Donkeys were first tamed 5000 years ago in Africa ( Magreb) and they made since then a big difference in the modus vivendi of the local rural population. They were small, harmless, easy to handle, they didn’t eat or drink much, and they were very patient, and that is how it all started.

Surah 16:8 :

“And (HE has created) horses and mules and donkeys that you might ride upon them and as an ornament; and HE Creates what you do not know.”

Donkeys and all other creatures were created by the God, and they were created perfect and they should be respected not for rhetorical reasons, but  for logic reasons.


They are left tethered for the whole day in places with no grass and no water, under the African sun

In fact, donkeys are often mistreated, no respect is shown,  and they spend their whole life working hard for their owners, and unfortunately many start working when they are just one or two years of age, carrying a heavy burden for 30 or more years, also in a metaphoric way.

They spend every day of their lives tethered, from when they are just a few days old until they are left to die in the side of a road. Freedom is a word that does not exist, even for a very short period, like 5 minutes in 30 years.
You can see them often with no water and no food, left in the harsh sun for the day.
If you want to help the donkeys in Morocco, S.P.A.N.A and Jarjeer are wonderful orgs

The animal market

The scene in front of me was timeless, and the two calves stood there looking around with that sort of amazement that human children also have, while hundreds of men in djellaba kept an eye on us. Some were not pleased to see the cameras, but nobody was openly hostile.
Farming and production of livestock is a very significant part of the Moroccan economy.
Someone had warned us not to go to the souk where animals are sold, because we would be heartbroken. She was right. It was difficult to watch double deck trucks with no ramps, leg shackling, lifting or dragging animals by their legs and their fleece, and no water for the animals. Apparently there is no law about the farm animals welfare.
Then it came to my mind that I have seen lots of abuse also at the markets in the so-called western countries, where there are good laws, but they are often not enforced. That didn’t make me feel any better but it kind of cleared up my thoughts from prejudice.
I have hundreds of photos of this souk, but I am still not ready to go through them all. Some still hurt.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2012, more than 3 million cattle, 190 million chickens and turkeys, nearly 6 million goats and more than 19 million sheep were raised in Morocco. Additionally, for example in 2010, 16.000 cattle for breeding were imported from Germany as well 150.000 units of bovine semen. In 2011, it was said that 60% of all “dairy” cows in Morocco were of German origin. In 2012, Morocco imported 19.608 cattle from the European Union, the majority of them again from Germany and France.  Source: Animal’s Angels

Paula da Silva

How we do it ;-)

We really love to understand every country we visit,  so we always stay for a few days with a family or at someone’s place – who has been advised by our local logistic organizer.

The other days we stay in riads mostly, but sometimes we also stayed for the night in a kasbah (qasba), a small town inside the walls, like a fortress ( they are centuries old ) and once we even stayed at an ecological lodge, as you probably read in a previous post here..


We sometimes share rooms, other times we get a room just for each, and this is what a room looks like by the end of the day, just before cables start being pulled from all the electrical outlets 😉  Photos shot with ipad

By staying with families, or at local women’s cooperatives, we also have the opportunity, rare for tourists, to eat the real moroccan cuisine, not the usual mixed culture stuff that you often get in the restaurants, specially in big towns.

The moment when you sit at a table, or on a cushion in the floor, with people, you get closer to them, and you can really feel at home.

Eating together is an atavistic sign of acceptance, in all cultures. We are blessed with that experience in several countries. By eating together and staying at people’s houses we can model their behavior at meal time, improving  the communication and decreasing the “cultural distance”. We can expand our world that way.

“Anthropologists have long considered ways in which food preparation, distribution, and consumption authenticate both social order and moral and aesthetic beliefs and values.” wrote Elinor Ochs.


Women’s cooperative in the south of Morocco, they hosted us for three nights, and there for the first time we ate zaalouk ( yummy). The guy with the black turban is our guide and cultural mediator

As for food, we have eaten all sorts of different tajines and all sorts of ingredients, being vegetables part of every single meal, while we rarely saw cheese anywhere. We also had shell fish and other kinds of fish, and Susan had several kinds of meat, except porc, due the fact that it is an islamic country. Sometimes we bought the food ourselves and took it somewhere to be cooked,  in very small villages or in some rather poor-dark-low profile “restaurant” advised by our guide.  In the next photo you can see shell fish we bought in the port of Essaouira directly from the fishermen, and got it cooked in one of those “dark” places. Salt and cumin in the table, not salt in pepper. The tablecloth made of rectangles of paper. A fork here and there, as we are supposed to eat with our hands 🙂


Here we had bought shell fish in the port ( it was Susan’s birthday) and we got it cooked in a “sort of” reastaurant in the port, along with a vegetable tajine  which we had nearly every day, just varying the kind of vegetables and the spices.

The homemade bread at Ayoub’s house is just amazing, and we ate lots of it for breakfast, with honey, argan oil, olive oil, homemade butter and jam. Breakfast was always a moment of relax and preparation for the new day, no hurry, even if it meant getting up half an hour earlier. Forgive me for the quality of the photos, sometimes there was not enough light for the phone’s camera.


Homemade bread at mealtime

“As vehicles, mealtimes constitute universal occasions for members
not only to engage in the activities of feeding and eating but also to forge
relationships that reinforce or modify the social order. In addition, meal-
times facilitate the social construction of knowledge and moral perspectives
through communicative practices that characterize these occasions. Yet
mealtimes are also objects of cultural import in themselves. They are more
or less conventional and demarcated as a kind of social practice that
requires certain sensibilities of participants. Mealtimes vary within and
across social groups in relation to participation, setting, duration, meal
items, meal sequence, and attributed significance.” said Elinor Ochs
I know, staying with a family means that you need to keep in mind that they have a routine, and you must try to respect their times, and sometimes it might be difficult to synchronize both schedules 😉 but it is possible.
Also they will surely answer your curiosities with a smile, but they do make questions that often make you think, and they never pose rhetorical questions ;-).
Paula da Silva



Pleasures of the Hammam

When I tell friends about my hammam experiences in Morocco, they tend to look at me with serious side eye. The most common question: Why in the world would you flop around on a tiled floor, nearly naked while a perfect stranger scrubs you all over until you are pink and slick like a seal?!

The reality is that in order to really experience the culture of Morocco, one must experience a hammam. For those who don’t know, a hammam is a traditional bathhouse. Unlike most things traditional, hammams are still very much in use and part of everyday life. With water scarce in much of the country, many homes do not have showers. Or if they have one, there may not be hot water. So, public baths are a necessity.

Paula, Susan and I have been to several hammams, both in small villages as well as in larger cities. So far, my favorite experience was in the village of Merzouga, in the eastern part of the country near the Algeria border. It was my first hammam and fills me with so many fond memories. We also visited a more spa-like one at a hotel in Essaouira and another in a town in the southwestern part of the country. They were all generally similar but each had its own personality, if you will.


Black olive soap, semi-solid, with a very special fruited scent

Hammams are either men only, women only or have different hours for each. You walk into a large dressing room with benches, often with a counter where you can purchase soaps and scrubby mitts. You pay about 15 to 20 dirhams (about $1.50 to $2 U.S.), strip down to your underwear and hand over your clothes to an attendant where they are stored in a cubby hole. You are then led into a hot, tiled room where you are sometimes given a rubber matt or stool to sit on. Unless you are in a private hammam, there may be others there bathing with you. This is most likely to occur on Thursdays or Friday mornings before the Muslim sabbath. If you have hired an attendant, she is also stripped down to her underwear, which is at first quite awkward.

The attendant starts by filling a plastic pail (like a child uses at the beach) with warm water and pours it over you to wet you down. She then covers you with a smelly black soap made from olives and olive oil. It is not the best smelling stuff, but it’s definitely one of those things that grows on you. Sometimes the soap, which doesn’t get sudsy, is left on for a few minutes to loosen the dead skin. The attendant then dons a scrubby mitt and proceeds to scrub, usually starting with the arms and working to all parts of the body. At first, this is awkward. I found myself being quite tense at first, not quite knowing what to expect or what to do with my body parts, not knowing the language very well and having a hard time hearing with the weird acoustics of the hot tiled room. In addition, there are times where your hand may graze the attendant’s body. But eventually I just closed my eyes, let the heat wash over me, relaxed and just gave in to the experience.

Throughout the 45-minute session, you may be asked to lie down, flip over or lie on one side or another. Susan best described it as “flopping around like a baby seal.” If you open your eyes, you will most likely see blobs of dark skin sloughing off your body. It’s quite normal, and if the attendant doesn’t see it, she will often start scrubbing harder until it does. (This is problematic if you have more than one hammam a week, which Paula and I did on the last trip. Paula had to ask her helper to not scrub quite so hard!) Once you’ve been scrubbed, you are rinsed off with pails of water, and then your hair is shampooed and rinsed.

Depending on the hammam, this may be followed by a gentle stretching session, a massage or even a Rhassoul mud treatment. During the final rinse, your underwear is removed, rinsed out and returned to you and you are escorted back to the front room to dry off and get dressed while you bask in the glow and relaxation.

Our guide Abdul summed it up best: A hammam makes you feel like a new person. And when you are clean on the outside, you are able to feel clean on the inside.—Stacey Wigmore


During the day, and also sometimes during the night, there is the light. We look for the light, we need the light.

There are many kinds of light, some are soft and subtle like the light over a lake in a foggy day, some are blueish and gloomy like when it has been raining for days, but  there is also the hard light of the central hours of the day in a sunny country,  and the gorgeous sunrise and sunset light when the weather is good.

We are light hunters, we need light to be creative, sometimes even a candle, or the headlights of a car will be enough, other times we need to search in the shades for places where to do a portrait or for a stone where to sit and wait for the good light to arrive behind a tree or over the hill. We need the shades as much as we need the lights.

Shades and shadows are also our friends. Shades give the 3D effect, the illusion of “being there”, and shades can be tamed in many ways to serve us,  or we can just take advantage of them.

Shades make it possible for us to see the lights. Shades make us have a term of comparison. Shades are mistery, evil, sadness, distressed old age, poverty.

We are light hunters, though. Shades are often seen  just as a consequence, or like a side effect, and sometimes a nuisance.

Paula da Silva


Lights and shades are complementary, not the opposites


Being inside a postcard

Do you know those chiché postcards with beautiful sunsets over the sea?

Well, sunsets in the south coast of Morocco have the same feeling. The sun goes down fairly fast, and the sky gets orange to the point that if you were in front of your monitor, you would desaturate a bit to make it more realistic. But it is orange for real, and sometimes even reddish, and the wet sand mirrors with just the right amount of clarity and the sand is made of small grains that make your  steps feel like if you were having an intense foot massage.

It is not Paradise, though. Stray dogs are to be seen often in the beach, the ones that didn’t fall in the poison traps that the locals and the authorities put everywhere – instead of spaying and neutering.

But for a moment, that day, I just forgot about everything else and I let my thoughts go out with the waves, while our friend Abdul cooled down a sweated horse, and a heart shaped formation of pink flamingos flew above us, going for their night place before the sun disappeared behind the post card.

Paula da Silva


Inside our personal realistic postcard



Challenges to get “focused” ;-)

That shoot had started with Stacey getting really great photos while Susan and myself we were not able to get focused (pun intended). We had two riders with their horses and Yassine, who was of tremendous help there.


Yassine helping us to communicate with the riders

The spot where we were has lots of hard light and deep shades, but we liked it.

I was getting frustrated, as there were no objective difficulties on what we were shooting, and I don’t normally chimp but I could feel that I was not going anywhere. It was really frustrating.

Then  I asked for a five minutes break to recollect myself and get back on track. Stacey was very generous and didn’t complain about interrupting a shoot which was going very well for her. Quite often when you interrupt the rhythm during a shoot, you risk to “miss the train”, if things are going very well. Still, Stacey accepted to stop for a few minutes.

From the moment we re-started we went wild with challenging ourselves with tricky stuff, like this one. AF hates this kind of situations, and also the light was more difficult than you can see from the image. That challenge sort of woke me up and helped me to get “focused” again, and made me find a key for the problems which were emerging every couple of seconds.

It is a great feeling to shoot with people who are in syntony!

Paula da Silva



Back to Nature

_DSC9012I love getting back to nature, but I also love my comforts. My Berber-style tent cabin at L’Ane Vert (The Green Donkey) in Tafedna, south of Essaouira, was a perfect option for me.

L’Ane Vert is a fairly new, eco-friendly lodge that mostly caters to young, hip surfer types. The terrace in the main lodge is a gathering place with WiFi (which sort of works), comfy seating areas, a bar, kitchen and dining tables. At any point you might have someone break out a guitar or begin a yoga session.

When we arrived, the person at reception showed us our rooms. Paula and Susan were in the main lodge, in huge rooms at the top of the hill overlooking the valley. Paula had a near heart attack when she found out that one of the rooms booked for us was down below the main lodge in a tent with a “dry toilet,” since she had specifically requested Western toilets. The employee reassured us that it was a Western toilet, but it didn’t use water. I enthusiastically accepted the option despite Paula’s concerns.

To reach the cabins, we had to descend a steep rocky staircase built into the side of the cliff. I felt a bit like a goat as we made our way down toward the structures constructed of part concrete, part heavy woven blankets. I was taken to Tigmi, which was different from the others with wood and glass in the sitting area. To the left was a queen bed, and an en suite bath was through a hanging towel in the back.



The bathroom indeed had a “Western” toilet. The difference was the basket of wood shavings with a large metal ladle. Basically it works like horse bedding—you use the toilet as usual and then add a scoop or two of shavings from the basket to cover. Eventually the waste is composted.

Everything in the lodge is sustainable, from the building, which was done completely by hand using only local materials, to solar water heating and water processing. It is run by a foundation and staffed by a variety of volunteers who receive free food and lodging in exchange for their work.

Despite Paula’s concerns, I slept better than I have in a very long time. The peepers lulled me to sleep and left me with the most fantastic dreams.—Stacey Wigmore


Your models are not props

Your models, humans and horses, are not props.

First of all you must try to communicate with them so that they feel comfortable around you, and you should respect their feelings and their needs.

Your models have names, a story, and maybe suggestions or objections. Respect them. Be kind. They are not props and they are not disposable. They get tired, they may be thirsty, they are not props.


Yassine adjusting a bit (thank you for all your help and supervision))




Tea time has its rituals

Don’t judge them, and be aware of their limits.

Try to find other forms of beauty that are not documented in your “book of clichè”  photos, overused and stereotyped. Try to document with originality to get a real impact.


Quoting Gerard de Neval  “The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

Understanding your subjects

I have always believed that if a photographer visits a country it is necessary to understand some  about its history, culture and art. It makes you blend better with the locals and it also helps you to get much better photos. People will talk with you more openly, and you will be able to avoid cultural faux pas.

In the last 8 years I have always had cultural mediators in the countries where I traveled to with my friends photographers, for instance in Brazil we had Andrè, Akemi and Claudia, and in Morocco we have had several cultural mediators ( Ayoub, Mustafa, Hussein, etc) , depending on the parts of the country which we visited, but it has been mainly Abdelghani, our omnipresent guide,  who has been able to show us the country behind the touristic scenes. He also taught us some useful words of arabic and how to pronounce the names of all the places we visited.

If we make an effort to thank people in their language, for instance, we get “closer” to them, as we show respect and interest for their culture. If we cover our heads in the religious places we visit, the way  we see them all do, we are demonstrating that we respect them.

We stay sometimes at hotels, but other times we stay with families and we try to deserve their hospitality and their generosity.

Most of the candid photos we got were fruit of a fairly good understanding of the country and getting up early in the morning. Nothing interesting from a photographic point of view seems to happen in the afternoon, till near sunset, and this is also due to the warm climate and the intense sunlight.