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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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.

Marrakech Express: a.k.a. Twizzlers and Everwood (7/18/2011)

To be honest, Marrakech was not what I expected. Although, I’m not quite sure what exactly I expected in the first place. I suppose I imagined the marketplace scene from Aladdin, with lush fruit stands and handmade beads. While there is a large marketplace, Djmaa el Fna, we mostly spent our time going from the Riad (hotel) to the airport to search for our missing luggage. That was only one of the handful of mishaps that we encountered going from France to Morocco.

First, we spent more than an hour in the Paris metro waiting for specific tickets to get to the airport. And upon arriving at the airport only an hour and a half before our flight, we struggled to find our terminal and get through security in time. We arrived at the gate just in time to find out that our flight had been delayed (we only had an hour layover in Casablanca before having to catch the flight to Marrakech).

Anxiety really started to set in, which is unusual for me anymore. My emotions were going crazy from being frantic about finding the terminal in time and then being worried about missing our flight to Marrakech when someone was waiting for us at the airport. I was also sad about leaving France, tired from not getting much sleep, and nervous about the adventure upon which I was about to embark. I bet you can imagine what happened next… tears. Of course, it’s me. Thankfully, lots of prayer, texting my mother, and a hug from Kim helped to make things better.

I kept checking the time while we were on the flight. And the whole time, I thought for sure we had missed the flight. So, when we finally arrived in Casablanca, we spoke with a woman at the transfer desk. Turns out that flight was delayed as well. I was quite relieved, overjoyed might be the word.

Later, when we got to Marrakech, we discovered that our bags were still in Casablanca. After hours of waiting at the airport with no sign of them, we left to at least get a good night’s sleep in the hotel. Thankfully the hotel was air-conditioned, had wifi and had a free breakfast, because we ended up staying an extra night due to baggage problems. And the guys who were sent to pick us up (Ahmed and Mohamed) knew their way around and helped us, which made things a little easier on me. (Ahmed and Mohamed are cousins. Ahmed is also the brother of Carolyn’s husband Mohamed. We are staying with Carolyn, who is from the U.K. I’ll tell you more about her later.)

I did get to experience a little of Marrakech outside of the airport. The city reminded me of my visit to South Asia, which prepared me for this trip. The streets were dusty and crowded with people, cars, and mules. Motorcycles whipped by you (I was literally almost run over four times). Trash cans and traffic lights virtually do not exist, so we saw litter and a few close calls with accidents.

I also spent about an hour at a cafe by the place of the bombing in April, known as Cafe Argana. The area is a huge tourist spot. I felt strange seeing the building up close because I had been reading the latest news about the bombing for months in my tutorial, and I saw so many pictures of the aftermath of the attack. That experience was eerie for me though I’m not really sure why.IMG_0543     The day’s setback in Marrakech turned out to be a huge blessing, considering I wasn’t feeling well. Besides going to the airport twice and eating dinner at a cafe called “Ground Zero” (which happened to be by the most famous mosque in the city and is pictured above), we were able to spend the entire day resting in bed. Did I mention the room was air-conditioned? That in itself was a blessing, especially in the 110 degree heat of the desert. Any other down time we had, we spent it watching Everwood and eating a pound-and-a-half bag Twizzlers.
Oh the tastes of home…

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