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Life another way

Life Another Way: An exploration into how cultures differentiate themselves through nuanced interactions in public surroundings.

Tangier, as a famous port city has always been a meeting point of different cultures and for many, it is their first experience of Africa. Lying just 32km from mainland Europe, the Spanish coastline is clearly visible, yet this coastal city provides an authentic and sometimes perplexing introduction to Morocco. Life Another Way explores how normal interactions in the streets of Tangier can be fascinating when viewed through the eyes and lens of a foreigner, often leaving more questions than answers.

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A mother and daughter walking through a partially lit street. As they pass a shop, the mother has a look of exasperation. In  front of them is a cat making its way in the night. This ancient medina is a mishmash of half completed modern add-ons that give an air of perpetual renovations. When considering this in the context of my own country, I would struggle to see this scene as fascinating, yet I can consider this picture for hours. What seems so normal to locals, can be exotic to the visitor. No matter how much we can relate to other cultures, our reference points keep us intrinsically separated.

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A man stands in the partly lit stairwell looking towards the darkness, juxtaposed by a women’s swimwear shop, in which a garish florescence radiates. Above, a family is consuming their McDonalds meal. How do you rationalise such a scene through the reality that I know? Is this normal or bizarre? The contrast from light to dark in the picture is a perfect illustration of the western and eastern contrast. Here we have two western consumerist constructs melded into the backdrop of an ancient city.

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Eating with a fury as if it could be his last meal, this street boy still has not completely lost his childish innocence. The bread he begged for would be sent back at any self respecting restaurant in Australia. Yet how could I even complain about stale bread on my plate, considering all of the children without bread? The western guilt is proof enough of our cognitive dissonance to the poverty in developing countries. One hour on a ferry and this boy would be gathered by the authorities, yet here it is not possible to help every boy and girl living on the streets.

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In the maze of the Medina a boy looks intently down the narrow street, with a stoic stance he holds himself with dignity. The street is a medley of concrete and bricks completely foreign to what would be seen in a modern western city. Locals hang out on the streets, they do their business there, and they live their lives on these bricks.

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Looking across the Straits of Gibraltar, a man feels the breeze. Just 32km away is a continent with another name, another way to see the world, another God to believe in. How many men, women and children have looked across and imagined ‘what if’, ‘what if I was born there’, ‘how could life be different across this body of water’?

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I often consider the beauty of age, the dignity of growing old, embracing the reality of what we will all become. I can’t imagine if this woman is at peace or not, yet as she sits in front of her house in her chair I feel at ease. The darkness may be in front of her, but there is light around this woman, for the time being.

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Pushing their trolley uphill, these boys continue their day’s work. How much will they earn, how much job satisfaction must they have, do they have a future? These are not questions I ask myself when I see teenagers working in my country, yet here it is all I can consider.

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Respect! As this boy walks from the shops, he courteously greets the two men sitting in the shade. His knockoff Ralph Lauren shirt is a common sight – western styles of clothing are the preference for the younger generations over the traditional attire; a sign of the influence the west has on the youth here, yet this does not mean they have completely assimilated the western way to be.

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What is the traditional dress in a western sense?  When I look at this man I see someone holding on to their cultural traditions. How could I identify someone doing the same in Australia or Europe? Our obsession with continual trends and our rapid social evolution leaves no time for tradition. Sporting a djellaba and taqiyah, this man keeps with tradition over fashion.

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A mother walks through the crowded market streets, her baby attached by a sheet of cloth. In the background, a sub-Saharan woman sells vegetables in a makeshift street stall. Tangier’s souks have almost everything you could ever want, let alone need, from fresh fruit and vegetables to knock-off Converse All Stars and Calvin Klein boxers, open from early in the morning to late at night – convenience that cannot be matched across the Gibraltar Straits.

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Three generations in one shot: a boy looks inquiringly down the street, past the middle-aged man wearing a white gandora. In the background an elderly man stands. The close quarters living in the Medina produces constant contrasts, it also shows the way in which families live. The children stay at home until marriage, sometimes not leaving at all. With several generations under one roof, the dynamic is completely different than Australia, where the elderly are shipped off to retirement villages and the young want to break free of their parents as young as possible.

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A woman passes a man in the street, yet they could not be further apart; she is on the move, her body language is confident, he is anxious and static. The walls show generations of chips and scrapes, the floor shows slight litter towards the edges. This scene may not be instantly recognisable as Morocco but it could only be North Africa or the Middle East – no other place shares the combination of all of the factors in a single shot.

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A mother deep in thought with child in hand. This scene is more reminiscent of what I could see in my own country – a mother and child – yet I am still in awe of this sight. As much as I have experienced this and know the feeling, I don’t know this at all. It is always fascinating to see other cultures from mine doing the same things, the same way, yet they somehow seem so different.

James Knox is the Editor of Flint, based in Perth, Australia.

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