Many things have happened in the past couple of weeks. I will summarize some of my experiences
Morocco is a land of contrasts. It is a country that lives with tourism, hence many of the tourist traps exists and the “sharks” that try to take advantage too, but once you are able to get away from those situations Morocco offers an incredible array of people, colors, smells, food, landscapes and languages.
I have been able to see a little bit of the different faces of the country. I spent a couple of days getting lost in the Medina in Fes, a big city with one of the biggest Medinas. When you enter this place on a weekday it is an incredible visual, audible and hearing cacophony. It almost creates an overload to the 5 senses. Not to say that the Medina is a maze with streets going up and down in all directions. ( I do have to say that after a couple of days I was sort of knowing where I was going… sort of 😉 )
But I have to say that the best experiences for me happen in the smaller places; either in small towns or even tiny villages ( With a couple of hundred people)
One place I visited was Chefchauen; A smaller city in the north of the country. It is very charming with almost all town painted in a light blue.
After following the advice of a couple of friends I decided to rent a car to cover more ground and have more flexibility. It was the best advice for the places I ended up visiting…and because of it, I was able to run into some great experiences. ( I usually travel by public transport, which is great too, but not as flexible in the remote areas I spent time in)
I headed to one of the mountain ranges in the country, the Middle Atlas. On my second day after a couple of hours of driving I decided to stop for some tea (a Moroccan tradition and a must do) at this small guest house on the side of the road on this tiny village ( Agoudal). Hassan greeted me and escorted me inside; to my surprise he was the first person I had met on this trip that spoke Spanish well enough to have a good conversation. I after a few minutes of drinking tea I told him about what I do and that I wanted to do some portraits of people in the area; but that I needed a translator/guide… I asked him if he could do it. He gracefully declined because he had to take care of the hostel and the potential clients that might arrive, but he offered to speak to someone else to do it. I was a bit skeptical because what I liked about him was that I could communicate with him easily. He said not to wary and called his friend “Said”. Said didn’t speak Spanish, he only spoke some French (better than mine, which was good 😉 ). I accepted his offer and went to the center of the village to find people to photograph. We spent the afternoon together and basically opened the door for me to create portraits of some of the men ( I say men because it was virtually impossible to photograph women… will cover this topic soon) He ended up being my guide/translator for the next 3 days!
What can I say. Said was great! In those days we drove to two different towns close by to photograph people. It was with him that I was able to enter into people’s homes and experience again the Moroccan hospitality. We drunk a lot of tea 😉 !!!
The women that I was able to photograph were either. a)Older women b)women from a different town from where Said was from c)Widows
This is a strong cultural issue. Part of it is religious, part of it is protecting being the laugh of town for doing something different (remember this is a tiny village… as they say “small town, big hell”) but most of all is a chauvinistic issue, where women are afraid to be photographed because of what their husbands would say or do. They all fear that their husbands would be angry with them for doing so. some of the things I heard is that they are afraid of having their photo on TV or Internet… some of them have the believe that all women that show on TV are prostitutes… (single women that is). This was something really hard to make them change their mind about.
For the photographers out there and the people interested in knowing a bit of the technical aspects of the portraits I created a video. This happened during a hike I was making and it seemed like all the stars aligned and everything came together. As I was describing what I do I encounter a subject “Ibrahim” in the middle of the mountain. I not only was able to take portraits of him, but he invited me to have tea and food with his family (a couple of hours hike up the mountain!!!). He is a Berber living in the middle of the mountain where he climbs back and forth every day for 3 hours. Here are the portraits… the video will have to wait a few weeks after my return home.