When Bogdan Z of the ViewFinder went to Morocco he expected to be wow’d and awe’d, but he never expected that this small African country would change him forever. Although already well-travelled, Bogdan says Morocco shattered his ill-conceived notions of how the world is, how it was, and how it could be. Join us for a very special VFOriginal as we talk with Bogdan about what makes Morocco so special and how he attempted to document this beautiful country.
Most people may not notice it, but as soon as you become stagnant physically, you become stagnant mentally. In order to move your mind, you must move your body. ~Bogdan Z.
Why was this trip important to you?
This experience changed my perceptions so drastically that I can no longer see the world in the same way. This trip taught me that I know almost nothing about the world. That’s to say, everything I’ve learned about the world was about the western world, and even things I had learned about other places, were all from a western perspective.
What are some of the differences you discovered?
Well to list a few, there are no public displays of affection, most people sleep on couches (they feel beds a waste of space), and taking someone’s picture can be quite an insult.
Our journey began in Tangiers where we visited DARNA, a center for abandoned women, that teaches women life skills so that they may find work without the help of a husband. Here, we learned about the role that women play in Arabic societies. They told us that there is a big distinction between what Islam says and what their Culture says. For example, Islam doesn’t directly dictate the role of women, however, the Arabic culture has grown to oppress women by placing them below men. They said that they are not required to wear headscarves or cover their shoulders and arms, however, they feel that covering their body is positive because then men show an interest in their minds and their personalities, rather than in their appearances. I reflected on how sexualized women are in our culture and how this might look to someone from Morocco. I wouldn’t say that either extreme is good, but perhaps we should be striving for a middle ground rather than demonizing each other.
What changed your opinion of East vs West the most?
There were so many contrasts, its hard to say. In the coastal town of Asilah, we walked through the Medina where we had our first encounter with the “call to prayer.” During our short stay we heard the call four times, which made me realize how devoted to religion the Moroccan people are. It really makes Catholicism seem like a laid back religion. Whereas in Catholicism you go to church once, maybe twice per week, here you go to “church” 5 times each and every single day!
I think above everything though, the host family really changed my perception of Muslims. Our house “dad” was more of a host “bro”, or fraternity guy. During dinner he asked us, “you like to drink?” We weren’t sure what he meant. I thought in Muslim culture you weren’t allowed to drink alcohol. He repeated, “you like to drink? You like beer?” We said sure, so he told us that tonight we can go out to some bars and go dancing. We were absolutely confused. We asked him if this was typical, he told us that nearly everyone drinks in Morocco. He said that it is “officially” illegal to drink but that the government doesn’t enforce these laws. They have clubs, women and men sometimes dance together and drink together, and all of this was very normal. This surprised me the most. I had learned from long ago that in Islam drinking was strictly forbidden, yet, the more people I talked to, the more I realized that our understanding of this culture is very generalized and exaggerated.
“You know you cannot just stop yourself from doing what you want. Why are you here then? Do what you want and don’t let people tell you no.” ~Karim M.
We know you’re an avid traveller, what keeps you moving?
Travel isn’t optional for me, it’s a necessity of life. Most people may not notice it, but as soon as you become stagnant physically, you become stagnant mentally. In order to move your mind, you must move your body. And this doesn’t have to be difficult, you don’t need to travel halfway across the world, you just need to see something new, something fresh.
What conclusions did you draw from Morocco?
There was a lot of poverty in Morocco and most of the people didn’t have much more than food and shelter. Yet somehow they seem so happy with their lives. I felt as though the U.S. was the one who was close-minded and the Moroccans were the ones willing to open up.
My experience with the people of Morocco brought up a lot of questions for me. I finally realized the impact that the media has on an entire people. We get images of Arabs as being suicide bombers or hijackers, and they get images that all of us have guns and shoot at each other. In one student group, they genuinely didn’t believe me when I told them I don’t own a gun. I feel that a lot of differences we see between these vastly different cultures really aren’t differences at all, but similarities. We put them down because we dont know them and they put us down because they dont know us.
I realize now that nothing needs to be the way it is and that everything has slowly been evolved by the society we live in. More so now, the media is shaping our world very rapidly. That is why documentary work is so important, it provides an opportunity to reverse these cultural constructions and form a new, more open world.