By Terri Pyle, PhD Candidate
“The more the spirit thirsts for knowledge, the more the body thirsts for Nature.”
– Ibrahim al-Koni, A Sleepless Eye: Aphorisms from the Sahara (2014)
Summer 2022 residency in Morocco was a kaleidoscope of color, texture, taste, and kinship that was small in group size but large on intellectual impact, spiritual influence, and creative intrigue. From the architecture of medieval mosques, to the spicy and fragrant tagine culinary dishes, to the insightful philosophical lectures, to the day trips led by the very dear and kind-hearted Dr. Ilham Ibnouzahir, it is difficult to pinpoint what was most memorable. What is easy to recall is that every moment felt magical. As much as we were there to absorb Moroccan culture, it was the indigenous people there (and their artistic imprint) which offered opportunities of reflection and serenity to open up our minds and our hearts to deeper conversations, individual reflections and readings, and insights to each other and the ideas behind— and developing towards—our dissertations.
While the Yves-Saint Laurent Museum and Jardins were filled with a cornucopia of colors in material fashion and landscape designs, the Atlas Mountains were rich in depth, dimension, and dream-like qualities. After our stop for lunch at the floral–laden Chez Momo overlooking the teal waters of the local reservoir, it was the Berber Museum in Marrakech (a renovated home) filled with ancient indigenous hand-carved artifacts that stood out as exemplary and unique from other art museums and locales we visited. The photos of cave paintings found in the Sahara, as well as the ‘storied-door’ of their nomadic journeys across North Africa, their musical instruments, intricate jewelry, and beautiful robes and headgear were fantastic and wonderful expressions of creativity. Imagining this ancient culture (originating from at least 10,000 B.C.E.) creating their art, singing their songs, enduring the elements of the desert and mountains, fighting off powerful and more advanced enemies such as the Ottoman Empire to maintain their freedom and identity was inspiring, to say the least. Learning that our guide, Dr. Ilham Ibnouzahir, was also of Berber descent made it even more significant.
A mixed group of pre-exam and post-exam students, PhD candidates, professors, and our IDSVA leader, VP Amy Curtis, we shared a greater understanding of what IDSVA is all about: community, culture, spontaneity, cooperation, learning, and to my surprise, a greater sense of peace–largely due to the landscape we were surrounded by. This residency was different due to its small size of only six students (those who could not attend were certainly missed), and while at first it might have seemed awkward to have six students from four different cohorts, it worked. And we learned. As for myself, I was lucky to have met Ilham, a/k/a Dr. Ibnouzahir, as she now serves as my dissertation director–all based on a lecture she gave us on Plato while in Marrakesh. This only proves, in my mind at least, that Novalis was right: “Philosophy is really homesickness–the desire to be everywhere at home,” and illustrates, too, how a ‘nomadic’ residency is the best residency for intellectuals like IDSVA students–because everywhere we go has the potential to become ‘home,’ once you allow yourself to arrive.