Morocco is a photographer’s dream, for it is a land of mystery, contradiction, and enchantment.
For me personally, it means a new environment to photograph my favorite subject: birds. I’m by no means pursuing it to the depth of Eliot Porter, but I’m having a good time nonetheless.
In many ways, I have felt a growing companionship with birds as I travel around Morocco and the world. My home “nest” is almost 6,000 miles away, and I’ve flown away to find something new. I travel with my fellow flock of ISA students, and together we have the most bizarre and wonderful experiences. Yet even though we travel and learn together, there are times when I feel lonely, lost, and confused. For all the bad days, my good days outweigh my former feelings of dismay. I have no regrets about embarking on this experience, because Morocco has given me more than I could have ever dreamed of intellectually, culturally, mentally, spiritually…
I have so many friends and family that I can share my journey with; they walk with me through all the changes and new experiences. I’m free as a bird and unimaginably lucky. In 47 days, I will make my way back home, but for now, I will sing the praises of my travels, taking in the unexpected and finding contentment in the strangest of places.
Here are a few of my personal favorite photos so far.
Morocco’s landscape diversity is simply incredible. In many ways it reminds me of my home state, California: there can’t be too many places in the world where palm trees, desert, snow, heavy rain, and forest can coincide in the same territory. Naturally, Morocco facilitates this odd mix with ease.
In the spirit of trying to explore Morocco as best I can, yesterday my roommate and I accompanied my host mom to her friend’s house in Khedrache, a countryside area about 30 minutes outside Meknes. Lydia (the roommate) likes to make fun of me because I’m very much a city slicker; the moment we stepped in the front yard of the country home, I noticed some wandering roosters and exclaimed, “now that’s free range!”
For all of my city living, I often forget how peaceful it is to live simply. The home was old-fashioned yet utterly charming. I was introduced to farm animals: a chicken coop, and a cool hole with a rabbit hanging out. The bathroom was outdoors, and there was a “John Deere” tractor for planting assistance. Toto and I were definitely not in Los Angeles any longer.
I’ve come to the conclusion that individuals abroad are generally more hospitable and kind than those I’ve met in America. No offense, America, but Moroccans have you beat in terms of making you feel at home (though I must admit my roommate has been showing me the ways of Southern hospitality, which is a definite competitor). We were immediately sat in front of a gorgeous feast of tea and melwi (ملوي), a thick, crepe-like bread. Lydia and I ate and vocalized our gratitude with murmurs of appreciation (such is the way when you can’t speak much Darija), and stopped after a few melwi. Now, Moroccans love to eat. It’s a fact. So when Lydia and I didn’t continue eating, we were immediately asked if we were on a diet. Oh, Morocco.
My host mom’s friends were so kind and genuine- I couldn’t understand much of anything, but I was able to pick up fragments of someone telling me I was welcome to come by whenever I wanted, which was very sweet. Another fun part of the trip was meeting a little girl named Malikah, who was a bundle of sass and joy. It had been quite a while since I’d been around children; in contrast, my roommate works at a preschool. I turned to her and muttered “I don’t remember what the protocol is for this!” when Malikah wanted to sit on my lap.
After eating, we got a tour of the grounds and walked around. The highlight was definitely walking to the top of the house and finding a beautiful rooftop view. What do you hear when you climb to the rooftop of a building in Los Angeles? Traffic. Horns. Chatter.
Do you want to know what you hear when you climb to a rooftop in the countryside in Morocco? Silence. The chirping of birds. The laughter of a child playing next to you. It’s a scene that makes you pause, close your eyes, breathe in the fresh air, and quietly count your blessings for knowing what it means to experience a moment of serenity.
This strange and fascinating land has been my home for the last 25 days. I’m going to attempt to describe what it’s been like- words might fail me at times, so I ask that you bear with me for the next two months and twenty five days as I work through it.
Prior to age seventeen, I’d never been on a plane. Though it seems that ever since my first flight, I’ve been taking full advantage of any opportunity to fly. Every semester I make the trip from California to Vermont for school (and have seen much of the Midwest from 35,000 ft. as a result).
And now, here I am, in Meknès, Morocco. I’ve been a U.S. passport bearer for about five months now, and I have to admit, getting that first stamp was unforgettable.
Just to make things easier, here’s a quick stat report of what I’m doing/answers to FAQs I received before departing for Morocco:
I am a student at Moulay Ismail University, which, at 23,000+ students, is the largest school I’ve ever attended.
My course load consists of the following: Beginning Arabic (and the Moroccan dialect, Darija), Islamic Society and Politics, Three Religions/Three Peoples and The Representation of Geopolitical Conflict in Western and Arab Media.
No, I did not study a lick of Arabic before I left. I could maybe recognize two or three letters. (Proud to say, however, that I now know 25 out of 28 letters!) I do, however, have a working knowledge of French, which has proved extremely useful.
I do not have to cover my head here.
Orientation week was ridiculously cool: in a week, I visited Casablanca, Ouzoud/Beni Mellal and Marrakesh. I took pictures and realized that Morocco is extremely photogenic. Also, that I still really love birds.
Perhaps it’s just the way I am, but I’m starting to feel adjusted. My official motto of the year is “going for it 2014,” so I’ve tried to take as many risks and opportunities as I can while here. I think it’s a sort of mindset/attitude one acquires out of necessity while traveling: if you’re only in a certain place for a short amount of time, why not experience it to the fullest?
I will admit though, it’s an odd feeling realizing that I’m not in America anymore. If it doesn’t hit me while I’m walking down the street or around the city, the Internet is quick to remind me. Take, for example, when I was trying to watch the Superbowl, only to be met with this message:
It’s the subtle differences that make me realize I’m a long ways from home. Just yesterday I was watching the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony with my roommate… in French. On France 3. Because of course, our television doesn’t have English channels.
Regardless, I love being in Morocco. Like any experience, it has its ups and downs. Most importantly, every day I wake up and remember how grateful I am to be part of the privileged few who get to study abroad. Did you know that in the 2012-13 school year, ~283,000 students studied abroad? When you think about how many schools and students there are in the United States, that number seems absurdly small.
In summary: Morocco is wildly different from anywhere I’ve ever been, but it’s fun and exciting, and I have a lot of thoughts/feelings about it. So to all my friends, family, and whoever else may wander to this blog- I hope you’ll enjoy my travel spots and thoughts. There’s plenty more where this came from!