Author Archive

Because Every Picture Holds A Story

October 5, 2015

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I love this photo because it makes me laugh.  Mouhsin right in the front taking a “selfie” is a theme that was present throughout our experience in Morocco.  He made the trip so amazing, kept us laughing and was so caring every step of the way.  I am so very thankful for him, so I included this “selfie” of Mouhsin with the group in the background.

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Sitting on this rooftop drinking mint tea with our new Moroccan friends was one of my favorite moments.  We all sung at the top of our lungs, played guitar and laughed uncontrollably as we got to know each other.  It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, and one I will not soon forget.  These friends we made have the biggest hearts.  Even though we may be back home now, we talk to them constantly and I am sure they will be a part of our lives for a long time.  We are all excited to see each other again one day.

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The day this photo was taken was overwhelmingly beautiful both in the people we met and the farm we got to explore.  These kind souls were so welcoming and spending the day there came with many laughs, hugs, exploration and of course a lot of food.  I really enjoyed getting to play in the yard with the kids, explore the paths through the almond trees and hug the horses that lived on the farm.

Breaking Down Walls & Growing Together

October 5, 2015
           When in a moment that I feel to be overwhelmingly beautiful, life changing or powerful, I get chills.  In this moment, meeting with the Imam, in his home, I got chills.  As we walked in, he greeted us saying “welcome” in Darija Arabic. And to our surprise, as we took off our shoes and walked barefoot across the beautifully crafted carpets, we did feel welcome.  This feeling continued as we sat on the colorful, traditional, patterned couches lining all of the walls. This man, the Imam, who welcomed our small group of girls from a private Christian university into his home is a leader in the Islamic religion.  To us though, our first impression was that of a kind, warmhearted human being.
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Before we knew it, the Imam himself was pouring a cup of mint tea for everyone and an array of cookies was passed around the room.  The pouring of the tea stood out to me as a powerful symbol of reconciliation.  He could have had the other men do it, but he did it himself.  We were already being welcomed into his home, and now he was serving us, continuing conversation and tenderly smiling as he made eye contact with people throughout the room.
When we started asking questions, Iman our translator and friend of the Imam, was very helpful.  We asked him questions about everything from the Quran and the structure of Islam, to his feelings on worldly events.
We wondered if people on Earth, especially those in different religions could ever truly coexist and live in peace. To this, he said,

“One of the goals on Earth is to get to know each other, even though we may be different”

This is so powerful, especially coming from a man who is so religious in his own faith but seems to be so respectful of others (we can all take notes).  Many have the perception of Islam as a violent religion that shuns all non-believers, but that is just not true. Sitting there with the Imam, in his home was a true testament to that.
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As the conversation continued, the Imam himself walked around and refilled everyones cup of tea.  When the questions kept rolling, there were a few things he said that really stood out to me regarding what he believes the path to happiness entails.

He said,

“Some people are looking for happiness in power and money and there is no happiness there”
“Good deeds are the best happiness”
I don’t think that these quotes are hard to interpret or need any explanation.  What surprised me was, in the path to happiness he didn’t mention following certain rules or religions.  He made overarching statements that can fit into everyone’s religions/lives.
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Throughout life, we hear or get a feeling from our media/society that Islam is a violent religion.  We learn to feel uncomfortable when talking about it.  There are so many stereotypes, especially with the recent growth of Isis.  Many correlate Isis with Islam.  The truth is they are extremists and most Muslims would never associate themselves with the group.  If that doesn’t break down stereotypes and walls, I will leave you with these quotes from the Imam.
“I don’t understand Isis”
“Isis has nothing to do with Islam”

Sensing An Unknown Freedom

October 5, 2015
            As I followed a Moroccan boy who I had just met through the foreign alleys of Meknes, I realized something big was happening.  We had met him just five minutes earlier when we were introduced by a friend. We shook hands and instantly I became softened by trust.  I didn’t realize I had felt this way until I was fearlessly following him into a taxi, through crowds, and down narrow alleyways of the medina (old town) as he helped us get to our final destination.  He spoke little English, and I barely any Darija, but something magical was there.  Something that defies the stereotypes of the “easy, dumb” American and the “oppressing” Eastern male. A friendship was built instantly, with mutual respect for the other.  Misconceptions and stereotypes were immediately crushed until all that was left was an effortless, fluid trust.
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           I have noticed this trust and respect with all the males I have truly met here in Morocco.  Not just met as passed them in the street, but the ones I actually had conversations with.  I have noticed it in the way the Moroccan women relate to those around them, such as the mothers we have met.  Many people (besides the occasional cat call- which is also prominent in the U.S.)  show great respect for us, making our group of girls feel welcome. This can be seen especially in the younger generation such as the college students who we hangout with and the kind people we talk to in the marketplace.   It seems as though globalization, and forms of social media have helped diminish a lot of stereotypes that people have of American women. Now I am not saying that people are not curious, because they are but it is mostly just a soft “hello” or “welcome”.
             Another instance in which this respect was shown to us happened a few days ago. We were in one of our new friend’s homes surrounded by his beautiful family and I found myself observing the gender relationships . As they were cooking the four of us lunch, we were immersed in conversation with our new friend. We were able to have conversations freely and he wanted to know what we thought about all kinds of topics. He respectfully listened as we opened our minds, sharing our dreams, passions and ideas.  He shared the same with us and the mutual respect/love for one another continued, regardless of the short time that we had known each other.  In America, it may take months to feel the level of comfort that we did in just a day or two with these kind people of the opposite gender here in Morocco.  There were no expectations like a lot most times back home, it was just an easy, blossoming friendship.
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              At the homes of our new friends, we meet the mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers. We meet beautiful women who are free to express their minds and be overwhelmingly, all at once, beautiful inside and out .  On this day, in their home, this was very apparent. As the boy’s mother came out to say hello, she was so welcoming.  In just a few minutes we could feel her happiness radiating, we heard the intelligent thoughts that roll off her tongue and we saw a freed woman.  A woman who seemed to be comfortable in her own skin. These women, these mothers, sisters and friends who we often think of as so oppressed by the males, seem to not be constrained by anything that they don’t allow.  Instead, they show kindness with a level of strength and confidence that I don’t see much in America.
           Previously to this trip and studying other cultures in this class, I would have never thought of American women, myself included, as “trapped”.  Now, I am not so sure.  These Moroccan women are allowed to be both beautiful and smart in a hybrid interwoven identity that most Americans cannot.  Women are seen as precious here, not objects made only to please the male ego.  They don’t have to make an impossible choice between beauty and intelligence, they are respected as women for their thoughts, and unlike Americans, they get wiser and more beautiful in the eyes of others as they age.  Before we all make assumptions, we need to experience.  Experience and conversations are the key to unlocking the misconceptions of the “other” and seeing the beautiful identities that lay underneath.  If love for women and respect became  how we judged others, then I say Moroccans are going for the gold.

Safe Travels

September 18, 2015

An experience I had one night in Granada, Spain was the kind that changes someone, it changed me. It changed the way that I perceived other countries in relation to America. Here’s how it went- The tours for the day had ended and some of us girls decided to hangout, grab a bite to eat for a bit afterwards. When the impending exhaustion set in (us all knowing that we had an early wakeup time the next morning) we decided to head off in our separate directions. The two girls in each homestay usually walk home together, but tonight, my roommate wanted to stop at a store with some girls and I was keen on just starting my journey back to the homestay.

As I walked alone down the busy sidewalks, lightly lit by tall street lamps, I felt safe. Not the kind of safe where I know I’ll be okay if something happens, but really safe. It was a weird feeling not having to look straight at the ground to avoid eye contact with men around me who could be dangerous as I so often find myself having to do back in America. I strolled along, no “cat-calls”, just smiles. No speed-walking to get home fast, just a nice nighttime stroll with time to process and think about my day. It was nice, something I had never experienced before quite in that way.  Even though I was alone in a foreign environment, I felt safe.

image Before this trip, everyone would tell me to be careful, watch my surroundings constantly and not to trust strangers. I even reminded myself of that on many occasions. My parents told me, “don’t go anywhere alone”, my friends, “stay inside at night, it can be dangerous”. Now I’m not saying that everywhere in Spain is safe, because that would just be an assumption. All I know is that night, that long walk home through the traffic and swarms of people out in Granada, I had no worries. In Seattle, where I spend most of my days and love with all of my heart, I would never feel like that, and I never have. I know to not go downtown at night, because I have felt the horror that the experience can be. Here, I just assumed I would feel unsafe, I didn’t really “know”.

We cross to foreign places with timid perceptions of the careful actions we will have to carry with us everywhere. But, how much does that hinder our experiences and learning? How much do we lose when we are scared of the “other” place, population and or culture? Crossing borders requires courage, the courage to try new things and meet new people. It also requires optimism, knowing that what you think you “know”, you probably don’t really know. That is the case with me, I thought I would be securing my belongings and constantly having to be aware of my surroundings. But, this walk, alone in the dark through the streets of Granada, Spain that are unknown to me shattered the ideas that I previously held.

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Yes, going to a new place is scary, but we learn more than we ever thought we would. It just requires optimism and following how your heart feels, not the misperceptions that our home culture may engrain in us before we go. We are transnational, we learn everywhere we go and what we “know” is constantly changed in a beautiful, heart-wrenching process called traveling.

Remember Me

September 18, 2015

Right when I walked through the gates into the orphanage, I was flooded with questions, grabbed this way and that, and frankly, overwhelmed. I would hear “what is your name?” over and over in broken English, French and Arabic. They would jump to give me hugs, to have the human contact/love they seemed to so desperately want. I longed to give each of them the love they deserved. It was crushing to not have enough time to make sure each of them felt worthy, loved and important. Before arriving, I had assumed that the children received visitors all the time, I was wrong.

As I continued to give hugs and introduce myself, it happened, they spotted my camera which I had forgotten about and left hanging over my shoulder. The conversation quickly changed to “photo?”, “photo me!”, and “of me, of me!”. Everywhere I went, they wanted their picture taken. I love capturing people so I was happy to take their photos. They would pose standing in their mismatched shoes displaying a peace sign with their fingers or leaning against the grafitti-filled walls that surrounded the outdoor play area. It was as if asking me taking their photo, was a way for them to make sure that I would remember them. To them saying “photo” seemed to be synonymous with “remember me”.

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After a while of being behind the camera, I decided to let them try it out. They took turns looking through the lens and figuring out the shutter button with such genuine enthusiasm. When a photo they took appeared on the screen, each one was overjoyed to see the smiling or silly face looking back at them. I figured the anxiety that I had with handing over my camera to these children I didn’t know was nothing compared to the joy that they were overcome with.

With the soccer balls flying past, the kids chasing them, and the loud conversations, the area was pretty hectic. Amongst the many kids asking for photos, I would hear “futbol?” “come futbol”. So we played a bit of what we in the United States call soccer, and laughed as I completely missed the net a few times. Off in the corner, a boy approached me who to my surprise didn’t ask me to take a photo or play soccer, but wanted to talk instead.   He asked me in scattered (but great) English what I was studying and then continued to tell me about his dreams of becoming a lawyer or studying economics. This shattered my perception that being in an orphanage would crush their dreams, but it seemed to make some of them dream even bigger. The passion in his eyes was beautiful and I didn’t need to take his photo to remember him. He never even told me his name, but I remember him, I always will.

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As I look back at the hundreds of blurry, beautiful photos left on my camera by these amazing kids, I remember them. Their dreams, joy and smiling faces are unforgettable. Whether it be through a photo or a genuine conversation, they are REMEMBERED.

Reason and Words Over Violence

September 1, 2015

While reading the book “Scheherazade Goes West” by Fatema Mernissi, many ideas stood out to me.  One that I immediately found myself highlighting and remembering was, “They are a symbol of the triumph of reason over violence” (Mernissi 51).  This quote is powerful all by itself, but when we learn the story of Scheherazade through the words of Mernissi, it takes on an even deeper, more powerful importance.  Mernissi studies the story throughout her travels on her booktour and time in Europe.  She gains a view in which others have not had the chance to fully develop, which makes her conclusions all that more interesting.  She views Scheherazade as a strong, intelligent woman and someone that she admires for the way in which she accumulated knowledge and used it for good.

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Many have heard of the story of The Thousand and One Nights where Scheherazade saved herself and her people from being killed by using her powerful, knowledgable mind to transform what could have been simple stories into suspensful, intelectually stimulating tales which ended up being the reason the king kept her alive.  She used the knowledge she had to change the way the king thought and she did this through her intense reasoning and passion for saving her people.  She knew the power of words to convey and solve what violence will never be able to.

Although many see Scheherazade in whatever (negative or positive) light their version of the story conveys of her, they would probably still agree that she had a way with words.  She used them to avoid conflict, as an alternative avenue to violence that made for a happy ending (depending on which story one reads).  But, what cannot be ruled out is that words in their own way, have a power that violence does not.  They have the power overcome violence in a peaceful route that is more to do with the psyche than any physical altercations.  Scheherazade obviously recognized this power when she volunteered to try to persuade and change the actions of the king.

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Maybe we can all, in this over-violent world take notes from her.  We can again recognize the power of words, stories and the passion for knowledge to overcome conflicts in ways other than violence.  Violence is not the answer to conflict, especially when something as beautiful as language exists to estinguish conflict in a more effective and positive way in the long run.  Scheherezade is a person that we can all learn from.  We can use our words more effectively and knowledgeably each day and hopefully one day we can live in a more peaceful, less brutal world.

The Importance of an Alternative Mapping

September 1, 2015

When you ask most people what the top items on their “bucket list” are, or what they want to accomplish before they die, most will list traveling the world.  There is a reason that this answer is so prevalent, people want to get out of their comfort zone, learn about others and view the way the rest of the world lives.  This involves communicating with other cultures and learning their ways of life.  Although, this answer is so common, many people will travel places but not take the time to engage the culture of the place.  They won’t get to know the people personally, or learn the history of how they and their culture has gotten to this point.  That is why the idea of an “alternative mapping” suggested in the book Performing Democracy by Kimberly Segall is so crucial.

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In the book, Segall describes the ways in which, when one is traveling, that they can learn and discover what she calls the “three correctives”.  These correctives are gender locations, social contestation and artistic revision which are often seen through forms of art (poetry, stories, songs, etc.) or social connections such as blogs..  These points which could also be considered as the healing avenues of the people, allow an individual to further understand the place in which they are visiting and the deeply intertwined history that is there.  An example of this would be the Kurdish songs used for rememberance and healing, as signs of “grief and hope” (Segall 10).

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As a traveler, one can use these ideas as a path for them to find their way deeper into the history and culture.  To develop this path or “alternative mapping”, we as travelers realize that the culture we have grown up in deeply affects the way in which we explore and experience the world.  After realizing this, we can then see that just like our culture, no one place is full of homogenous people but every person has a unique story full of versions of these three correctives and the ways in which they use them as healing avenues.

The Power of an Individual

May 28, 2015

The film Ali Zaoua shines light on the forgotten “street kids”.  It shows the children who spend their time sleeping on the hard concrete, begging for money and sniffing glue to suppress their hunger. There are many powerful depictions and saddening images throughout the film, but they are joined with themes of hope that often run through the childrens’ minds.  Throughout the film, there is the character of the sailor who brings a new beacon of hope to the boys lives, showing that they are not entirely forgotten, but at least one person cares.

This scene shows the mourning of Ali Zaoua on the sailors boat, it brings together the different worlds- the world the street kids live in and that of the mom.  It shows the reconciliation that can be brought about and the collective hurt/suffering that they go through.  The sailor brought them all together, he offers his boat and helps the boys to have the proper burial for Ali Zaoua.  It ends with them sailing off into the distance with new symbolism of hope for the future.

I think we live in a society that is so focused on huge, fast change that we often forget how powerful one person can be.  How much of an impact one person can have on another’s life through caring and noticing.  Just as the sailor gives hope to Ali Zauoa, he later helps care for his friends as well.  He notices that these boys are indeed still children and they need help, someone to show them the way.  In contrast to the harsh words and negative views their old leader Dib fills them with, the sailor changes everything by helping them to see another side again, a side of hope, joy and regrowth.

The film brings humanity back into the picture.  It shows the laughter of these kids. It shows the games they play and that even though they have these horrible lives, they are not ruined.  All it takes is at least one individual to care and treat others like the humans we all are.  We all can notice, listen and bring hope to change lives like the sailor did for these often forgotten street kids.