Morocco. A travel proposal.

I’m Alek Tarkowski, 24 years old, living in Warsaw, Poland for most of my life. I have an MA in Sociology and a broad education in humanities / social sciences: I finished an experimental high school and an interdisciplinary department. Currently, as a PhD student, I try to mix sociology and media theory into Internet studies. As a hobby I photograph and do graphic design for own joy. I know a bit about filmmaking and I’ve had experience working as a journalist and editor. When I was five I’ve traveled around the States with my parents for two months. Sadly I was too young to fully enjoy it. Since I was seventeen I traveled every summer. I did a hitchhiking tour across Europe from Poland to Ireland and went on a trip to Turkey through Ukraine and Russia. I’ve been to most European countries including the Balkans, Ukraine and European part of Russia. Turkey has been the strongest taste of the exotic up till today. Now I want, with your kind help, to take it one step further - I dream of dream of going to Morocco.

The inspiration

Last summer I spent a week at a new media and art workshop in Lipnica Murowana, a village in the Polish mountains near Cracow. New media projects and artistic ideas mixed with fields, forests, vodka and Polish disco music in the local bar. In these weird surroundings I came upon a CD called “Acting Salam” by Ahlam, a group from Morocco. I was amazed. The music was a mix of traditional Arab sounds, Moroccan pop, dub and electronica. I made a copy, so the music stayed with me when I went back to Warsaw. In July it was hot and the wide streets and communist-style concrete buildings started absorbing heat. Warsaw became an oven. The music and the city went well together

In August I met Moroccans for the first time. I traveled with my girlfriend through Italy and Spain to Portugal, to take part in an international workcamp. Standing out in a group of not particularly interesting people were three young Moroccans. They said they were sheep farmers. They did not know what a CD is, but listened to "Transglobal Underground”. They were practicing Muslims but in a couple of hours started drinking beers. First ones in their life, they said. They seemed to be lying or making up stories half of the time, as if teasing with us. We were quite amused by their implausible stories and the view of Morocco that emerged from them. In the evening three Moroccan shepherds turned out to be camp counselors, testing the campers. Our new friends disappeared like a mirage. The next day we left the camp, thoroughly bored.

Back in Poland I discovered Ahlam’s sister band: Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects. The story behind the band’s name is even better than the music. Aisha Kandisha is a Moroccan demon, a female djinn that seduces men and drives them insane. “For a Moroccan to call a band Aisha Kandisha, it takes the same brash, audacious attitude an American would need to call a band The Dead Kennedys - only Kennedys can’t induce mass hysteria with a mention of their name” states the cover blurb.

As winter neared, I knew I want to go to Morocco, to confront reality with my vision of the country. I had a vision like from a fairy tale: of weird musicians, who go against the grain of their society by mixing tradition with global culture, of Moroccans who meet you, but don’t exist, of a female demon stalking the society.

The travel

I wanted to go to Morocco about now, because I felt that I need a break from my current life. Facing own problems and an exotic country at the same time fits well into the Polish romantic tradition. In the XIXth century Polish poets went to faraway places like Crimea and there drew links between the exotic wilderness and their inner selves. Unfortunately I had not enough time and money and had to postpone the journey.

I plan my journey to Morocco to last about a month, maybe six weeks. I imagine flying from Warsaw to any of the big cities, the capital of Rabat for instance, and starting there.

The main goal of the trip would be learning more about the two bands and the world they live in. There is still plenty of time to make arrangements and I hope they would be willing to talk. There are many exciting questions: how do they function in Moroccan society? Are they part of a bigger subculture? Is there a whole community of open-minded people somehow connected with these bands? The bands seem to be a key to breaking away with any stereotypical view and seeing Morocco as a place, where - probably - the modern and the traditional clash. I imagine I could spend a week, maybe even two, in Marrakech, where the bands live. At best, I would like to meet and interview them. Also visit the places they visit, or just wander around the city they live in. At worst, they will be doing a tour at that time, or just not willing to talk. But their milieu will be there, as will Aisha Kandisha. This is another thread that seems very exciting to explore.

During the rest of the journey I would like to see two things: the big cities and the big mountains. I know Arab cities from Turkey, as places very different from European towns. And with this difference comes a sense of excitement, the names themselves: Marrakesh, Casablanca, Fez, Rabat or Tangier, sound amazing. And the Atlas mountain range, part of the stereotypical image of Morocco, seem to be their counterpart. I imagine that seeing how such opposite things function in one country will tell me much about Morocco. In any spare time left I could follow any stories, threads or ideas that I’m sure I would come upon.

I’ve usually traveled on a tight budget and never did the “backpacker thing” of youth hostel hoping. Low budget often gets you close to people, I think. From my experiences in Turkey, Muslim people are often friendly and willing to talk. I speak English, French and German, and a bit of Italian and Spanish. I am sure that I can communicate enough to learn interesting stories.

To help me in my travels I would join the organization Servas, through which you can meet people willing to host foreigners for a couple of days.

The results

What would the Web get from it? A proper mixed-media diary of my travels. The part about the bands themselves would be the highlight, possibly with interviews. I would also try contacting some Moroccan sociologists, to get a more “scientific” view of the society. Aisha Kandisha, seen as a social phenomenon, would also deserve a separate section. And then there would be the usual travel stories, depicting whatever exciting things happen along the way. Finally, comparing Morocco to Poland could be interesting, if only for the reason that both are immediate peripheries of the European Union. This way, writing about Morocco I could smuggle in some thoughts about Poland. And I can only hope that my social scientific reflections about things I encounter would be a pleasant addition.

I have little web publishing experience to show. I did a webdiary during a three month stay in the UK, but did not put it online. Recently I made a web page for a course that I teach and to make things more exciting I started a weblog about social effects of technology. I know HTML+CSS, as well as people whom I can always ask for help. I am confident I can put up a well looking and functional web page about my travel.

There are some technical issues to be solved:
1. Expensive equipment could be a nuisance and a source of stress, I guess. So I wouldn’t drag my laptop with me and rely on Internet cafes, for example.
2. I prefer analog photography, which makes quick upload difficult. I would probably have to buy a digital camera, but still part of the photos would go online later.
3. I have a digital camcorder, but: a. it could be difficult uploading from it b. often there’s not muchto gained compared to photography. So I am ambivalent about taking it.
4. Maybe a minidisk recorder would be better tool for adding multi to the media content.

All this translates into a mainly text and photos dairy that becomes fully functional only after returning home.


In one sentence: A blond Pole in Morocco, trying to learn about Moroccan electronica music and a female djinn, after having traveled from the other end of Europe. I hope it sounds good to you.

Alek Tarkowski
Warsaw, 27th February, 2002