Last Updated: 2021-11-02
Arlette Olaerts is a passionate professional photographer and an avid traveller. Her portraits and photo documentaries are fresh and organic. She has a huge portfolio of penetrating pictures of Moroccan people, and we love her work. We hope you enjoy this post from Arlette.
In 2006 when I took my first trip to Morocco, my children were small and Zineb, a Moroccan girl, was living and working with us. She, another friend, my three kids and I went to Morocco to meet her family.
That’s where my love story with Morocco began. From the very first moment I felt at home. There’s something about Africa that draws me: its beauty, its colors, its special light, its people… and especially the way time seems to stand still. There is no rush. No need to chase after things. You can just feel free to simply be present. I find myself again each time I go to Africa.
Zineb’s parents’ house was far out in the countryside. We drove as far as we could and then had to go by donkey. A simple house and a warm welcome awaited us. We had a welcome feast, including the customary slaughter of a lamb, which my little daughter had a hard time wrapping her mind around. There’s a hospitality that still exists in Morocco, and the Arab world in general, that we lost somewhere along the way.
Although I’ve been back to Morocco many times since, I feel privileged to say that I can’t give you any advice about hotels, since most of the time I end up staying with friends of friends, often in no-frills homes, sleeping on sofas. The warmth and friendliness of the people make it all worth it. Even though we don’t always communicate well, laughter says what words can’t. We have laughed a lot in this country: I still remember moments when we laughed until our stomach hurt and tears flowed, moments shared with people who didn’t speak our language.
The food is delicious, the best breakfast in the world in my opinion. The wonderful tea, the coffee with milk, avocado juice, milwi, puff pastry pancakes with honey and butter, sometimes with black olives or couscous bread…. I love it! Of course, I usually gain a little weight when I go to Morocco…
I always take photos on these trips, which is not always easy since many locals don’t like to be photographed (I don’t blame them). Personally, I don’t like to “steal” pictures. I’m not the typical tourist who, as soon as she gets off the plane, starts taking photos. I’m slow. I need to get to know the country, to get closer to the people, and spend time with them before taking out my camera. Sometimes I just leave it in its case. If things are perfect, why kill the magic just because you want to try to immortalize the moment? Who are you trying to impress anyway? In our semi-virtual world, some people insist on sharing all of their experiences (or at least all the pleasant ones), but I believe that our experiences are in our hearts and in the hearts of the people who shared them with us.
Moulay Bousselham is a fishing village with misty beaches that I remember with special affection. I fell in love there once, and that lasted a couple of beautiful years. I also loved Youssoufia, where Zineb’s parents used to live. Fez, Meknes, and Marrakech are all wonderful cities. The desert, the Rif, the Atlas Mountains, the Mediterranean Coast, the Atlantic Coast… Morocco feels like a world unto itself.
In 2014, I accompanied the Charity Association of Valencia on a trip to the Merzouga desert to document the life of the nomads. My photos are in the Museum of Nomadic Culture in Hassilabiad and I’ll also show you some of them here. Not all the towns that I visited in Morocco were beautiful in the typical sense, but beauty is everywhere, especially off the beaten path.
I hope you enjoy these portraits of the people of Morocco: a big-hearted group of people who face too many prejudices and stereotypes. Traveling is the best medicine against intolerance. If you can break bread with the locals, even better.
[Click each photo to enlarge]