Crossing Barriers with a Sketchbook in Taghazout

"Sketching can be both an excuse and a passport to spend time in spaces that might be hard to experience otherwise."
Taghazout, Morocco
The Upper Hilltop Pathways

Story & Media: Ben Rubin

In search of a look-out point to make some sketches above the ocean, I wound my way up a maze of pathways towards the top of Taghazout.  Perching on a ledge in the upper village and unpacking my kit, I noticed a pair of eyes peeking out from around a doorway.

A young boy made his way down to see what I was up to, and shared with me a toy he'd made from a plastic bag and string. He was clearly having a lot of fun whipping it around, but became fascinated with my sketching.

I offered a trade, and he happily sat down with my sketchbook while I took a turn with the bag and string.  In no time at all, he drew me a man with a flower for a head talking with a bottle that had the head of a swan (liberties taken with the interpretation) on the adjacent page - and seemed to forget all about his bag and string.

Then the kids started pouring out from the doorways above and below.  My new friend volunteered as tour guide for my book, introducing each new visitor to the pages and highlighting his additions.

My watercolor kit was a game-changer.  Everyone wanted a turn, and the pen was completely forsaken in a frenzy of color.  My conversations with the flock of kids consisted only of gestures and pictures, but lasted over an hour.  Eventually, when 6 or 7 kids began to crowding around the pages and wrestling over the brush I decided it was time to go.

Some of the kids even introduced me to their families as I made my way down.  If you check my sketch carefully, you'll see a blue umbrella poking out a bit down the stairs.  Sitting underneath in the shade was the mother and grandmother of one of the young girls, both busy shelling argan nuts. These are like the olives of Morocco, used for everything from cooking to cosmetics.  The girl shared her work with her family, and they recognized the locations of the sketches I drew on the pages before.

The families on these stairs seemed to relax and accept having a visitor sprawled out in front of their homes, and with their children, only after noticing that I was drawing in my sketchbook.  Furrowed brows quickly became smiles when I raised up my book.

Sometimes sketching is both an excuse and a passport to spend time in a space that might be hard to experience otherwise.  More than anything else I have with me on my trip, my sketchbooks continue to skip over language, age, and cultural barriers and connect the dots between me and people all over the world.