It always takes me a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of a new country. You can read as much as you want from travel guides or other people’s experiences, but it is not until you hit the streets that you really feel how things work and experience the dynamics of the culture. Like many other countries, Morocco is a place of contrasts. There is rich-poor, friendly-bitter, honest-not. After a week of traveling I have experienced many of those contrasts and it’s been a great and enriching experience.
I live in a very big city so when I travel I gravitate towards the opposite. I like to stay in smaller towns where I can feel the pace of life and find it easier to connect with locals. Of course, hitting the big cities is a must because of travel logistics and tourist attractions, so I had been to both.
– Casablanca: It was a cultural shock in a way when I arrived (read previous post)… first day and I was innundated with everything new.
– Meknes: Is a smaller city and felt more manageable.
– Mulay Idris: This small town near Meknes turned out to be the right size for my first week in Morocco.
Mulay Idris is a small town with a lot of Moroccan flavor. (people, colors, religion, food). Some of Morocco’s cities have an old part of town and a new part of town. The old part of town is called the “Medina”. It is usually surrounded by big walls and has a few gates that allow entrance and exit. It is also usually a kind of labyrinth of sorts … you can get lost easily…. I usually like to know where I am and where I am going, but in this situation I didn’t mind just wondering and getting lost in it.
Getting lost means you meet people… and that is one of the best things for me.
I had read that people in Morocco are very hospitable, but you don’t know what that feels like until you experience it first hand. Also, being a photographer and wanting to capture portraits of people I would value so much that kind of opportunity, so I tend to put myself in situations where something things may happen.
You may ask, so how do you take these portraits?
There is a saying in Spanish (in Ecuador) that says: “Baby who doesn’t cry, doesn’t eat”. So If I want to “eat” I have to cry… my way of crying is just talking and asking.
This requires some patience, persistence and a lot of smiling…. It takes time to encounter people in the right conditions. I will get a few no’s before I get a yes… but when I get a yes… I hold on to it and make the best of it.
This is what happened with these men. I saw them walking up some stairs and I just said hi ( in Arabic), which was the only word I know so far… after that I had to rely on my broken French.
Note: I am so incredibly grateful to have studied some French at some point in my childhood. I don’t know what I could do without it here…. my French is terrible, but it is enough to get my point across and have some sort of conversation.
I smiled and asked how they were doing and started some conversation. A moment later I just asked if it was ok for me to take their portrait. It was my lucky moment… they say “sure, why not”. So I started pulling my equipment out as quickly as I could. They seemed impressed with the technology (my off camera flash !!).
I took a couple of portraits of each and thought that they would say ok thanks bye… but no… they said: would you like to come inside and have luch with us too?. My lucky moment!
This sort of thing does not usually happen where I come from (neither in Ecuador nor New York), and it is just so wonderful to experience it.
It turned out that the man who I had asked to photograph was the “Mkadem” of this neighborhood. A Mkadem is an important political figure in each neighborhood. He (I say he, because they are always men) is the eyes and ears of the local authorities – kind of like a neighborhood watch leader. The other man who was present was the Mkadem from a neighborhood in Fez (2nd or 3rd largest city in Morocco), who came to visit for a couple of days.
So they had lunch prepared for this man’s visit. (and now mine too) My first Moroccan home made meal was incredible!
After the meal they wanted to show me the rooftop, so I could see the Mosque and a famous Mausoleum from up top and also take a couple of extra photos of them if I wanted…. music to my ears!!