"The Paper" Article by Brea Persing

ON THE JOB  — Brea Persing, Goshen, stands on the sand dunes of Morocco zooming in on a sting of camels in the distance. Persing is a photographer who partners with nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs to raise awareness for their cause. She also works with businesses in the travel and hospitality industry and teams up with individuals who want a vacation photographer. (Photo Provided)

ON THE JOB — Brea Persing, Goshen, stands on the sand dunes of Morocco zooming in on a sting of camels in the distance. Persing is a photographer who partners with nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs to raise awareness for their cause. She also works with businesses in the travel and hospitality industry and teams up with individuals who want a vacation photographer. (Photo Provided)

Article originally published by “The-Papers” of Milford, Indiana and written by Laurie Lechlitner on February 20, 2019.

Photographer tells people's stories around the globe

    “I love observing other cultures,” stated Brea Persing, Goshen. “I enjoy sharing people’s stories across the globe. And I want to continue to use my photography skills to raise awareness . . . to make a difference around the world.”

    Persing has been a photography buff since she was a child. “I started taking photos on my parents’ film camera. My first digital camera was a little Canon PowerShot. I’ve always tried to capture the beauty around me. I love taking candid shots of people. I enjoy capturing colors and textures like old, rustic barns. And I really like taking closeups and showing the uniqueness I see everywhere.”

    Living overseas for the past 6 ½ years, Persing was a photojournalist and graphic designer. “I worked for a nonprofit organization for ten years and really enjoyed it.” She’s lived in Italy, Spain and West Asia.

    Whether she’s photographing a line of camels traveling through the sand dunes in Morocco or shooting in the city of Taipei, Taiwan, she wants to tell a story. “Actually, photographing people in Morocco was probably my most challenging assignment. Many people do not like to have their picture taken. I learned early that a photographer traveling in another country needs to understand and respect the culture and the wishes of the locals. Sometimes, just simply asking the person if you can photograph them, while smiling, is all that is needed. But if they say no, you need to respect their decision.”

    Her favorite residence was Verona, Italy. “I lived close to the downtown area. The city was very beautiful. I frequented the city shops and made very good friends there.”

    Another place she loved was Spain. “In the town of Málaga, I had a great view of the mountains right outside my window. I enjoyed walking around downtown, hanging out with friends at the port and buying fresh meat, fish and produce at the most amazing food market in town.”

    Now that Persing is back in Goshen, she longs to continue to travel with her camera. Though she no longer works for one nonprofit exclusively, her focus hasn’t changed much, “I partner with nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs worldwide to help them share their stories and raise awareness for their cause.”

    She doesn’t just stick with travel photography for nonprofits though. She also works with for-profit businesses in the travel and hospitality industry. And even more fun, she is a personal vacation photographer. “It’s a photographer that goes on vacation with you and your loved ones so you can enjoy all of the moments and memories you’re making without having to worry about capturing them yourself, or editing any of the photos afterwards!”

    With a smile, she remarked, “I see myself as adventurous and a risk taker. Traveling around the world, especially to a few places I’ve been, is not for the faint of heart. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

    Besides photographing her parents’ dogs, her hobbies include rock climbing, hiking, scuba diving and eating tacos. “I love trying new things and seeing new places.” While relaxing, she enjoys watching movies, playing cards, and hanging out with friends.

    “Every person and place has a story. And I enjoy capturing them.” Check out her Instagram: @photos.by.brea and website: www.breapersing.com.

Playing Charades with the Butcher by Brea Persing

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When you live overseas, your pride falls away when you’re learning a new language. All of the sudden you go from a competent person (in your native language) to a toddler (in your new language) in a matter of seconds. It’s VERY humbling.

Well, it was my first Thanksgiving overseas where I was going to be cooking and inviting over a host of my new friends. Plus, my Italian friends were very interested in American holidays. I was still in my first year of Italian language learning and decided I would go to the butcher down the road to get some turkey. I was advised by some friends that if I wanted a whole turkey, which I didn’t, that I would have to go about a week in advance to order it. Well, I just wanted to get the breast and thigh/leg to cook for people. To be honest, I had never cooked the whole bird before, and didn’t want to start for this event, especially if something happened and it was inedible.

I knew the word for turkey in Italian, but when I arrived at the butcher shop, I realized that I had failed to look up the words for breast and thigh. Haha, you know where this is going. There wasn’t a line, so I didn’t have time to look it up on my phone either. So I was talking to him in Italian and said I wanted turkey for Thanksgiving. He understood since he knew it was an American holiday, and apparently had had other Americans in the past order turkey from him. Well, as I said before, I didn’t know the names of the cuts. So when he asked me what cuts I wanted, I threw my pride aside pointed at my breast to indicate I wanted a turkey breast. He chucked. As did I. He then asked me if I wanted any other cuts, and again, not knowing how to say them in Italian, I grabbed my thigh and rubbed by hand down my leg to indicate I wanted the whole thigh and leg. It was HILARIOUS. 

I’m sure the other Italians in the shop were getting some serious entertainment from me. The butcher told me to come back in a few days, as he was going to order those cuts specifically for me. When I walked in a few days later, he greeted me with a smile and then chuckled, so I knew he remembered me. I mean, how could you forget that!? He showed me the turkey cuts, made sure they were around the weight I wanted, I paid, said thank you and left. It had definitely been a funny learning incident, but I left with what I wanted!

I have to say, it’s definitely one of those stories to keep for the books to share later. And trust me, I have shared this story multiple times. It never gets old.

Buying Dates in the Salé Medina by Brea Persing

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It was about a month into my Moroccan Arabic language study and I had been trying to practice what I had learned with everyone I could. Mostly that was with produce merchants, the butcher down the street, and taxi drivers.

This one particular day, I went to the train station to purchase a ticket to Tangier to meet up with friends for the weekend. I had learned from a previous trip, namely my first train experience, that if you want a first class ticket, which is safest for a woman traveling alone, that you need to get it one day in advance, as there is no guarantee they won’t be sold out by the time you arrive to leave.

I had left the train station in Salé and decided to head into the medina, which was across the street and down a few blocks. My language teacher had previously pointed out to me which entrances to go into. I chose one and walked around inside until I found where merchants were selling produce, dried goods and my favorite, dates and figs. I soon found out that this medina was nothing like the one in Rabat, which most of the upper class and tourists shop in. No, this one in Salé was for was the medium to lower class, with no tourists in sight. For me, that meant more practice speaking Arabic instead of Moroccans wanting to practice their English.

As I was walking, I found a place that had many different varieties of nice looking dates. I had never seen so much variety. As I stopped at the little “store”, an older lady was there buying goods and so I greeted her and the vendor, with a smile, in Moroccan Arabic. They were both a bit surprised. The lady started speaking to me in French, which had happened multiple times before, so I had learned the phrase, “I do not speak French” in French to tell those who assumed that I was French speaker. French, in Morocco and most of North Africa, is the business language. So I kindly told this lady, in French, that I did not speak French. Then she asked me if I spoke Spanish and I answered, “si”. She asked if I spoke Italian and I told her I spoke Italian “perfectly”. I think she asked me this because because once I moved to Spain, I spoke Spanish with an Italian accent, and when I returned to Italy for a visit, all my friends told me I spoke Italian with a Spanish accent. So in Italy people thing I am a Spaniard and in Spain, people think I am an Italian.

I told the older lady that I spoke English too, even though she didn’t ask about that language, and that I was learning Moroccan Arabic (darija). I told the vendor, who was standing up and behind the multitude of dates and other dried goods, that I wanted to purchase a half kilo of dates, “nes kilu d tmr”! I pointed at which ones I wanted and he smiled, got a plastic bag and began to fill it with dates. In Spanish, I asked the lady about some of the dates in the back, the bigger ones. I learned later that they were Medjool Dates. She tried to explain tell me what they were in French but I didn’t understand. So she had the vendor get a jar of something to show me—date paste! She said you use those dates, the ones in the back, to make paste, and not to eat them by themselves. But let’s be honest, Medjool dates are delicious to eat by themselves.

Here’s a good rule of thumb with dates. No matter where you get them from, ALWAYS slice them open first to inspect there aren’t any worms, worm eggs or mold in the middle. They could make you sick if you eat them without inspecting them first, even the ones you buy in the store that are already pitted.

Back to my experience in the medina. At this point in my life, I hadn’t known much about dates, at least not the kind you eat. :) I wanted to buy more than just dates though, I also wanted some figs. I couldn’t remember the word for dried figs in any language by English, so I pointed to the figs and said I wanted a quarter kilo please “reba kilu affek”. The lady and vendor both smiled at me in delight as I pronounced my words correctly. They both complimented me on my pronunciation, of which I was very grateful. Learning a language is like a roller coaster, some days you can speak a lot and sound great, and then other days it’s a train wreck. It’s a huge win when you’re complimented! Had I been able to speak more, I would have asked the difference between all the dates, but I decided that would have to wait for another day, maybe when I had a Moroccan with me that spoke English and could explain. Rather than that, one day I just decided to buy a little bit of each date and try them to decide to difference. They were yummy!

I couldn’t remember how to say “you’re welcome!”. The vendor had said thank you to me and I thanked him back, but I also wanted to say, “you’re welcome!” I tried to ask the gracious lady beside me in Italian and Spanish, but she didn’t understand. So I pointed at the man and said “thank you” in Arabic and then pointed back at myself with the motion back to him to try and tell her I wanted to know how to say, “you’re welcome!”. She didn’t tell me the phrase I had learned before, which I have forgotten numerous times, but it was another phrase, something along the lines of “Thank you, God be praised!” They both told me in Arabic and I repeated, the lady corrected me and I said it again. She was pleased. Then the vendor told me to repeat it again, and then again. He said things needed to be repeated. Natural teachers! 

I thanked both of them and said farewell with a smile. I was very happy and pleased with myself. Everything I had wanted to purchase in the market I purchased and was thrilled with the day’s exchanges. My Arabic was getting better and I was pleased with that, as well as my level of courage! I walked out of the doorway I had entered earlier, crossed the street, and proceeded to walk until I was close to the train station again, where I knew I could get a taxi and go back to my homestay.