Find Your Fuel

liquido magico

Fuel: a source of sustenance or incentive.

My mom once won the grand prize at a fundraiser. It was an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas for two. She should have taken my dad. But she didn’t. She didn’t take anyone because she never took the trip. My mom didn’t want to go to the middle of a desert so she donated the trip back.


This is me being happy while snorkeling.

Like my mom, I am currently in the running for a free trip. (This is my entry for the Find Yours contest sponsored by Expedia and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth.) Unlike my mom, I get to pick where I want to go if I win. The options include Seattle, London, Paris, and even Australia–home to the Great Barrier Reef which I must see in order to die happy.

I like being happy. I like being content. And comfortable. And in the company of others who are like me. All things considered, I should pick Australia. It couldn’t be more “Katie.”

But I can’t. Instead, I must pick one of the last places on earth that I (much like my mother) want to go: the middle of a desert. As uncomfortable as my mom would be in the Mojave, I will be twenty times that in Morocco where I imagine the Sahara swallowing me whole before spitting me out as pink and defeated as bubblegum stuck on a busy sidewalk. But I know I have to pick Morocco because that is where I will have the best chance of finding what I am looking for, fuel.

2008. Now I know why I felt compelled to paint the desert.

2008. Now I know why I felt compelled to paint the desert.


A boy in Nicaragua runs out of fuel.

This isn’t the fuel that you pay almost $4 a gallon for at the gas station. I’m looking to find the sort of fuel that keeps your inner fire burning in times of discomfort and despair.  The kind of fuel that can only be found in distant reserves where it is the product of a foreign people who are the only ones able to ignite it. The grade of fuel that you pay for with sweat and sunburns and failed attempts to converse in different languages. I have burned this fuel, and always it has been in unfamiliar territory. In places where I am far from home. At times when I find myself humbled because things are not going my way and as badly as I wish I could be somewhere else, I must live in the moment.


A sign at the gym. I never WANT to go to the gym, but I always leave feeling glad I did.


Lost and alone on an island, I encountered this girl who made me forget all about my problems. #fuel


My fuel is in Morocco. It is in the country where I will enter as an afraid outsider and leave as a privileged insider. It is in the land where I will be drawn so far out of my comfort zone that I never want back in. The fuel I’m looking for belongs to the people that live there, and it is only in my interactions with them and their culture that I will find my fuel. My energy is in Morocco, and I thank Expedia and NFFTY for the opportunity to capture it on camera. Here’s what it would look like:

Photo courtesy of, but I can't wait to take my own photos!

Photo courtesy of, but I can’t wait to take my own photos!

A pale girl with freckles and large teeth closes her notebook which is blank except for a few words which are all crossed out. She folds up her tray table and leans over the sleeping man sitting in the window seat to stare out the window as the plane circles above Casablanca. Her already-big eyes get bigger when she sees the massive Hassan II Mosque rising directly out of the ocean below. Jump to later that day with a shot from the knees down. A group of bare feet fill the frame until the camera zooms in on a pair of feet lagging behind the crowd. The camera pans up to the girl from the plane who is nervously fingering a cross which hangs on her neck as she looks up at the overwhelming interior of the mosque. She lets go of the necklace charm as a hand comes into the frame. It belongs to a Moroccan woman wearing the traditional jelaba. She greets her by saying something in Arabic. Flashback. The girl is sitting on the plane absentmindedly staring at her Arabic phrasebook which seems to be as neglected as her notebook. The camera zooms in on greetings.

Peace be with you: Assalamu alaikum.

Back in the mosque. The girl hesitates and then, remembering as best she can, she says “salami.” The Moroccan woman laughs. The girl laughs. The Moroccan woman corrects her, “assalamu alaikum. The camera pans to the girl and zooms in to capture the forced movements of her mouth as she repeats it back to her. Except the camera then reveals that it isn’t a her. It’s a Moroccan man selling spices in a busy market.


Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Journeys.

The man is nearly hidden behind the heaps of colorful spices, and the girl has no idea what they are so she points to the nearest pile which is the color of sand.The camera zooms in on the spice as the market noises are replaced by the sound of wind. The camera zooms back out to reveal that the spice is no longer the spice, but the Sahara. The girl comes into view. Her skin has a little color and she looks a little less like the lost-looking girl from the mosque and a little more like a seasoned traveler. She is sitting outside of a tent with her now half-filled notebook resting on her lap. The camera zooms in on her pen.


The camera cuts to the face of a camel.

The final scene involves an infinite number of stars in the sky as night falls in the desert and the girl is eating dinner with a family of nomads. By the light of the fire, she sketches a drawing of her family to show the youngest Berber boy that she has a brother like him at home. She hands him the notebook and on the last blank page left in the notebook, he begins to draw…


For more information on the contest & to enter to Find Your _____, click here.




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