In December I shared one of my favorite books everyday and it turned out to be a big hit. Seems many people are as avid readers as I am! This year, I’ve promised myself to take more time to just read. February is the shortest month of the year but that didn’t slow me down. In the middle of the month we had to go to Rabat to get some paperwork sorted out for my carte sejour (residency card). This gave me nearly 10 hours on a train with no internet. Enough time to finish two books!
I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading lots of non-fiction. Not sure why but hope it inspires you too.
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Marrakech has the kind of light quality photographers dream of. Rarely do we have overcast days and typically I can shoot pictures using my camera in full automatic because it captures so well. There are also amazing sites to take in – things you don’t want to forget. It’s so tempting to have your camera at the ready at all times and snap away. But, chances are your DSLR lens may get in the way of you having a pleasant and memorable vacation.
When I first came here I always used my bigger DSLR camera to take pictures. Now, I only use it if I know I need to capture high resolution images. Are you surprised to know that a lot of the pictures I use on here are really from my iPhone? I learned rather quickly most people don’t care for your camera in their face or on their products. It’s not because they’re rude or dislike you personally (so please don’t take it that way!) it’s that with tens of thousands of tourists in the city on any given day it gets old, fast. I’ve never lived somewhere that was this touristic so I didn’t get it, but I do now.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use your camera and take pictures, it just means you need to consider a few things before snapping away.
This is Not a Zoo
This city is not a zoo and the people are not on display. I know the bright colored djallabas of women are so wonderful you want to snap those pictures. You might think the foods we’re eating are new and strange. Those cute kids are just begging to be recorded on film aren’t they? Before you click, think. If this were your home and it was you or your children on the other side of the camera would you want conceivably hundreds or even thousands of people a year taking pictures for their personal use? One way to get pictures of things you’d like to capture is to have someone else in the shot, perhaps your traveling partner. Take it from a different angle so that people aren’t caught off guard. But always mind your manners.
Get Out from Behind the Camera
Whether it’s a video or still camera, if you’ve got it up to your eye the entire time you’re in Morocco you’re going to miss out on a lot of things. Resist the urge to capture every small detail on film and instead live the experience of Morocco. Trust me, your memories will be much more meaningful. Not everything needs to be captured in images.
I really waver on this point. In some instances it makes no difference whether you ask or not. Someone likely isn’t going to care if you photograph something mundane. But you do find that people at times don’t want their products photographed (so that someone else can’t copy them), or they just don’t want it photographed. If you’re wanting to take a picture of a person’s face, always ask permission. If you want to photograph a child, always ask their parents. If there is no parent around, then don’t take the picture. Instead of shooting a straight on image you can also take a picture of the scene. Most people are alright with this. Most importantly, if someone doesn’t want to be photographed don’t be rude or act “fed up.”
You’ll be able to get the best, high quality images of landscapes for a few reasons. First, they aren’t going anywhere. You can take your time, set up your camera and take many shots to make sure you’ve got it right. Try it from different angles and focal points. Even different times of the day can create a totally new image.
The Golden Hours
Sunrise and sunset provide amazing lighting for photography. Get up early and take advantage of not only fewer crowds but beautiful natural lights. By using these early morning and late afternoon hours you’ll capture some great shots and leave time in between to do other things.
Here’s the thing. Most Moroccans don’t like their photograph to be taken. Whether it’s because they’re religiously conservative or simply don’t care for it, you’re going to find these kinds of pictures difficult to take. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you befriend or form some rapport with Moroccans you can usually ask for a picture. Whatever you do, don’t just throw up your camera and take a picture, nor should you use a long lens and try to do it sneakily from a distance. You can always ask someone, and while many may be more than happy you probably will find several that say no. Don’t let it get to you, simply say ok and walk away. Many people discover that taking pictures in Marrakech is harder than anywhere else in Morocco. My own opinion on why this is, is due to saturation. There are so many tourists that it can be very overwhelming to be photographed multiple times a day.
If you’re a photographer or you just really want to take some nice pictures while on vacation in Morocco, hiring a guide to show you around also can mean they can assist with getting pictures. This is also a great tip if you’re a serious photographer. Morocco is a large country and if you want to visit many places in a short time you’ll need some help. If there’s something that you really want to photograph, having a guide can ensure that it happens. Many times you’ll be able to communicate to a guide what you’re trying to capture. Is it etched calligraphy? Street scenes? A guide will know the area more intimately than you will and can save you a lot of time.
MarocBaba almost always is with me when I’m taking high resolution images. Not because I couldn’t ask or speak with the subjects but because he knows many of them and knows exactly what to say. Because they trust him, they trust that the images will not be used in a bad way.
Sit and Wait
I’ve taken some of my favorite pictures simply by having my camera ready while sitting in a cafe, or pulling over on the side of the road. People watching is interesting in and of itself but as you watch scenes unfold you may find the right time to take a picture that tells that story. I took a series of photos of people walking down the street in the medina one day. I just liked how the tile, feet, and patterns all fell together. Check out my walk a mile post to see what I mean.
Take multiple shots
Rarely is your first photograph going to be the best. Take many, many images and then narrow them down to the ones you like the best. I never edit on my camera because when I load the pictures on my computer they look so different. A picture that looked beautiful on my camera screen suddenly is a blurry mess on my computer. This is why it’s helpful to have many options to choose from. Zoom lenses and digital cameras with a good zoom can help you go unnoticed and take several pictures. Try standing on a rooftop or to the side of a street and zooming on subjects further away. You’ll be able to take several images of natural interactions without being invasive.
You might not be asked but sometimes people request money in exchange for an image. 5-10 dirham should be more than enough, though you may find they badger for more. Never give more than 20 dirham. Don’t automatically give money because some people don’t care but it’s always good to have just in case. If you want to take pictures of or with any of the animals or actors in Djem al Fna you should be prepared to give some money in exchange. You’ll also want to weigh whether or not you want the picture. Typically they’re posed shots similar to the one above. It might be just what you’re looking for, or it could be the exact opposite.
Smaller is Better
As I mentioned earlier most of the pictures I take (and share on my blog and Instagram) I take using my iPhone camera. Why? There’s a few reasons. I can often snap a picture very quickly and it just looks like I’m checking my messages. I am able to get more candid scenes this way. A favorite trick I use is to turn off the sound of my phone and use the volume button to take pictures while I walk. Likewise if I have headphones in, I will put one in my ear and hold the other, stabilizing the phone in one hand and using the ear piece toggle button in the other hand as a remote. It’s complete innocuous and no one really knows what I’m doing.
Many people use DSLR cameras while visiting Morocco and the majority are not professional photographers. If this is you, then explaining to people that you’re not publishing the images may help them to be more open and willing to be photographed. Once you’ve taken a picture it can be a nice gesture to show the subject so that they can “sign off” on it. If you’re using 35mm film then explain to them that it’s not digital so they won’t be able to see.
Get Involved with Different Activities
Walking around any place will provide for some great photos but getting involved with other activities can give you a completely different perspective. Cooking classes provide some amazing food shots. Touring a ceramics factory or artisnal shop could provide portraits, action shots and a glimpse into culture. These activities also can provide a controlled environment to work in. A guide and/or instructor can help you understand the photographic etiquette and better understanding of the environment beyond what your eye sees.
My friend Chris Griffiths (an amazingly talented young photographer) shared some of these tips with me, while others I’ve come up with from my own experience. If you’re looking for more technical tips and how-to’s I loved this video from Zack Arias on street photography. Several of his tips I’ve used to grab great pictures.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is really to mind your manners. Put yourself on the other side of the camera before you take pictures and trust your instincts.
I hope these tips help you when you’re visiting Marrakech and wanting to capture the magic!
Has summer flown by for you? It sure has for me! Between traveling, spending time with family and taking part in lots of events time has run it’s course. In a little over a week we’ll be back on an airplane home to Morocco. Because we’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time to go shopping and stock up on the things we’d like to take back. One big priority was to get the boys some new clothes for school, especially long sleeve and warmer clothing. The selection of these types of things in Morocco is limited, and while they don’t need too many warm things in Morocco, they sure need it when we travel out of Morocco in wintertime.
Thanks to my friends at Tea Collection my boys were each able to pick out five new things for their wardrobes. I love their themed clothing. Previously Tea featured Moroccan inspired items, their selections for fall are German themed. I let the boys decide what they wanted (with a little guidance). Another great thing about Tea is that almost all of their clothes are coordinated so I knew whatever they chose would have multiple functions and coordinate with each other.
K is all about what feels good. He wants things that are comfortable and soft. So that’s exactly what he picked, a bright green sweatshirt, blue with green striped sweatpants, this hoodie, a fun animal print shirt, and a pair of khaki/yellow pants.
These pieces will be great for our winter months that aren’t really cold but without any central heating, there’s a chill. For M, I let him have complete free reign over what he chose. He’s starting to be at the age where he fixes his hair, wants to wear cologne, and suddenly matching is a big deal. He also was much more interested in showing off his new threads!
Tea Collection offers newborn through size 12 in boys and girls, as well as offering a few pieces each season for moms. I am in love with their unique and really trendy clothes for boys. I am so tired of seeing the same things over and over and there being so few options for boys that it’s really refreshing to see a brand focusing on boys as much as girls. Also what isn’t to love about a brand that encourages global citizens through destination inspired items?
How are you getting ready for back to school?
Read this post I contributed to on school supplies used by students around the world on Chicago Now.
Wondering what education is like in Marrakesh, Morocco? Watch my interview with My International Adventure
Disclaimer: We were provided with these items from Tea Collection. All opinions are my own!
Do you remember what the first book you read in translation was? I’ve always been drawn to books that were originally published in other languages, or that have loose use of multiple languages in the text. As a part of Multicultural Kid Blogs Read Around the World Summer Reading Series bloggers from around the world are sharing their book reviews of multicultural (and sometimes multilingual too) books for kids of all ages. Mondays are for ages 5 and under, Wednesdays for children 6-10, and Fridays for tweens and older. You can also see all of the recommendations on our Summer Reading Pinterest Board.
So, since it’s Friday you’ve guessed correctly that this book review is for tweens or older children.
The book that I’ve chosen is Secret Son by Laila Lalami. Lalami is a Moroccan author however this book was written in English from the beginning instead of Moroccan Arabic (Darija) or French. It is almost impossible to find any literature written in darija. The language is not the same as classical Arabic but is not typically seen as a written language – it’s a street language. There’s no uniform spelling of any words, and when it’s typed most people write in Roman letters, not Arabic script. You’ll typically find Moroccan authors who write literature writing in French. In an excerpt from an interview with Lalami she says;
I grew up speaking both Moroccan Arabic and French, but my earliest exposure to books came through French because I received, to my long-lasting despair, a semicolonial education. Nearly all children’s literature that I was exposed to as a child was in French, so when I started writing fiction, it was in that language. While I could read and write Arabic competently enough, I found it very hard to write fictional narrative in Arabic….However, once I left Morocco to study abroad, I started to question the bilingualism with which I had grown up. In my country, French and Arabic did not always have a harmonious relationship; rather, they were often in competition in the public sphere I started to feel really uncomfortable with the idea of writing fiction using the colonial tongue…
I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished I could find an actual story book that is written in Darija as I feel like it would help me learn the language so much better. But it’s simply not to be found.
I chose this book because I love Laila’s storytelling style. I also love that she shares the struggles of real Moroccans without exploiting them. As I read this book I shook my head in agreement time and time again. I recommend this book is appropriate for older teens who can understand complex situations. It’s also a great read for adults who want to understand what drives people to desperation. This book will challenge the party-line many Americans toe that extremists “hate our freedoms.” Instead you’ll journey into a much more complex world of expectations, reality, and the power of dreams both good – and bad.
One more anecdote. My husband never read a book for pleasure, and never (yes in in his entire life!) completed an entire novel. This was the first book that he read front to back for enjoyment or school. First novel…in his third language (English). As a self-professed bibliophile that reads at least 50 books a year it took me a long time to wrap my head around the idea of having never read a book. Thanks Laila for making him a reader! I love that!
Other Works by Laila Lalami
There are thousands of American expats around the world and I love sharing their stories! Caity studied in London during university and has decided to take the plunge and become a full-time expat. If you’re thinking about making the move or you’re already an expat, her post shines light into the desire to do it and the sometimes difficult things you may have to hear when you go public with your dream.
In Morocco there is a bilingual education system, and in some schools it is tri- or quad- lingual (amazing isn’t it?) I’ve previously written about my children’s school and as they’ve progressed through this year I’ve learned a lot about multilingual education. My kids speak Arabic with my in-laws, on the street, and in regular communication at school. They spend half of each day learning in Arabic and the other half in French. What I’ve found is that while they are learning to spell and form sentences in French, they are not as conversationally fluent as they are in Arabic. I believe this is because they don’t use much French outside of class. As we prepare for next year I’ve got two goals; encourage and foster more English reading and writing at home and encourage them to use French more. Neither MarocBaba nor I are fluent in French so this makes having natural conversation difficult. So I am going to rely more on books and other resources to encourage them to speak. I was recently introduced to the Zazoo books by fellow Multicultural Kids Blogger Judith who authored the series.
The books are targeted at kids age 2-7 though I think for any child who is beginning to read in French they will be a good fit. I sat down with my boys and we read the book together. First, they loved the character line-up.
Our favorite character(s) is Krok and Minikrok. K laughed when his turn came up in the book. I was interested in how the book was laid out. Many bilingual books feature the native language and target language in literal translation next to each other. This does not. The story lines are mixed in French and English. I feel like this approach gives them enough context in the preceding and following English to pick up any parts of the French sentences they didn’t know. I also liked that there was a vocabulary page in the beginning. I recommend reading through these words first before the story.
We read through the book and I was impressed that my boys could directly translate the French into English and Arabic. Go boys! While my youngest son liked me reading the book to him, I struggled to get him to read alone. This is purely personality and one of our biggest learning hurdles with him. I found him much more interested in doing the games and activities. Even though I thought this would be too young for M (who is 10) he did like reading it. When we did the vocabulary he went through and identified the masculine and feminine words and took it further assigning the un- or une- beginnings. I can see there are plenty of extensions that can be made on this book for older kids who have a bit more knowledge and patience under their belts.
The little bilingues website has plenty of resources as well;
– Digital publications that are available for download for free: two activity books (theme: clothes) and a French-English bilingual eBook (theme: the beach);
– Print books: the first book is about clothing vocabulary. The themes of the upcoming books are: the beach, Paris and bedtime;
– Activity booklets focusing on the themes of the print books and eBooks: these activities will be downloadable for free for all buyers of the related print book or eBook;
– On the site and the blog, parents and teachers will also find advice on bilingualism and language learning as well as articles on cultural differences between English- and French-speaking worlds. And they will have the possibility to share their questions and tips with the little bilingues community on social networks.
You can try one of the books; The Zazoo Adventures at the Beach on the webpage.
I also found this great list of other online stories for children that are in other languages on Maria’s blog Trilingual Mama. Are you raising bilingual kids? What are some of your favorite resources?
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One day, last fall when I was in the US I was driving down a back country road listening to NPR (my favorite radio station). A story came on about immigrants and TV. I don’t remember the exact details but remember nodding in agreement when they discussed how TV is what gives immigrants a connection to home. When MarocBaba moved to the US I balked at purchasing an Arabic language TV package, way too much money and for what? He needed to learn English! My expat self sees just how ridiculous I was being. I remember the day we had our TV installed and magically English channels were available via satellite. I would turn it on just to have background noise that was familiar, that I didn’t have to work to understand.
But, there were no TV series and many of the movies I’d seen before. I wanted more!
Then I also discovered there were websites I couldn’t access from Morocco. In travel groups I am a part of I also learned that depending on where you’re accessing online booking sites from, the price is changed. I needed to renew my subscription to Microsoft Office and I could only get the Arabic language store to load. Let’s not forget to mention my kids were devastated they could no longer watch Netflix. I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out what to do.
I don’t remember how I stumbled across it but I discovered TunnelBear and things got so much better. Seriously it’s been one of my favorite online discoveries since moving overseas. It’s a VPN which means when it is activated, it pings a proxy server in the country you indicate. So when I want to catch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy that ABC streams following an airing, all I have to do is log in to TunnelBear, indicate the US, and go to the webpage. If I tried to do this without TunnelBear, I’d be blocked.
I’m not technical you’re saying, there’s no way I’ll figure this out. You can! It’s really easy;
First, visit TunnelBear and sign up.
Then download the app for desktop of your mobile device (yes you can use this on iPads, tablets, and phones!) If you need help installing there are many videos available from the bear-y nice folks at TunnelBear to help you.
To load the program open it, select the country you’d like to browse from, turn the dial to on…
There is a small monthly fee to use the service, however I’ve found that the fee is worth it for us! Whether you’re living abroad, traveling, or just want to watch video or access webpages in other countries this could be the solution you’ve been looking for!
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post on behalf of TunnelBear. I began using TunnelBear many months ago and was presented with the opportunity to share recently. This is an app I use on a daily basis and only endorse things I have used and feel are valuable to my readers.
Some time ago I wrote about a small project we conducted to deliver some mobiles and baby clothes to an orphanage in Marrakech. I’ve gotten so many responses from this post, to which I am always happy. The more interest there is, the better chances there are for these children to find a home. Some time later I wrote about the change in Morocco’s foreign adoption policy and what that meant for the children stuck in limbo. I truly believe that every child needs and deserves to find a loving, supportive home. But, the reality is that adoption isn’t an option for all children. In a perfect world it would be but we know that this is not a perfect world. In Morocco about 6000-7000 children are abandoned at birth each year, primarily by single women (according to UNICEF). This remains a problem and with tightening grips on international adoption, programs need to be in place to support these children.
In my first post about orphans in Morocco, I briefly mentioned that when children reached a certain age they were moved to children’s villages or an orphanage for older children. As fate would have it, I was contacted by SOS Children’s Villages last fall during Orphan Awareness Month. I quickly made the connection and asked them if there was anyway I could visit one of the children’s villages in Morocco. I wanted to know what the next step was for children who were not adopted.
Before we went to visit, I had a long conversation with Claudia Ender of SOS Children’s Villages-USA where I learned about their model. The concept (and organization) was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Austria after World War II. With so many war orphans he envisioned a place where they could find a safe home with a mother and siblings. His idea was revolutionary for the time as it created a sustainable model for caring for children instead of an institution to house children. Up to eight live in a house and they remain together as a family unit. Each house mother cares for the children as they were her own. She also has one mother’s aid who helps if a child is sick and the mom needs to take them to the doctor or if mom just needs a break.
After some arrangements with SOS US and the SOS village here (it was the closest to Marrakech), MarocBaba and I took the short drive to Ait Ourir. We didn’t have an address, but were told to just ask anyone in town and they would know where to send us. Honestly, at this point I had an idea in my head of what we were going to find. I imagined maybe one or two multi-story homes that had families living on different levels. It puzzled me how everyone in town would know where to send us. I kind of felt like the children must be pariah’s if everyone knew where they were. What we found blew my mind. This is a video filmed at Ait Ourir – it’s not mine, and it’s narrated in Darija but you won’t need to understand what the narrator is saying to see and get an idea of what you’re seeing.
It wasn’t a few houses, it really was an entire small compound and it was gorgeous! Inside the walls were villa style homes for the families, gardens with lots of fruit trees, and peacocks wandering the grounds! An administration building, and a community center as well as a kindergarten and nearby primary school also made up the buildings. We were told that local children also benefit from the school, as there are a certain number of places available for them to attend too. Inside the community center were rooms for art classes, music enrichment, and technology (computer) classes. The support of corporations such as Dell (who sponsored the technology room) and McDonald’s (the music area), makes this a reality. One hundred children call the village home and come from all over the country. SOS also has villages in Agadir, Dar Bouazza, El Jadida, and Imzouren. Once children reach their teenage years they move to a youth facility in Marrakech or Mohammedia that are single-sex apartments, similar to dorms with a house mother.
The reality is that not all children who are in need can be or will be adopted. It was amazing for me to see this wonderful facility that has been established to help those children transition through life. I was struck by the fact that the work being done here is very much in line with the Islamic concept of caring for and raising a child and it was a very far cry from my concept of an orphanage. This is not an orphanage – this is a home, and even though it’s not traditional in the sense of two parents + children it was easy to see how the bonds formed in these families are just as strong, if not stronger.
SOS operates around the world in 133 countries providing thousands of orphaned and abandoned children a safe place to live, learn and grow. While disaster relief is not their primary goal, they do offer emergency relief in regions all over the world who are reeling from natural disasters and conflict.
The last question I asked Claudia was how people could help support SOS. First, spread the word. Let other people know about the work that is being done. Second, is financial support. SOS is an NGO, meaning it does not receive financial support from the government, it is an independent organization. You can sponsor a child in Morocco for 100 dirham (about $12) a month – or an entire family for 900 dirham (about $100). This money provides support to meet the basic needs of the child. You’ll receive updates on your sponsored child twice a year and if you’re ever in Morocco, you’re welcome to visit the village and your sponsored child. For more information on sponsoring you can contact the head of donor relations in Morocco – find more information here. If there’s a specific village you’d like to sponsor from let donor relations know. For general donations or to select a different country for sponsorship, visit the main SOS-US donors page for information or donate directly.
Special thank you to SOS US team, especially Claudia Ember for arranging our visit, the Ait Ourir administrators and family that welcomed us to their home, educators who showed us around the school, and the children for allowing us to visit their home!
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