Caché: Tighza Valley

For my senior professional project, I wanted to combine hands-on journalism with my French language studies. So, I chose to spend five weeks in Morocco to compile interviews and observations in order to produce my final product, Caché. My friend, Kim Hackman (pictured below), a photojournalism student, served as my photographer throughout the trip.

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Because ethnographic and immersion journalism place the greatest importance on understanding the lives and cultures of others, I chose this method to research the Tighza Valley and the people who inhabit the region. By immersing myself into the Tighza village life for a period of time, I now have a better and understanding of the people and their traditions through in-depth interviews, conversations and observations. My stories, in the form of ethnographic and narrative journalism, attempt to place readers directly into the scene as the subject talks.

To provide a sense of the subjects’ lives, I interviewed approximately 55 villagers and had informal conversations with many others. The stories also capture events and daily life through observation. While in the village, we attended wedding ceremonies, watched women bake bread, went to a Ramadan feast and hiked four hours uphill to camp by Lake Tamda and talk to shepherds. We were also able to observe social gatherings and the villagers’ daily lives.

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By attending social events as an observer, I had the ability to see life from an insider’s perspective but without altering the event. Because I did not speak the language, Tachelhit (tesh-la-heet), it was impossible to know everything happening at social events, or even in everyday dialogue. So, I gathered much of my background information through interviews and unstructured coversations with interpreters or with villagers (with the help of interpreters).

Throughout my time in Tighza, I conducted interviews in French, which my three interpreters then translated into Tachelhit. The interpreters, all of whom were born in the village, spoke Tachelhit, Arabic, and varying degrees of French. I worked closest with Mina El Mouden (pictured below), a 24-year-old woman with a strong academic background and a proficiency in French. El Mouden interpreted for a majority of the interviews, including all interviews with female villagers. Because of El Mouden’s gender and the lack of men present in the rooms where I interviewed, the women shared more openly about their stories and daily struggles. The most powerful stories came from the lives of women, who seemed empowered that someone would take an interest in them and listen to them.

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When in Tighza, I stayed at the home of Carolyn Logan (pictured below), originally from the United Kingdom, and her husband, Mohamed El Qasemy, who was born and raised in the village. Logan, the only English speaker in the village, was my primary source of contact because we could communicate without interpretation, and she was familiar with the culture and people of the region.

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Throughout the process, I trusted Logan to provide insight and explanation of events and cultural differences because she had lived in the culture for five years, and she explained these things in a way a Westerner could understand. Her views of village life proved to be very similar to my own perspective because we were both foreigners.

The 29-year-old Mohamed and his 25-year-old brother, Ahmed, served as my other interpreters. Both left school in their pre-teen years, but because of their experience working alongside foreigners visiting the village, they picked up French. The brothers, sons of a respected village elder, were well known among the people of Tighza, giving us access to more sources and contacts.

Our purpose is to present an accurate account of the lives of the villagers, both through text and through photos. My hope with the magazine is that after reading the stories of the villagers of Tighza, readers will come away with a better understanding of their lives and the rich culture of the Berbers of the High Atlas Mountains.

Click HERE to see the digital version of the magazine!

(Sample pages are shown below.)

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The Berber Doctor (8/17/2011)

On the same day we visited the souk in Telouet, I was quite sick with a self-diagnosed sinus infection — congestion, blocked nose, slight fever, headache, and dizziness, the whole nine yards. As we left the kasbah, Carolyn explained to Mohamed (who was taking us to the souk) that I needed to see a doctor at the free clinic.

But instead of going to the doctor, we went straight to the pharmacy, or “depot de medicaments.” The depot was a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop, dimly lit, about twice the size of the bathroom in my apartment at school. There was a line of loud and pushy customers in robes and headscarves cramming into the narrow doorway, blocking most of the natural light that tried to creep in. Mohamed pushed to the front of the line, then pulled me inside the shop.

The pharmacist/doctor (not quite sure what he was, but he was wearing a white lab coat, and he spoke French) asked me about my symptoms, which I had to describe with French and hand gestures. Thankfully I knew the words for sinus infection, “infection sinus.” Within the next minute, he grabbed three boxes of medicine from the six-tier plastic shelves and started explaining the medicines to me in rapid French. He drew symbols on the boxes, three lines for three times per day, “après” for after a meal. I had no clue what I was taking, and I was slightly confused, so I asked what were the most important. He handed me a pack of three “antibiotiques” and a “nébuliseur” or nasal spray, the directions of both were in Arabic and French.

Within another minute, I paid my 83 dirhams ($10) and was out the door. Nothing like shady/fast service from a tiny pharmacy in middle-of-nowhere Morocco. Let’s just say that I texted my mom shortly after, explaining to her that if I were to die, she would know that I had been poisoned by Moroccan medicine. As it turned out, the antibiotics cured the infection.

“Your love carries me, so I’m letting go.” (7/15/2011)

One night, I decided to walk the streets of Avignon alone to see the performers and have quiet time in the Jardin des Doms, the garden that is next to the Palais des Papes and that overlooks the Pont d’Avignon. I was feeling really down and discouraged. My heart was heavy and overwhelmed, and I honestly just wanted to go home. I was feeling so alone and so small. I even get teary-eyed now thinking about how sad I was for the first week of this trip.

But then I received a small reminder of God’s grace and His faithfulness, despite my weary self. Even though I just wanted to return to Nicole’s house, I felt the nudge to get a crêpe. After ordering my crêpe, I heard singing around the corner. As I continued to listen, my ears perked up and my heart was overjoyed because the group around the corner was singing “Blessed be the Name” in French. Once I got my crêpe, I went to sit on the curb and continue listening. (It was only a homeless man and myself who sat listening while everyone else walked by.) A few minutes later, tears began to steadily flow from my eyes as they started to sing “In Christ Alone” in English.

Here I was sitting in the middle of a busy street, weeping like a baby, and all because God reminded me that I’m not alone and that He paves the way for me. I was reminded of His patience and loving-kindness with my heavy heart, and that in spite of my anger, frustration, and sadness, He was able to bring me back to a place of brokenness and the amazing wonders of His grace and His Gospel for me. I was reminded that He pursues my heart constantly, and He rejoices over me. He reminded me that He gives gifts to His children, when we deserve nothing.

Psalm 73 says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet, I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

After the singing stopped, I spoke with one of the women in the group, who was from England. Each year, this group (a mix of English and French people) perform during the festival and they’ve found a unique way to capture people’s attention in order to share the Gospel on the streets of Avignon. One man shares the story of how he was once lost, and He uses drawing to present the Gospel (based on John 14:6 that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life). The woman I spoke to heard my entire story, and I explained to her how much I missed home and community. And what’s really interesting is that she and I had been reading the same passage in Joshua 1 where God commands Joshua to take courage and to be bold and strong. She proceeded to pray for me in the middle of the street, and afterwards, I left with a joyful heart.

I feel like Joshua 1 and courage have been the theme of my trip to North Africa. And as I was about to leave France, the last thing Serge said to me was “Bon courage.” I realize that this is a very common French phrase when you say goodbye to someone, but I took this phrase to heart.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Courage. It’s hard to come by, especially as a broken sinner. But God’s grace has shown through it all, and He has provided little reminders every step of the way. It’s not by my strength that I can do anything, in fact I can do nothing on my own strength. But it’s only by the grace of God through Jesus, that I can do all things. And despite tiny mishaps and unexpected occurrences, I can still hold to the promise the God does all things for my good. For brokenness and weakness only bring me back to His grace and the Gospel.

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“We’ll always have Paris.” (7/8/2011)

As I write this post, I am watching the sunset illuminate the golden fields of wheat on the way to southern France. The trees display the brightness and warmth of the summer sun. We travel for miles without seeing a single building or car, but only catch a glimpse of several signal towers in the distance. Every so often, we pass a cluster of older French homes surrounded by more fields of gold.  How beautiful creation is when away from the busyness of the city.

Just 20 minutes ago, we were sitting in the Gare de Lyon in Paris and resting our legs while streams of people scurried around us.  The middle of the train station is a lot like the center of Paris, where most of the tourist spots are located.

Both of us being in love with Paris, we made sure that we visited the major tourist attractions (*insert French accent): le Tour Eiffel, le Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Notre Dame, le Louvre. But what was great about this trip is that we weren’t on a schedule, and that we have both already seen the attractions of Paris, so we could enjoy the little parts of Paris.

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I think it’s safe to consider ourselves experts on the métro system, and we managed to carry many a conversation in French (mainly Kim speaking and me listening, adding my two cents every so often). These conversations included a two-hour talk with a 60-year-old French artist at Montmartre, gathering a group of seven French firefighters, talking to two older gentlemen at a café while they smoked their cigarettes, reminiscing in a restaurant about America with a family from Los Angeles, and laughing with an old woman who was working on a “mot croissier” (crossword) while waiting for her clothes to dry in the laundry mat.

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And of course, we explored the backstreets of the city, which are actually quite beautiful. Tucked away from tourists hide romantic gardens with flowers that smell like rose soap and sweet cherry candy (not the kind that tastes like medicine). We discovered a skate park, siblings playing soccer, and children playing “tag” in a small maze of tall bushes.

But like any city, there are parts that aren’t so magical, like the battle of jet lag and crankiness, and dragging about 80 pounds of luggage each through the city. We’re definitely going to have strong shoulders, calves, and backs by the end of this trip, that is unless they give out on us before reaching that point. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Now, bring on the Avignon reunion with Nicole and Serge (my host family from last year), and Florian and Christelle (French friends)!

J’ai passé un bon week-end (4/12/10)

Well, my friends, it has been another busy few days. This weekend, I decided to stay in Avignon, which was a very smart idea on my part. Because I stayed here, I was able to explore the city like I’ve been wanting to do. I think the best way to tell you is by separating into days. I know it’s a lot, but please stick with me. Here goes…

Jeudi / Thursday

I had five hours of class, and by the end, my head was about to explode. It’s hard enough concentration for that long in a class in English, but this was obviously in French. In these classes, there is no much thing as “zoning out,” not even for a few seconds. If you miss one thing, you get completely lost. It’s also a bit difficult when the professors speak quickly, because when you’re brain is translating the first they say, they’ve already moved on to the next topic. Needless to say, I have to stay on my toes. All the time.

I had my Culture and Société class and my Histoire class on Thursday. My CS professor is bit eccentric, but she knows what she’s talking about. The class is interesting because it’s basically French sociologie (sociology). We learned about the origin of different French salutations, specifically the bises, when the French greet each other with kisses on each cheek. Well, they’re almost kisses; you don’t actually kiss, but you do make the kissing noise. As it turns out, the number of kisses is different depending on where you live in France. The number ranges from two to four. For example, people in Avignon bises three times, while Parisians bises twice. The bises is the equivalent to the American hug.

For history class, our professor took us on a tour of the city. He explained the architecture and the history of particular buildings and churches. Though we walked for two hours, it was much more enjoyable than sitting in the classroom. And the best part, I can actually understand my professor. His accent took me some time to get used to.

Vendredi / Friday

First, let me start by saying that I love not having class on Fridays. After eight full hours of sleep, I awoke to the brilliant sunshine. I started my day with quiet time then homework, and I wrote one of my papers sitting on the terrace in the sun. Instead of cooping myself up in the house all day, I decided to venture on my own Avignon tour, which included me visiting little shops such as Shakespeare, the English used-bookstore down the street. The shop owner is an adorable old fellow. I believe he is from Poland, but his primary language is English. Anyway, I couldn’t have imagined a better shop owner; he fits the store quite well. He is thin and hunches a bit. He speaks slowly and with gentleness. His hair is snow-white, and he wears tiny glasses that rest on the end of his nose. I’m planning to return soon, drink some tea and read a good book. That sounds wonderful to me.

I continued on my way, and I ran into Sammi and Kierstin. Earlier, I had passed a discount shoe shop with a sign in the window saying, “Troisième Gratuit,” meaning buy two, get one free! Sadly, I didn’t find any shoes that I was “head over heels for.” Gasp! I used a cliché. Anyway, the rest of my afternoon was spent shopping for petits cadeaux (little gifts). Shopping for these gifts gave me an opportunity to visit the various candy and chocolate shops of Avignon. It was difficult not to buy anything for myself.

While shopping, we made plans for the evening — have a pique-nique (picnic) at the Palais des Papes. We (Sammi, Kierstin and I) all returned to our respective maisons (houses) for dinner and then met at the Palais at 22h (10:00 p.m.).

Samedi / Saturday

Saturday was a busy day for me as well. I woke up early to go to a cooking demonstration at Les Halles, which is the Avignon equivalent to Pittsburgh’s Strip District. It is a giant marketplace with fresh produce, meat, bread and sweets.

The demonstration consisted of a French chef walking us through the process of salmon tartare, which is raw salmon mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, and a dollop of avocado cream on top. I was nervous to taste it because the salmon was raw, but I faced my fear of raw meat, and it was delicious. We also received tiny samples of white wine with it. After tasting the wine, I gave mine to Alex.

After the demonstration, we had two hours to kill before the dégustation du vin (wine-tasting). So, Kierstin, Alex and I bought little French pastries for lunch. I bought pain au chocolat amande (chocolate in the center of a croissant-like pastry crust, topped with powered sugar and slivered almonds). We enjoyed the pastries in the Place L’Horloge, a little square near the Palais.

Now, as you have probably already seen in other posts, I don’t like alcohol and I don’t drink; however, I decided to attend the wine-tasting for three reasons. It was free. I’m in France. And, it’s at the most famous place in Avignon, the seat of the old papacy. I figured, why not? This is part of “taking it all in.”

At the tasting, which was only for my group from OU, we tried five different types of wine and also learned how to properly taste wine. First, the wine is poured. Make sure you hold the wine glass at the top of the handle, but underneath the actual glass. Second, swirl the wine around in the glass. Smell it. Examine the color. Then take a tiny sip. Once you sip it, you are supposed to make a swooshing motion with your mouth so the wine spread around in your mouth. Then, drink the wine, or spit it out in special buckets they provide. You aren’t supposed to drink all of the wine you receive.

After the wine-tasting, Sammi and I went shopping with Christelle. Later we met Florian for ice cream. At the last minute, Christelle and Florian invited us to the beach with them Sunday.

   

 

 

 

 

Dimanche / Sunday

We left for the beach around 11:30 a.m., and the trip took about one hour and a half. They took us the scenic route, full of mountains, meadows and rustic houses with orange shingles. After arriving at La Grande Motte, like the French version of Myrtle Beach, we immediately went to eat some seafood at their favorite restaurant, L’Oasis, where I tried my first mussel and my first slice raw beef. Loved the mussel, didn’t like the beef. After a leisurely lunch in the sun, Florian, Christelle and I played sand volleyball, while Sam sunbathed. The sun was hot, but the wind was cool. The Mediterranean is blue and sparkling, and is just beautiful. On the beach, we met two of Christelle’s friends, Nicholas and Christophe.

Although the weekend was incredibly packed, it couldn’t have been much better.