Jeanette in Morocco: A Weekend in Chefchaouen

December 8, 2017

Chefchaouen, known as “the Blue City,” is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Morocco. However, if you want to escape the city for a bit, less than an hour away lies the Akchour Cascades. It’s about a four hour hike with beautiful waterfalls and bouldering paths along the way. Here’s a short travel film of my trip with some friends there last weekend!

 

 

 

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Jeanette in Morocco: Another Beginning

November 30, 2017

My study abroad program is unique in that I get to spend a few months with a homestay family, and then during my 5-week independent study I get to live in an apartment and travel around. As excited as I was to start my project, it was bittersweet leaving my homestay family.

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After our last meal together, I gave them a handwritten letter and some of my favorite photos of us together as a small token of appreciation. My host mom started crying and it made it 10x harder to say goodbye. I’m so grateful for the time we spent together and for being welcomed into a family who made Morocco truly feel like home. I promised them I’ll definitely come back for Friday couscous!

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Welcome to my new apartment! It’s so crazy that my first apartment I’ve ever lived in is in Africa. If someone told me this would be my life two years ago I would have thought they were crazy, but it’s been such an incredible experience. Within a few days of moving in, we decorated the place with string lights and a tapestry to make it feel more like home. Though I certainly miss the delicious food in my homestay, I’m enjoying this glimpse of adulthood.

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Whether I’m in a homestay or in my apartment, I’m just so grateful to be in Morocco and watching sunsets as beautiful as this every night.


Jeanette in Morocco: Marrakech Adventures

November 23, 2017

Marrakech, one of Morocco’s four imperial cities, is a growing tourist hub. My friends and I spent a long weekend there and adventured around the city’s old Medina. To my surprise, there was a lot more to do than simply sight-seeing and fancy night-time outings.

My two favorite things that weekend were going cliff-diving in Ouzoud, a nearby village that has the tallest waterfall in Africa, and driving ATVs in the nearby Sahara desert!

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This is Ouzoud waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Africa! Our guide, who grew up in the village, told us that during his childhood, it was a right of passage for him and his friends to jump off some of the smaller cliffs.

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This is my friends and I after we dived off the lower cliffs and stopped for a picture on the hike up to the higher cliffs! We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the cool water and enjoying a gondola boat ride.

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On our way up to lunch, our guide showed us to a small forest with monkeys. He stuck his hand out in front of me with a palm full of nuts to lure the monkey to jump on my head. It was hilarious and the monkeys were so friendly!

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After spending a day in the water, we wanted to get out to the desert. We spent this day riding ATVs around the desert, racing one another, doing donuts, and watching our guide do cool tricks we didn’t dare to try. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

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During the middle of our day in the desert, our guide took us to a nearby village for a mint-tea break. We were able to meet some locals, pet donkeys, and hold adorable babies like Zachariah pictured above!


Jeanette in Morocco: Serendipity

November 22, 2017

Throughout my time in Morocco, I’ve met some incredible people all by simply being in the right place at the right time.

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Meet Ahmed! I am currently working on a documentary short film about the threats Morocco’s famous tile industry is facing. One day, my print partner and I were planning to visit an artisan school, but our cab driver mistakenly took us to a pottery shop instead. However, the place was beautiful and still related to our topic, so we decided to stay and explore. We stumbled upon Ahmed, a man who has worked for 40 years in the tile industry and owns multiple shops now. He invited us to sit with him and we ended up staying for hours, drinking coffee, listening to his crazy life stories, and laughing really hard. He even showed us pictures from his 20s when he starred in a movie with Sean Connery! We never got to the artisan school that day, but it has been one of my most memorable days so far.

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Meet Rochdi and Azar! The one thing about being on a SIT field-study program is that your program is made up of only Americans so it can be challenging to get to know locals. However, I think befriending locals and doing local things can provide a more authentic abroad experience. My American friend and I met Rochdi and Azar one random morning on the beach. They offered to watch our bags while we went swimming and then we returned the favor. Then, somehow we ended up staying on the beach until sunset, teaching each other lingo, showing each other music, and laughing at stupid things. They’ve become some of my closest friends in Morocco and I honestly can’t imagine this experience without them!

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Meet Driss and his family! Driss (far left) is the main subject of my documentary. I only had three days to film in the tile factory and it was difficult to pick my subject being that they spoke no English and I know very minimal Arabic. I went with my gut and picked Driss because despite the rigorous, physically demanding work he was doing for hours on end, he never stopped smiling. After visiting his family and learning about their story, I’m confident I made the right choice! I was also moved to tears during some of our interviews when the translator shared with me that his whole family is illiterate and Driss dropped out of school at the age of 7 to start working in the tile industry to support his family. To this day, he is their sole stream of income. I’m so honored to know him.

 


Jeanette in Morocco: Behind the Scenes of Filmmaking

November 21, 2017

When I first got my camera, I said to my friends I’m excited to see where I take it, but I’m more excited to see where it takes me.

Well, I took it to Morocco, but it’s taken me to the door steps of some incredible opportunities.

I am currently working on a documentary short film to be released at the end of December and serving as the Video Editor for an online publication, Reporting Morocco.

Working as a filmmaker in Morocco hasn’t been easy. I am constantly innovating ways to combat language and cultural barriers. It seems that every time I think I have something figured out, another challenge arises that I could have never predicted. This is the nature of working in an unfamiliar place.

However, these once daunting challenges have taught me a lot. I’ve strengthened my technical skills and enhanced my creative eye, but more importantly, I’ve gained patience, resilience, and adaptability – arguably three of the most important assets for anyone in this field to have.

Here are some photos encapsulating the lessons I’ve learned as a filmmaker in Morocco!

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1) Be prepared! It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Before every shoot, I make sure I have three sets of charged batteries, three sets of formatted SD cards, two hard-drives for back-up storage, two microphone sets (shot-gun and lavalier), and two forms of stabilization tools (tripod and gimbal). Without these fundamentals, I wouldn’t be able to achieve the shots I want!

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2) Be adventurous! Filming in a country you’ve only lived in for a short amount of time means there’s a lot you haven’t seen. If you don’t explore, you’ll never know what’s out there that could elevate your creative vision. For a video I shot last month, I grabbed my camera and explored the old medina and surrounding city aimlessly for hours. The footage I shot that day ended up being the introduction in my final cut!

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3) Be adaptable! The photo above is my print partner and I waiting for our subject who was over an hour late to our scheduled interview. Time is a very relaxed notion in Morocco. It is not considered rude to show up late or cancel last minute. Also, the concept of answering within one to three business days does not really exist. As frustrating as it is having to deal with elements out of my control, I’ve slowly come to realize that the only way to be successful here is to adapt to the norms. On my latest shoot, my subject once again showed up late. However, instead of getting flustered, I made effective use of my time by shooting b-roll (supplemental footage) of the environment while I patiently waited for him to arrive.

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4) Be inventive! The photo above shows an interview I shot next to a landfill because it was the only quiet place I could find near the tile factory I was filming. The floor was cold, so we found pieces of old leather and a brick from the landfill to sit on. Not the most conventional set you could say, but it worked! And I ended up getting amazing natural lighting and crisp, echo-less sound from the open space.

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5) Be passionate! In my opinion, this is the most important quality of them all. Technology malfunctions. People flake. Things go wrong. There have been moments where I haven’t loved what I’m doing, but I make a conscious decision to keep going because I am passionate about my work. I am passionate about using creativity as a tool to bridge communities. I am passionate about hearing and sharing meaningful stories. I am passionate about evoking emotion – laughter, tears, and everything in between. I am passionate. And if I’m being honest, without it, I’d be nothing.

 


Jeanette in Morocco: A Different Universe

November 12, 2017

It’s difficult to admit, but before I came to Morocco, there were only a handful of people I felt like I had genuine support from. Whenever I told people where I would be spending my fall semester, it seemed like the first thing they said was “is it safe?” or “be careful” but it never seemed as though it was coming from a genuine place of care, but rather a place of concern. Perhaps such fears stem from the fact that Morocco is considered a developing country in Africa, or American rhetoric has made people narrow-minded about Muslim-majority countries. However, despite the doubt surrounding me, something in me told me that it couldn’t be true. There was no way people who have had no connection with a country could generalize a truth about it. It was unfair. It was ignorant.

Though I had no idea what to expect coming into Morocco, I can say that after having spent over two months here, my gut feeling was right.

Morocco is a country rich with history and culture. It is a place where strangers welcome you with mint tea, warm hugs, and hours of laughter despite strong language barriers. It is a place where community is deeply valued and everyone thinks of their neighbor before themselves. It is a place where I have been challenged to deconstruct my preconceived notions and see the world around me for what it is.

Below is a short film I created to capture my thoughts, emotions, and reflections. It was inspired by a poem I wrote the first week I was here.

“A Different Universe” – Enjoy!

 


Jeanette in Morocco: Bni Koulla Village

November 1, 2017

Last week, I spent ten days in Bni Koulla, a small Moroccan village located in the Rif Mountains. Despite the lack of running water, language barriers, and differing cultures, it has been one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. Find some of my favorite moments below.

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The sun paints the sky burnt orange as it sets over the mountains and families gather along the dirt roads to share laughs and stories.

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Mourad, 10, smiles for the camera after herding sheep back into their pen.

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Jeanette means “paradise” in Arabic. This is little Jeanette and I. Our communication did not extend beyond counting to ten, playing hide and seek, and variations of concentration hand games but she made me smile every day even when it wasn’t easy to.

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This is the adobe tin-roof home I stayed in. Although my home-stay family and I could could only have minimal language exchange, it was hard to leave them at the end of the week. I had a humbling experience helping them get water from the well, cook, sweep, and perform farm work.

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On Friday, we all gathered together to make couscous, a staple food in Moroccan culture. It was a rewarding experience watching our hard work come to fruition, and not to mention, tasty!

 


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