, that I sacrificed home for. And me, being about one of the most dorky humans on this planet, if I could've wished for any gift this Christmas, it would've most definitely been to meet a Shawafa here in Morocco. Today on Christmas Eve, I met a Shawafa, interviewed her about her life and photographed her. I'm going to go ahead and say even in Africa, in a country where Christmas isn't celebrated, far from home, far from my family, far from the food I'm craving and my own bed and my dogs and my big sister and my everything I had the most Merry Christmas Eve I possibly could have ever dreamed of.

And let's be real, what is more Christmas-y than the Facebook group we have between all the students on the trip (appropriately titled "Shawafas and S#%!) sharing Christmas themed YouTube videos and laughing our butts off? Can't beat that.

Tomorrow we have the day off and most of us our headed by train to Casablanca for the day. Should be a relaxing and fun day trip, followed by dinner with everyone back in Rabat, and our Secret Santa exchange at night. Becca's mom packed us Christmas stockings to open up in the morning, and when I remembered that we finally get to open them earlier today I nearly cried tears of joy.

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Happy Day, Happy Night, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings to all feeling festive this time of year! From Morocco to wherever you may be!