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The Selfies of a Year Abroad
By Maria N., YES Abroad 2022-2023 Morocco
It started as a way to prove to our parents that we were still alive and plausibly having a good time. A selfie with my cohort mate, Isabel, in front of the art museum, one in front of the fountain on Avenue Mohammed V the one and only time we've seen it working, and another as we sat in bed covered with covers at our hotel in Chefchaoun because we had air conditioning for the first time since we arrived and it meant our room was finally cold enough for them.
The first three selfies slowly turned into five, then 10, then 20. Our camera rolls are inundated with them, now a way to mark a notable event and the passage of time. Six weeks till departure, and my selfies with Isabel are my favorite photos I've taken in Morocco. Sometimes they're just funny (like the one with a panini press and the warranty it took us three store staff members and a German guy who spoke both English and Darija to figure out that they weren't going to let us leave without picking it up), sometimes they're in front of important places in Morocco (such as the ones we took in the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and in the rest of the city), and sometimes, we just take them as a way to remember the day.
They capture the highs and lows of what it means to be on exchange, and now, as the end of the program draws near, they hold some of the keys I need to unlock the memories I've made over the past eight and a half months. Thanks to them, I won't forget about dancing on the rooftop in Fes, our search for mini wooden camels in Essaouira, or the celebrations that overtook the city during the World Cup.
My camera roll embodies the life of an exchange student. Amongst the photos of the prettiest sights I've seen are the photos representing the mundane. The funny and the sad, the photos of food and the videos of music, they all come together to give someone an insight into life in Morocco. Yet, there's still something one misses.
A camera roll can't capture the uncapturable. It can't record my daily interactions, it can't tell you what you miss, it can't show the kindness of strangers and taxi drivers and cashiers. A photo of the sunset doesn't show you the souk below, full of my neighbors buying their fruits and vegetables and eggs for the day. A photo of my Arabic vocab list doesn't capture me actually trying to use those words, the vowels and consonants tripping over each other in my mouth, me hoping I won't have to resort to using French and the Moroccan on the other side of the conversation patiently waiting as I try my best with the unfamiliar sounds. And a photo of the first Iftar during Ramadan doesn't capture the hours it took my host mother to make it or her classically Moroccan insistence on me eating more than I think I can handle.
There is no number of photos I could try to take that could make me feel like I'm in Morocco when I'll eventually be back in the United States. It's simply impractical to take photos of it all, to make sure that none of it is lost to time. But I know, my mind will remember all it needs to. It'll remember things like the call to prayer each evening or the taste of my favorite juice from that restaurant near Amideast. I will remember the Moroccans who have made my exchange experience, from my classmates at school to my language teachers to my host family. It will be put into storage in my brain, as other, new memories are made, but I won't forget about them.
What the photos can't picture will be good stories for me to tell my family and friends or reminders of what I'll miss about Morocco. Sometimes, a memory will just remain a memory.