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.

Photo on 2011-08-16 at 18.07

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.


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.


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.


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.)

Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 10.26.42 PM

Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 10.28.41 PMScreen shot 2012-12-13 at 10.31.52 PM

Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 10.35.03 PMScreen shot 2012-12-13 at 10.35.28 PM


Poor Family, Old Kasbah, Bread-making (8/31/2011)

Over the course of about a week, I was able to spend time with a kind family that lives in the next village over. The first time I visited the home, I met the father, El Hssaine Bouhmade, and one of the seven children, who both showed me around their old kasbah. The kasbah, an old fortified Moroccan home, is a few hundred years old, standing four stories high, made of earth, stone, and straw. Windy, narrow, and barely lit stone staircases lead to each of the levels. The wooden-beamed ceilings stand seven feet tall, and if someone is on the floor above you, bits of earth fall through the ceiling.



There are two rooms on each floor, some of which are separated by five-foot wooden doors. The family keeps old clothes and toys behind the closed doors, almost like storage rooms. When the building was a functioning kasbah, vendors used the rooms to sell and trade clothes, food, and other goods in the village. The roof of the kasbah resembles a guarded castle with four turrets. Long ago, the chief of the village lived in the kasbah, and four guards kept their posts in the turrets of the kasbah. (They were the protectors of the village and the chief.)


El Hssaine’s father was once the “chef du village,” the village leader or chief. He was a well-respected man, causing his family to be respected as well. After he died, his family fell on hard times, and his son has had difficulty making ends meet for his 10 children ever since. (Three of the children were born to his first wife, who died move than 20 years ago. He remarried shortly after in order to have a mother for his three children. His wife, Malika, has had seven children since they were first married.)

El Hssaine, 47, is a subsistence farmer on his family’s land, while Malika, 43, works inside the home. Two of their daughters, Rachida, 14, and Fadma, 18, chose to leave the family home and work as housekeepers in Marrakech. With their wages, they are able to meet the minimal needs of the family. All of the children’s clothes are second-hand, given to them by other villagers or by tourists stopping through. Malika, with sad and tired eyes, described how hard it is on her to not be able to meet all of her family’s needs, and it is especially difficult watching her daughters leave to work and support the family.



Despite their tough financial situation, the family has a strong love for each other, and it especially shows through the parents. It was evident when we took pictures of the father and the two littlest daughters, Aicha, 8, and Fatima, 5. At times the father would hold the daughters’ hands as they skipped beside him, and at one point he scooped them both into his arms as they laughed and smiled.


Like the other mothers here, Malika works from inside the home, waking up every morning at 5:30 to start her work for the day. One morning, she invited us to watch as she made her daily amount of bread in her clay oven. We arrived at 7:30 a.m., finding that Malika had already been quite busy and El Hssaine had already left for the garden. All but one child was still in the house, little Fatima, who was still sleeping on the floor of the salon, the family’s living and dining room. The salon is the only room in their house with mats on the floor and 2-feet tall sponge-like padding for the cushions. Normally, the cushions are completed covered in decorative tapestry; however, these cushions had a single, worn orange tapestry resting on top. We rested on the “couch” while waiting for Malika to finish the bread preparations.

As we waited, Fatima hid under the heavy, carpet-like blue blanket that she and the other children share at night. Every so often, she would poke her large brown eyes and her disheveled, straw-like hair out from under the blanket. She played that game for another half an hour until Malika came in to put her pants on. Once Fatima was dressed, Malika finished the preparations for the bread.

We followed Malika into what seemed like a secret passageway, up a dark, windy, stone and earth staircase to the roof of a segment of their house. She led us to a clay oven, which stood about two feet tall. A small, roofed shelter covered the area around the domed clay oven to protect the oven and the person baking the bread from the hot sun.

Malika offered us small stools to sit on while we watched, as she sat on a rock covered by a plastic sack. At her side, Malika had a shallow but wide plastic tub where she kept the bread dough, which contained a mixture of white and wheat flour, salt, olive oil, and water.  To start, she made a fire in the right half of the oven using wood. The fire heats the pebbles that fill the left half of the oven. While waiting for the stones to become hot, Malika scraped out a portion of dough, enough to fill her two hands. On a large round stone, Malika placed an old, worn tablecloth, and then sprinkled a little flour on the cloth.

With a thump, she tossed the dough onto the stone and began to flatten it like pizza crust. First, she patted the dough down three times with her right hand, then flipped up the dough using the tablecloth and her left hand (so the dough wouldn’t stick to the cloth). She repeated the process until the dough was stretched to the size of an extra large pizza crust. Flipping the dough onto a round wooden board, she put the dough onto the hot pebbles.

Every few minutes, she used metal stick to shift the dough in a circular motion so that the dough would cook evenly. After about seven minutes, she flipped the dough to cook the other side. She proceeded to rotate the forming bread, scraping out pebbles that were stuck in the dough. Finally, with a swift motion, she rolled the dough out of the oven like a wheel and set it off to the side. The bread, “aghrom” in Tachelhit, was golden brown with small grooves from the pebbles. It was warm and fresh, crispy on the outside and flakey on the inside, and it tasted like plain pizza crust.

Within the next hour, Malika had finished five “loaves” of bread, about a day or two day’s worth of bread for the family, and two of her neighbor friends joined in on the bread-making party. Bread-making is a social activity for women in the village. The work they can do together makes the job a little easier and less lonely, especially because each of the women have the same work to do in the home: take care of the children, cook, clean, entertain guests, and wash clothing. Some women must also retrieve water for their families and/or fetch loads of feed for their animals, if their children aren’t old enough to do that for them. Often times, you see women hunched over, carrying 30-pound loads of grasses and alfalfa. The men say that women’s backs are stronger and that is why they want them to carry the heavy loads.

There’s a mouche in my bouche! (8/17/2011)

Prior to this trip, Carolyn told me that I wouldn’t have to worry about mosquitoes, much like I did in France. (In France, I had to choose between extreme heat and mosquitoes, considering there weren’t screens for the windows.) Well, Carolyn was right. I think I may have seen one mosquito since being here, but nonetheless, we have had problems with flies, gnats (British “midges”), spiders, and moths. Flies and gnats both bite here. I have itchy scars to prove it. To give you an idea of what Kim and I have experienced so far, I’ll recount a few short stories for you.

One night, during our first week here, we had the external window open in our bedroom to keep cool. (Keep in mind that there are no screens here either.) Kim had just turned off the light a few minutes prior, and I was already half asleep when I heard a rustling noise outside. Paranoid me thought someone was outside our window, so I ran to turn on the light. Much to my surprise, I didn’t find a person, but a six-inch brown spider, roughly the size of my hand.  Imagine a tarantula, but brown and less hairy. Kim and I were frozen and panicked, arguing back and forth as to who would go after it, then prancing around like frightened/grossed-out little girls, not exactly knowing what to do next. By body decided for me… I started to hyperventilate.

Apparently, we made enough noise to wake up Carolyn, who came running in, obviously groggy and frazzled. I was still hyperventilating. Within the next minute, a disheveled Mohamed came racing in, still trying to put on his blue silk, gold-trimmed, man-version of a Moroccan kaftan, known as a Sahara. In a flash, he left and came back in without me noticing, this time carrying a large beige bucket. He took a few swings at the eight-legged creature. By this point, the spider was crawling around with its nasty claws all over my bed. Eventually, Moh was able to scoop up the spider. Then, he squashed it and threw it outside. Moh to the rescue, I suppose.

I’m sorry if you didn’t see the humor that I saw in the incident. But if you know us, and if you knew Carolyn and Moh, you would probably find it a bit funnier. Perhaps I’ll try another insect story….

Once again, it was late in the evening, and Kim and I had just finished getting ready for bed. (The window was open, again.) I switched off the light and climbed into bed. When my head hit the pillow, I felt and heard a loud vibrating noise that sounded like a motor smacking into a plastic bag. I turned the light back on, and the vibrating stopped. We looked around and saw nothing. So, I switched the light back off.

Again, when my head hit the pillow, I heard and felt the same vibration. This time, I ran out of bed to turn the light on. I searched around my bed for anything, and that’s when I spotted a pair of wings sticking out of my pillowcase. Not sure how to handle this situation, I picked up my tennis shoe, covered in red dust, and slowly moved toward my pillow, trying to sneak up on the winged animal. Smack! I nicked the wing, but mostly just left a large dust spot on my wall. The Atlas moth (the size of the palm of my hand) fluttered to the wooden beams of our ceiling. Well, naturally, we had to kill the thing, otherwise it would’ve eaten us in our sleep. So, what did we do to try to get it down? We chucked paper balls at the beams, failing miserably. At times, it decided to swoosh to a different beam, one time knocking me to the floor in the process. It probably resembled a slapstick comedy show in which the comedian just falls to the floor in slow motion.

Half an hour later… we were still whipping paper balls at the ceiling, when Kim noticed her tripod in the corner. We used the tripod to knock it off the ceiling, and it landed in between Kim’s bed and the wall. Smacking it with the tripod really did the trick, and now there’s a dead Atlas moth that remains under Kim’s bed. Score.

Fatima: Single Mother, Social Outcast (8/17/2011)

A pair of henna-covered hands works swiftly and almost effortlessly. Her movements come as habit, like a science. At first, the woman digs into her white plastic box, which resembles a tackle box, and pulls out a handful of bags of multicolored, pinhead-sized beads. Rustling through the plastic bags, she finds five shiny beads with perfectly coordinated shades of amethyst and dark lime green. With an inch-long piece of sterling, looped at one end, in her right hand, she scoops up the beads one-by-one. She repeats the process until she has six pieces of coordinated sterling.

Tool in hand, she makes a small loop on the other ends so the beads won’t budge. Then, she places three of the sterling pieces onto a question mark-shaped sliver of sterling, tightening the loops as she goes. Within 10 minutes, she has finished a pair of earrings, which she sells for 50 dirhams. Earring-making is just one of the few ways she supports herself and her 8-year-old daughter.

Fatima Ouahassou, 32, moved to the village seven years ago, just months after her daughter Ikram was born. A family in the village offered for her to live in a two-room home, rent free; thus she moved to the village because it was all she could afford, considering she had no income and no family to help her. Prior to the birth of her daughter, Fatima’s boyfriend ran off, leaving her pregnant and alone. Nearly everyone disowned her because having a child out of wedlock is shameful in the Muslim community. But regardless, she kept her child, though she had offers from people who wanted to buy Ikram from her.

In tears, Fatima recounted her story for me…

Moving to the village was one of the hardest things she has done, mainly because of the rumors floating around about her. Fatima said that nearly everyone in this village refers to her as a “whore” or “prostitute” because Ikram doesn’t have a father. She said Ikram suffers as well.

Most of the young girls either make fun of Ikram, or the girls’ parents won’t allow Ikram to play with their daughters. At school and around the village, Ikram said she is subject to ridicule and gossip about her mother, which often makes her cry. Sometimes she tells her mother, other times she doesn’t, because when she does, she and her mother cry together. She hates seeing her mother cry.

By this point, Fatima said that she has explained the situation to her daughter and she said Ikram understands. However, Fatima said she is sending Ikram to live with her grandmother in Ouarzazate in September in order that receive a better education than the education offered in the village. But Ikram said that she is leaving because of constant mockery by other children. Other way, both Ikram and Fatima believe that Ikram will have a better life in the city because many children are in the same situation in the city. Also in the city, Fatima said, people are in each other’s business, and most even keep to themselves.

Caring for a child on her own is not the only major trial Fatima has had to overcome. When she was a child, her father did not want her in the home, so he sent Fatima to live with her grandmother. When her grandmother died, she left 16-year-old Fatima on her own. And she has worked to support herself ever since.  Later, after Ikram was born, Fatima discovered a growth on the right side of her jaw, which turned out to be a dental abscess. In 2007, with the help of Angela (a nun from Ouarzazate) and Claire (her sponsor from the United Kingdom), Fatima had extensive surgery to take out the abscess that could have taken her life.

Regardless of her situation and the setbacks of her past, Fatima tries to continue life as normally as she can. She managed to work out a deal with a shop owner from Ouarzazate, who allows her to sell clothing to women in the Tighza region (her village and the three surrounding villages). Fatima receives a portion of the clothing sales, making about 100 dirhams per week.  She also makes a little extra money by helping Carolyn around the kasbah and by making small tapestries. The remainder of her income comes from Claire, who sends her 300 dirhams per month to help with Ikram’s expenses.

Despite everything in her life, Fatima will always greet you with a gentile and joyful smile, the kind of smile that will warm your heart and brighten your day.

Mine de Sel (8/17/2011)

Somewhere between Telouet and Animeter, sits a sign that reads, “Mine de Sel: 300 meters,” with an arrow pointing down a dirt path laced with trails of salt. Because the path meanders between steep hills, the salt mine seems impossible to find until it’s just about in front of you.

Upon arrival at the locked metal door of the mine, we saw a small stone and earth house in the distance, which is where the directors of the salt mine live. Two men, one in a traditional white robe and hat and the other in jeans and a long-sleeve tee shirt, were standing outside the house when Ahmed called out to them. A few moments later, the men greeted us as we went inside the cool of the mountain and escaped the intense heat of the midday sun. Immediately on the other side of the door stood a large pile of rock salt crystals held back by 10-kilogram bags of salt. On the left, was a lonely wheelbarrow and another two massive piles of rock salt crystals. The only light in the mine came from sunlight streaming through the open door and one small flame, that was attached to a tank of gas. Besides that, the mine was a cool, dark cave, complete with stalactites and a bat.

Ahmed took the light and led us to three different work areas, all of which looked about the same. Each area had been carefully blasted in using small sticks of dynamite. Once workers bomb a section, they clear away the fallen crystals and then begin chiseling out more salt. One particular section was on level ground, while the other three sections were blasted on a downhill slope, causing us to have to descend to see the base of the crystal-covered hill. Two of the downward sections had shallow pools of water, which from a distance resembled white foam. However, upon moving closer, we noticed clear water with large deposits of ground salt sunk to the bottom.

From the mine, the workers either ship the salt to major cities such as Casablanca and Marrakech to be processed and turned into table salt, or workers sell the salt in crystals to locals to be given to their animals for good health.

One can usually find 16 workers in the mine, the number including the four mine directors. For now, the worked has stopped because “it has been a dead year,” said Salah Ait Bafas, 65, director of the mine (the one dressed in the traditional robe and hat). Workers make 60 dirhams per day (about $7.50), while the directors make 1,500 dirhams per month. However, when the salt doesn’t sell (.5 dirhams per kilogram), no one gets paid.

This is especially difficult for both Salah and Ibrahim Bador (the worker dressed in jeans and a tee shirt) because each has a wife and children to support, five and six children respectively. Salah (from Marrakech) and Ibrahim (from Telouet) spend much of their time working — for days or weeks consecutively — and then spend a few days at home. Both men agreed that the work in the mine is difficult, tedious and often lonely, but they are willing to sacrifice if that means making ends meet for their families.