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.


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.)

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Freedom constrained by tradition (2/6/2011)

Many countries around the world have “religious freedom,” yet that freedom does not have the same definition as it does in the United States.

The North African country of Morocco is one example.

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy in which King Mohammed VI is the head of both government and religion. The Moroccan Constitution says the country is an Islamic state that also grants the right for citizens to worship freely.

“The margin of religious freedom in Morocco is narrow. People cannot choose their religions,” says Mohsine El Ahmadi, professor of sociology at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech.

“Since you are born a Muslim, you must remain a Muslim,” continues El Ahmadi in reference to the culture of Morocco. “You cannot change your religious affiliation. If you do, you have to keep it secret.”

Citizens are entitled to their own opinions; however, the law prevents anyone from shaking the faith of the majority or proselytizing — sharing personal beliefs. According to El Ahmadi, the Constitution of Morocco is ambiguous and the Islamic Law [Sharia], which also plays a major role in the government, has many interpretations.

That same ambiguity causes problems for Christians within the country, says El Ahmadi. “There is no constraint on Christians coming or living in Morocco. But for Moroccans who converted to Christianity, they cannot show their new religion publicly.”

Conversion from Islam and proselytizing are frowned upon in Morocco for cultural, political and religious reasons.

One expatriate, who will be called Casey for security purposes, was in Morocco during the waves of foreign worker deportation in early 2010. Though Casey’s Moroccan friends knew he/she was a Christian, they said Casey was crazy for his/her beliefs and that Casey should seek professional help.

“It’s an honor and shame-based society,” says Casey. “So if your family finds out [that you convert to Christianity], then you’re shaming your family. And that is one of the worst things you can do.”

For that reason, continues Casey, Moroccans will tell you that there are no Moroccan Christians. “They are 100 percent convinced that there are none. The locals themselves would not admit that there are Christians because that would be shameful to their country and for Islam.”

Jean Luc Blanc, a French pastor with DEFAP, an evangelical missions service based in France, was the pastor of the Evangelical Church in Morocco from 2001 to 2010. Blanc agrees that much of the “persecution” against Christians in the country occurs within families and friendships.

“For Moroccans, and for all Muslims, it’s natural to be a Muslim,” says Blanc. “So when you are a Muslim, your nature is how [Allah] wants you to be. So how do you change? To change, for them, would mean to do something against nature. That’s why it’s difficult to change your religion once you are Muslim.”

According to Blanc, there are underlying historical and political reasons. He says that the government of Morocco wants to keep the peace and stability of the citizens within the country, namely between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Therefore, laws of proselytizing and conversion apply to all religions, not just Christianity.

Proselytizing is a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity. Many surahs (verses) in the Sharia say that religion is a personal matter that only concerns the believer and his god, says El Ahmadi. The Bible tells Christians to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. Because of this difference, there is a need to prevent clashes between religions, says Blanc.

While some, like Blanc and El Ahmadi, say that religious persecution is virtually non-existent in Morocco, International Christian Concern and the U.S. government tell it differently. In fact, at least five missions organizations or ministers would not speak of the state of Christianity in Morocco because of possible repercussions.

In 2010, more than 100 foreign workers, including Americans, were deported from Morocco without due process of law. The Moroccan government said it did not violate its laws, but the U.S. government stepped in. In a statement by Representative Frank Wolf at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) Hearing on Human Rights and Religious Freedom in June 2010, the U.S. threatened to withhold $697.5 million in funding from Morocco for not abiding by principles of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an aid organization that provides grants to countries to help reduce poverty and build economic growth.

Immediately after the deportations, many Christians in Morocco went underground for fear of backlash from the Moroccan government, says Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East. Since then, the foreign press and foreign governments have pressured the Moroccan government to halt the deportations.

“To this day, the US government tries to keep a close eye on it,” says Clay. And though Christians still keep a low profile, many worship services have started again.

While the U.S. government is monitoring the situation for American and foreign missionaries, it has been reluctant to step in on behalf of Moroccan Christians because it is a “religious issue,” says Logan Maurer, ICC regional manager for Southeast Asia.

Maurer says there have been numerous incidents concerning the Moroccan government tracking or following Moroccan Christians. One example is Rachid, a native of Morocco who was forced to leave the country after the Moroccan government interrogated and threatened him.

In his testimony at the TLHRC hearing, Rachid said, “What forced me out are still the realities Christians and other non-Muslims must face every day. The fact is, religious freedom in Morocco simply does not exist. The West is presented with a façade that is now exposed. However, Morocco will continue to ensure that all other religions are hidden, suppressed and eliminated.”

The future of Christianity in Morocco is uncertain, particularly because of the recent unrest in the North African region. Maurer says that the uprisings and protests could cause positive or negative effects for Moroccan Christians.

“It’s both an opportunity or a crisis, because it may come about that Christians have more freedom, but it may come out as the opposite.”

(Originally published here for UPIU, Feb. 6, 2011; Abridged version published here for International Christian Concern and, Feb. 11, 2011 )

Mumbai: A City of Extremes (12/20/2010)

Immediately after I stepped off Lufthansa Flight 934 at midnight, the murky humidity hit me like a stone wall. That same humidity was incessant the entire week I was in Mumbai, India.

My first impressions of the city were those seen through the dusty windows of a 1970s bus, which took our group of Ohio University students an hour away to our clean, air-conditioned hostel in Mumbai Central.On the rickety bus ride through the city, we passed homes with tin roofs and walls made of billboard signs. There were families sleeping on concrete sidewalks with their only extra clothes hanging on thin lines of rope.

The faint smells transitioned from diesel fumes to dust, from manure to burning tires. But, as we neared the hostel, the city began to smell like smog and traffic. In fact, the weather for Mumbai often reads “smoke” or “haze” on

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we had finally arrived.
Culture Shock
Mumbai is a city with two different worlds: extreme wealth and abject poverty. On one hand, it is home to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. But on the other, Mumbai has nearly 1.2 million people living on 20 rupees per day, or less than 50 cents, according to The Times of India.
Many Americans don’t see the side of poverty that I witnessed in Mumbai. Everyday, I watched children playing in the chaotic streets, children who were dressed in outgrown, filthy T-shirts and shorts. Dirt and dust were the only things covering their delicate feet. Young children carried their infant siblings.


Everywhere I went, children held out their hands asking for money. The only English words they knew were “food” and “money.” Although we were told not to give the children money, we were told to treat them like children. We crouched to their level and asked them, “Aapka naam kya hai?” or “What is your name?” in Hindi.
The children would immediately respond by putting their hands down. Their faces lit up as they gave their names. Then, I would open a bag of Chickadees cheddar snack crackers and give it to them. And, usually, they smiled and walked away.

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Nearly half of Mumbai’s estimated 20 million people live in slums or shantytowns. Entire families live in 9-by-9 spaces, which function as the kitchen, bedroom and living room. In terms of material possessions, these people have virtually northing. But, they do have community. They depend solely on each other for love and support, and they can relate to one another.
One evening, I walked through an alley by our hostel. Shanties aligned either side of the street. As I wandered down the street, families gathered for their evening meals, and children ran around playing with the other neighbor children. On a single mattress without shelter, one young woman read to her sleepy infant. A grandmother, mother and two chil
dren slept outdoors on a cot. It’s almost as if the people in the shantytown are tucked away in a completely different world. Upon exiting the street, sure enough, there stood the main road with an illuminated McDonald’s and three-story shopping mall.

The Taste of Mumbai

In India, it seems as though everything has a zip to it: omelets, plain rice, McDonald’s sandwiches, you name it. But one thing I found particularly odd was the masala soda and masala spice chai. Masala is generally a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. So, I’m pretty sure you can imagine what masala soda would taste like. Many of us tasted the beverage, and we all had similar facial reactions. Our faces puckered up, and we struggled to swallow. The drink resembled carbonated salt water. One sip was enough for me.
Although many of the others on my trip were craving pizza by the end of our week, the food was one of the things I enjoyed most about India. But I tend to like strong flavors and spices. I’ve heard that most international food served in America is completely different from the native cuisine, but I did not sense much of a difference between American-Indian food and authentic Indian cuisine.
Because of religious restrictions, India is a vegetarian’s paradise. Restaurants are labeled either “veg” or “non-veg.” Even if the restaurant is “non-veg,” rest assured that there is always a vegetarian option. For example, I sampled the mildly spicy, lightly fried McVeggie at McDonald’s. Or at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the menu includes options such as the Veg Zinger, Veggie Snacker and Veg Rice and Strips.

A Heart of Change
Nervously, I followed a group of four women through narrow, damp alleys.Where am I? Fear and confusion started to set in. Those feelings increased with every step. The men who passed me stared, and I felt uneasy.
I was told prior to this walk, that I was going into one of the darkest areas of the city. And I sensed the weight of that darkness.
Ten minutes later, I, along with three other women from OU and four Indian women from the Mumbai Aruna Project, arrived at a run-down, four-story building. We walked through the doorway and could see nothing. My heart pounded. Our eyes struggled to adjust as we staggered up the filth-covered staircase. Then, finally, sunlight appeared from a room at the top of the steps.
The Indian women instructed us to take off our shoes, enter the illuminated room and sit on the large couch. We obeyed.
As we entered, ten Indian women — all of whom were between 14 and 25 years old — sat on the couches laughing, putting on makeup and styling their beautiful black hair. They are my age. My age.
With the help of the women with the Aruna Project, we were able to converse and interact with the girls. Their eyes sparkled as they laughed. But we knew that behind those young faces, there was something different about their lives. Something we, as American women, could not understand.
After saying our goodbyes, we entered another room. And that is where my heart sank. The girls in this room told us they were 15 years old, but they were obviously closer to 10. I can still see the face of one child with round glasses and pigtails. She could not have been older than nine. How could anyone do this to his or her child? I thought. Each of these girls sees an average of seven men every night. Prostitution is the only life they know.
The majority of the women were sold into the slave trade by family members when they were between the ages of 7 and 11. These 40,000 women are forced to attend to the more than 300,000 men who go to the brothels every night.
The sexual slave trade is like a cell, the women at the Aruna Project told us. (Many of the women who work at the Aruna Project were once prostitutes, and they can speak from experience.) When these little girls first enter the brothels, they are kept in chains and not allowed to see the sunlight for a few years. During those years, the girls are psychologically and physically abused. They are beaten down so that when they are finally released from the chains, they will not want to leave. As the girls get older, they are given more “freedom,” but if they go outside the brothel, they are accompanied by a pimp. Eventually, they are allowed to travel by themselves; however, they must pay.
We often wonder, Why don’t they just run away? As a part of the psychological abuse, the women begin to believe that the life of prostitution and sexual abuse is better than life on the streets. To those women, life on the street means having no food, shelter or money, all while still being sexually abused.
But there is hope: the Aruna Project.
The Aruna Project is a Christian organization dedicated to the rescuing of women and children from the sexual slave trade. Because of the years of abuse these women endure, the Aruna Project must build relationships and trust with them. The Project offers counseling, health care and skills training so the women will be able to function independently in society. Since the organization started nearly ten years ago, it has rescued more than 150 women.
The Project not only rescues women, but it also reaches out to their children. Aruna has a partnership with the Salvation Army, which provides a home and schooling for the children of prostitutes. I had the chance to visit the Salvation Army and play with the children, ages five through 14, who study the core subjects, as well as English and the Bible. It warms my heart to know that these children are the future. Let’s just say that that was the best way to spend my last day in India, with hope.

(See the original post here.)