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Local Photographer Gathers Impressions of Morocco in Words and Pictures

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by Julia Barstow

Julia Barstow
Julia Barstow

I grew up in Adamant and currently attend Bennington College. I have an interest in journalism and from the end of January to mid-May, I studied abroad in Morocco with the School for International Training on its Field Studies in Journalism and New Media program.

During the first two months of the program, I, along with 17 other undergraduate students from around the U.S., lived with host families and studied in Morocco’s capital, Rabat. We had a five-week independent study period at the end of the program, during which we produced original news stories on a topic of our choosing. As a photography student at Bennington College, I chose to partner with three print students to take photographs for their articles.

Another memorable part of the program was a one-week home stay in a rural village outside of Fez. My host family was welcoming and we were eager to learn from each other, despite having a language barrier. While I was in the village, I wrote about my surroundings and the people.

The following describes part of a morning on the main road of the village:

Story continues below

Houses line the south side of the main road of Birta village. The homes are modest one-story concrete structures. Cinder block walls and gates separate the houses from the road. Some gates are metal, others are made from tall brown plant stalks and branches. On the other side of the road is an expanse of agricultural fields where the village grows its crops. Plots of onions, wheat, fava beans, fennel, beets and other vegetables create a patchwork in shades of green. Cows and sheep can be heard intermittently. Birds call under the clear morning sky. Two large white birds walk on the edges of the roof of a nearby house. On the ground, glass, cigarette butts and plastic wrappers are interspersed with the patchy grass and small orange flowers.

A man leisurely rides his bicycle down the road toward the west. Another man with cropped hair drives a horse drawn cart in the opposite direction. A child appears from behind the gate to his home and begins to play among the chickens. They cluck loudly as a tractor engine rumbles in the fields.

The two white birds take off from the roof, circle around a small stand of trees and return to their perch. More birds fly overhead and land in a leafless tree that children in the village like to climb. Another horse drawn cart turns onto the road. A boy of three or four runs close behind it.

Once the cart is out of sight, a woman in a sparkly gold and black outfit with matching headscarf ambles by. She is wearing slippers and bright red leggings. Her clothes glint in the sunlight as she walks. A girl in a neon green and pink tracksuit runs from the opposite direction. She stops, looks around, and calls “Mama” to the empty street. A woman walks out of a house and the girl runs in. After a few seconds, the girl returns to the street and runs up the grassy bank to sit under a tree.

She looks toward the road when a big old tractor bellowing smoke passes by and turns up the path to the fields. As the sounds from the tractor fade, a man in a red shirt and blue baseball cap begins hammering away at a house under construction. The rhythmic blows of the hammer leave behind an echo.

A man tilling the field closest to the road drives a white horse towing a plow with measured commands. The soil turns over in clumps. A tan colored dog walks by the field and onto the road with its tail raised in the air. Soon after, a dog with a fluffy tail comes prancing by. A black and white dog and a brown dog arrive from another direction and join the other two. They sniff the air and congregate around trash piled in the nearby ditch.

In a declaration of its presence in the middle of the road, a rooster crows and flaps its wings. The mother calls for her daughter. The girl gets up from the tree and sprints back home. A young man races by on a motorcycle emitting black exhaust. Two little boys play with a bicycle and disappear around the corner. The road is empty once again.

Part of my travels was funded by a Gilman Scholarship, which provides grants to U.S. undergraduate students studying abroad. More information about the Gilman Scholarship, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, can be found at www.iie.org/programs/gilman-scholarship-program.