My Photography

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Women on the 20s!

You may or may not have heard of this initiative going on in the US right now. Each bill of our paper money has a face on it, of either a president (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln...) or someone important in the nation's history (Benjamin Franklin). (See here for all the billsincluding some much bigger ones than you may think exist!)

On the 20 dollar bill we see the face of Andrew Jackson, a president who did a lot for the countrysome of it good, and some of it... not so much. One of his biggest, and certainly his most terrible legacy is the "Trail of Tears", formally known as the Indian Removal Act of 1830. 
"...the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died."                             source
Just take a look at this map to get an idea of the scope of this relocation. For anyone familiar with the geography of the US, think about how radically different those deep south climates are from Oklahoma.


So do we really want to celebrate this man on one of the most commonly used US bills? Here's another reason it doesn't make the most sense that he's there:
Some argue that because Jackson was a fierce opponent of the central banking system and favored gold and silver coin or "hard money" over paper currency, he is an ironic choice for immortalization on our money.                                                                             source

One thing to remember is that the people who appear on US currency can change at any timethe President, the Secretary of the Treasury, or Congress just has to order it to be done. Another interesting fact: the faces on our bills haven't changed since 1929.

So now that we've established that Andrew Jackson's face is not the most logical, and that it's rather time for a change, who should we put on the $20 bill? Before we can answer that, these kids have an important question:

The people at are trying to garner public support for the change from Andrew Jackson to a celebrated American woman on the $20 bill. This is far from being an aggressive feminist movement, it's simply a way to give some needed attention to the important women of our nation. We have lots of inspiring ones to choose from!

In March I was one of the 256,000 people who voted for my top three of the fifteen most influential American women. Now, since the beginning of April, four finalists have been identified. From the womenon20s website:

Because of strong public sentiment that people should have the choice 
of a Native American to replace Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Nation 
Chief Wilma Mankiller appears on the Final ballot.

Go here to get to that page and read these amazing women's more complete biographies. I certainly learned quite a lot!

I have two email addresses, so I'm voting twice, but I won't influence you one way or another so I won't tell you who I'm voting for, however I will tell you to go vote! Even if you aren't American! Go take a look at the womenon20s website, learn a bit about the history of that country, and really, why not vote? The more people vote, the more likely it is that one of these women will appear on the 20 dollar bill in 2020, right in time for the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in America!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pages— Chapter 6

It was 8 pm on a Thursday evening, and the basement of Le Vertigo, a small bar in Casablanca's old colonial downtown, was slowly filling up. Moroccans and foreigners alike made their way down the steep stone staircase, greeted by loud Pop art posters, background music, and chattering voices. They may have noticed the photographers from Rapax studio setting upone being a conspicuously jovial Canadianor they might have noticed the blonde Pole from Bewildered in Morocco who seemed to be everywhere at once, making sure that this event she had planned for so long was coming together. They might not have noticed a smiley Egyptian-Moroccan from Xmore who was just as invested, being the co-organizer, but who only showed his happy anxiety through chuckles. As the attendees sat at the bar or low tables and looked around the retro-feeling basement they would have admired and discussed Mouad Abou Lhana's artwork strung up all over the walls: art that mixes tradition with novelty, pop art with technique. The bar was filling up and hummed with anticipation, waiting for Chapter 6 of Pages to begin. 

Just after 9 pm my duty as presenter began, and I grabbed the microphone to call everyone to attention, thanking them for being there and giving them the outline of the storytellers for the night. Then as an introduction to Pages for those new to the event, we played the newly-released trailer for Pages: 

(Do you recognize the voice??)

After some well-merited applause directed at Rapax Studio, it was time to introduce the night's first speakernone other than the Pop artist himself. Mouad Abou Lhana made his way to the front, took the microphone, and gave some information about his life and how he had gotten to where he is todaya full time art teacher of high school students in the small city of Taza and a part time artist. The floor was opened up for questions, and he answered many: whether the paintings and prints were for sale (Yes!), whether he was able to make a living off of his art (Nope.), and even what happens if the cops come when he's creating giant street art murals! (He tries to get a permit first.) Stepping off, he was warmly applauded, and proved to be the perfect opener for what would be a great night.

The next speaker contrasted sharply with Mouad's laid-back demeanor and quiet voice. As soon as Reda Chahoud, co-founder of the company Startupia, began speaking in his rapid English and even faster French he energized the entire room. His talk outlined his journey from Morocco to France, then back to Morocco, and his tireless pursuit of passion. He spoke about his company which gives young entrepreneurs guidance and capital while they work together to create start-ups here in Morocco. This work is so important to him, he explained, because it proves that there is not just one path we all must followgo to school, graduate, get a job, get married, have kidsbut there are a huge number of different ways of going about life. In Morocco, he said, this message is an important one, and not one that is often heard or promoted here. “On doit suivre une piste qui nous rend heureux" he said. "We should follow the path that makes us happy" our own path, not someone else's.

photo credit: Walid Bendra
Reda also gave a beautiful tribute to Pages, explaining his love for this fantastic event:
What I love about Pages is here there are a lot of people with different backgrounds, different experiences. We're gathered here to share our lifestyles and our experiences. Pages is a cultural gathering, and is all about connections. I believe in connections, and that we must create value behind connections. Anyone we meet is someone who can have an impact on our lives!
I can attest to the truth of his statements, as Othman and I have both made wonderful friends through the event, who most certainly have impacted our lives!

A break followed Reda's talk as the next presented prepared. Khalil Mounji, from the organization Gnaoua Culture, would not only tell us a story, but do it through the music his association seeks to preserve. From their Facebook page—Gnaoua Culture est une association ayant pour but de développer, enrichir et préserver le patrimoine culturel marocain gnaoui. (Translation: Gnaoua Culture is an association whose goal is to develop, enrich and preserve the cultural Moroccan tradition of Gnaoua.) Khalil spoke only briefly about himself and role in the organization before transitioning into a legend from this Western part of Africa about the boy who founded Gnaoua. Accompanied by his traditional guembri, he told the story in a way that kept all of us hooked, and at the end he was asked for an encore over and over again!

photo credit: Walid Bendra

While there was no encore from Khalil, not long after he was done he introduced the last of the night's presenters—the band Bnat Timbouktou. They are associated with Gnaoua Culture and are an inspiring group of young women who are keeping the tradition of Gnaoua alive in Morocco's economic capital. They played, sang, and danced that kind of music that can only be truly appreciated live, and the audience was captivated.

As their set went on the crowd of listeners became less passive and more a part of the music making—clapping along, dancing along, even singing along with some songs! The atmosphere was electric. It was beautiful that this many-centuries old musical tradition, that is essentially religious at its core, could provoke such a reaction in such a place at such a time. That serves as a testament to both its power and the talent and passion of the musicians!

There was also a special guest performer who was on stage both with Khalil and Bnat Timbouktou. He had boundless energy and enthusiasm and really made everyone feel the music's life and energy!

Finally, the time came to close the night, and the raffle drawings were held (with prizes from sponsors Ligne 7 and Riad Qara, and even a surprise prize from Mouad), the obligatory group photo was taken, and those who worked early the next morning left. For everyone who could stay later, however, there was a bonus concert by French/Moroccan band One of Us!

Ligne 7!

Being able to be involved in Pages has been a wonderful gift, and I count myself extremely lucky to have gotten in with the crowd of amazing people who put it together time and again. Some big changes are coming in Chapter 7, changes that we are all very excited about, and we hope to have a record number of attendees on May 31st!

Thank you Monika and Amr!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Three weeks old

This morning I got my baby fix for the week! Visiting baby Noor and mama Jessica I was amazed to see at how much he has grown in the two weeks since I had seen him! He's eating well and becoming more and more charming! 

Jessica and I caught up with each other about our eventful past two weeks as I admired her precious little boy, who has quite the appetite!

Little babies have so much perfection in them. Maybe that's what we all admire so much, and why it's so easy to get lost while looking at them.

I smiled to hear how gracefully Jessica is transitioning into motherhood, and smiled even bigger when I saw her with him, so much more at ease than when I last visited. 

She had this peaceful glow about her as she talked of him and interacted with him. Motherhood is suiting her very well.

Just before I had to run off I wanted to take a few more photos of the happily-fed baby, so she urged her little boy to smile for the camera. He did so beautifully, along with some other adorable faces, with eyes only for his mama.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A day in Tangier

While we slept and spent lots of time in Assilah, we took advantage of the fact that it's located only 40 minutes from Tangier to explore that city a bit! I had never been there and Othman was very small the last time he was there. Not having a guide (his uncle who lives in Tangier was out of town) we ended up getting lost more than a few times, but were able to see quite a lot of the city as a result! Our first destination was in the old medina, and finding it was no easy task but we made it eventually. 

The walk in:

Then we got sidetracked...

and got our first view of Spain! It's that small dark line above the clouds.

Not long after that we found a museum which used to be an old palace. Wandering though it was impressive, as I imagined all that must have taken place within itsits walls. Othman and I agreed there was something distinctly Game-of-Thrones-esque about the place!

While the museum wasn't particularly well set up, and informative only in the driest of ways, the experience of walking through the palace and stumbling upon things like these was incredible:

Afterwards we followed some terrible signage looking for the tomb of Ibn Battuta (the Marco Polo of the Arab world, who happened to be from Tangier) but were disappointed to see it was just a little building the size of a shack that was dedicated to him. It was also locked. Then we realized we were extremely lost in the winding pedestrian streets of the old medina, but were saved by a guide in the form of a ten year old girl. Phew! I posed in front of this pretty wall on the way down:

Leaving the city we headed up to Cap Spartel which is in a large national park just minutes from Tangier. The cape features a historical lighthouse that we admired. Unfortunately the clouds were blocking most of the view we should have had of Spain and the Atlantic.

After grabbing a quick orange juice at the cafe overlooking the ocean we wandered around the park some more, spotting some wildlife:

And even the lighthouse again!

All tired out, we then headed back to Assilah for a well deserved rest.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The old medina of Assilah

Heading into our long weekend away in the north of Morocco, we decided to stay in Assilah for the three nights we'd be on vacation and use it as a base to visit Tangier and it's surrounding areas, it being smaller and quieter than the big city. I had heard Assilah was a beatiful town, but I wasn't quite prepared for how stunning its old medina would be. In most Moroccan cities the old medina, or old town, shows its age substantially by being dirty, cramped, and somewhat crumbly. Despite that they all have their charms hidden in labyrinthian passages. Assilah proved to be somewhat different from the others. 

In this post I will take you on a tour that is neither geographically nor chronologically sound, but is arranged with the object of unveiling the beauty of the town's old medina.

Heading into the medina means passing through its old and thick city ramparts that defended the town in days of old.

The walls themselves held surprises for us. Some of a soft and gentle nature,

and others rather more foreboding.

The architecture and colors it hid were often stunning, and the medina was surprisingly clean, bright and alive.

We were so pleased to see how the town has made a concerted effort to bring nature and plant life into the medina, which is so often lacking in other Moroccan old towns.

There was a fair amount of animal life as well, and it being a fishing village, well-fed cats abounded.

While all of that would be enough to make one love Assilah, it held one more wonderful secret. Around each bend and down each small alley a bright and striking mural, waiting to shout out its message and be seen by the world.

Some had messages for the onlookers,

while others were just a celebration.

They provided some nice photo ops,

for us and for others!

Many murals weren't just for their own sake, but advertised the locations of, for example, an art gallery and a calligraphy studio.

Not all of Assilah's charm lay in its lovely medina however. But more on that in future postsfor now I'm simply already wondering when we might be able to return.