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!