Wednesday, March 25, 2015



Friends!

This post has been a long time coming. Many wonderful things have occurred and many are yet to come. I'll be leaving my host family on Sunday to travel to Marrakech, Tangier, Agadir, and maybe Fez. Plans are still up in the air.

Two weeks ago we stayed in a rural village, Sbaa Rouadi, outside of Fez. We arrived in a cloud of dust. From our tinted bus windows, we watched dozens of children flock around us, lining up to greet the out-of-place Americans. We de-boarded our ride, and I offered high-fives and tired smiles to the crowd. We then filed into the "association" (unnamed local NGO) and we were greeted by two mannequins (classic), dressed as newlyweds in a yellowing lace dress and loose suit. Young women busied themselves around us, setting out trays of sugar cookies, almond bites, honeyed croissants, cream pastries, and tea loaded with sugar. Who know how much sugar I've consumed on this trip, but Moroccan hospitality leaves little room for contemplating health. 

We got an overview of the association and their activities, among them reading/writing classes, sewing, soccer games, and reproductive health seminars. Soon after, we left the dim room to shuffle out to our respective host families. Julia (my roommate) and I were the first to meet our host mother, Fatina, who I could tell was goofy and kind from the moment we met. We made the 15 minute walk to the village, heavy backpacks lugged along, in a pack of other kind-eyed mothers and dazed host-children. I held the hand of a quiet, sweet girl, perhaps 8, and though the gesture grew worn and our palms sweaty, we kept walking this way until our separate homes. She only spoke once, to point out a fat cow. 

At the rusty brass door of our temporary home, we were met by Sara, my 19 year old host sister. Sara snuck quickly inside and we followed, entering the dark concrete home with ginger footsteps. Our big bags were discarded in the bedroom, and we joined Sara in the couch-lined living room. In our initial moments, we shared jokes and laughs, our equal language inabilities met with giggles and shrugs. They fed us salted tomato with roasted potato slices, along with the oil extracted from a chicken boil, which we mopped up with handfuls of homemade bread. 

We went on a walk in the evening sun. The four of us walked along the olive-tree lined paths, pausing to point out wheat, onion, and fennel plants. We stopped at the fennel, where Fatina bent down to dig for bulbs. While digging and heaving the fennel from its roots, Fatina hummed strange songs to herself, her energy infectious with its wild enthusiasm. Soon, Julia and I were also digging around in the soft ground, twisting the spiny roots until the fennel popped into our hands. It smelled lovely. At the root, it was smooth like an onion but as it grew farther from the earth it flowered softly outwards, eventually extending into a ruffled green head. Later we rubbed our mud-caked hands with the silky fingers of the fennel plant to gently chip away at the speckles of brown. 

My host mother Fatina in front of an olive tree.



The only proper way to celebrate a birthday.

Julia, Fatina, Sara, and I sitting on the couch/my bed.

 Sara at a celebration for a new baby in town. Seventy other women were in attendance.

 Sara's shirt hangs in the yard.

Julia in the blue mid-afternoon.


Right before I left for the village stay I visited the small town of Tamesna with another journalist, Ben, from my program. He wanted to speak with the family of a man who had recently set himself on fire in protest to the government attempting to destroy his slum as part of the Cities without Slums program. This program, which has been heralded by the UN as being extremely effective, advocates for the demolition of slums in favor of newer apartment buildings. In Tamesna, these buildings stood tall directly across the street from the tin-roofed shacks of the slums. Many have already moved into the new homes, but the rent is far greater than the slums and some families struggle to make the move. There are many reasons why the transition from slum to apartment is difficult: the man who set himself on fire refused to leave because his family had occupied the land for generations, another man worried that the small store from which he makes his income would not be given to him outside of the slums thus rendering him broke, and another still complained about the cultural differences between life in the cramped and bustling slum versus compartment-style apartments. 

A young boy stands in the courtyard the new apartments.

An apartment building that is meant for those outside of the Cities without Slums program.

Once a family moves to a new apartment, the government demolishes their home, leaving the rubble behind in between homes.

The bridge that connects the newer and older sections of town.

The river below.

Women take lunch overlooking one of the slums and a distant construction project. 


Last week, I accompanied Kiannah and Brennan, two journalists from my program, to another slum- this time in Rabat. In an apartment adjacent to the slum, there exists a small language school, run by a handful of foreign volunteers and founded by a 28 year old man, Salah, from the same slums. The school teaches English and French five days a week, from 5-9, right after kids come from school or adults come from work. There are two classrooms, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, and all the volunteers live in the apartment. The classes start with the youngest from 5-6, middle schoolers 6-8, and adults 8-9pm.

I took actual portraits of Salah too, but they weren't nearly this artsy.

Kiannah: Do you ever get tired going to school all day and then studying more in the evening?
Imane, age 8: Yes, sometimes I get tired. But every time I don't want to come I think about my dream to become a journalist and I know that this is what I must do to become a journalist, so I always go.

Two friends play in the classroom.

Imane and her sister singing "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain" during class.

A cat! Crawled into my jacket!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Southern Excursion





The High Atlas Mountains


 Our welcome cookie-spread at a girls dormitory in Ouarzazate.



Our new friend Ismael playing traditional Gnawa music... or Jason Mraz. 

His brother, Mustapha.

Kacie in Marrakech

Kea on a mountain!

Architecture in the girls dormitory






A tannery in Fez. Some vats are full of blood and discarded skin; the others contain dye.

The products of the slaughter. 

 The edge of a large sowing machine in a scarf shop. 


A view from beneath the large sowing station.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Week One

There are few more exhilarating activities than walking through a bustling marketplace. Scents of parsley, cumin, and rotting litter waft in the air, granting a new smell for each step. Women in leopard print hijabs hustle their way through the crowd followed closely by sharp men in Western business suits, with child beggars weaving around them. Traditional Moroccan tiles line the booths of meat-stalls, and peering inside I’m simultaneously intrigued and repulsed, initially intrigued by the intricate designs, but soon after repulsed by the skinned pig legs and gleaming butcher knifes. Young men shout out over the throng, attempting to sell 20-cent headphones or 2-dollar shoes. Moroccan music blasts from speakers in the CD shops, lasting only a moment before the next sound takes over.

Simultaneous to the commotion, my mind floods with questions: how do all these stalls selling variations on the same knockoff brand make any money at all? What led these child beggars here to the medina (old city)? Are they from the mountains, the villages? What elements provoked each of these passing women to wear the hijab? Was it their families, traditions, religion, personal choice… or all of these elements at once?  


But as quickly as these questions flash through my head, they must be pushed away, there is no time to ponder in the medina. Motorbikes curve through the skinny streets, daring the distracted to step into their path. Men 'tsk' and follow the girls bodies with their eyes, sometimes yelling out “ah spice girls!” or “como ├ęstas?”. Stagnant water forms puddles in the cracks of the tiled street, thus requiring a watchful gaze of path ahead.

Wandering through a busy marketplace, then, is no simple task; it requires constant awareness on all levels: aesthetic, intellectual, and instinctual.

And now, it is where I live.

Take a right under the sign of the pregnant white lady, and you will end up at 3 Derb Souaf, my temporary home. The door is a simple dark brown, just like many others, but as tradition holds, the beauty is revealed on the inside. The ceiling reaches up, cutting through the second and third floor, allowing a constant beam of light to reach the ground floor where I live. Rooms are arranged on the sides of the house, making a square around an indoor balcony. Fake flowers adorn the walls, lifelessly blooming in clay pots. The houses within the medina have existed for centuries and much of their design reveals this fact. In my room, an archway stretches down from the ceiling marking the spot where curtains used to hang, blocking the public space of the living room from the private bedroom of the children or parents. Currently only one family lives here at 3 Derb Souaf, but at points it held up to five.

Legza, the main street in the medina. I live halfway down on the right.

The culture borne of communal living remains strong within the medina today. Streets may be narrow but they remain full of life, with the friends of shopkeepers rounding the booths asking, how’s your wife? Your kids? Your mother? Your sister? And eventually, when they run out of questions, it's back to how’s your wife? Mohamed, my host brother, says that even a new coat is cause for a conversation. Very few people in the medina own a car, thus requiring neighborly contact at every turn, even if it’s just a simple Salam. The host brother of my friend Kea says that the basis of the medina is love, that the love for neighbors and friends allows the medina to thrive. With the kindness and patience I’ve experienced so far, I can imagine that to be true.

I’ll write more soon, thanks for reading friends.


Julia


Two blind men talk on the street.

A man throws wood chips into the furnace that heats the local Hamam, or public bath.


The golden sunset of the medina.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Morocco

Hi friends,

Three days until Morocco. I'm staring at a pile of clothes, books, medicine, and shoes on my bed, attempting to mentally fit it into my 65 liter bag. I made the decision yesterday to leave my hair a light greenish color, thus rendering me "that silly American" for the majority of the trip. I have a feeling that my attempt at a French accent would have doomed me anyways. I've never kept up a blog before, but I'll try and record bits and pieces of the trip every few weeks, definitely including some of the quadratrillions of photographs I'll be taking. I probably won't be posting them to facebook when I upload them so if you care to, just check back every once in a while, and leave a comment, criticism, or inspirational quote down below. It's the internet, use it how you want. Either way, I'll be here, posting into the cloud from the Northern tip of a mysterious continent. 

Check back soon,
Julia

    *not a stock photo

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stills

Stills from a video I'm currently editing. Only several snapshots of my life over the past semester.