born in maine. painter. printmaker. seamstress. traveler. greyhound lover. etsy seller. reached adulthood in stages :: new york, senegal, morocco, india, spain, turkey, morocco again :: maine again. bought grammie's house. sentimental.
well hello there. one of the things that i resolved to do come 2009 was to elaborate on this tiny little bio. my name is mary ella robbins and i am 30 years old.
in case you were wondering, i am the one on the right. the cute one is my sister..
i live in south portland, maine with my husband nabil sibouih, our daughter zineb, and our greyhound, gus. i was named after my maternal grandmother, mary ella gibson, who passed on before my birth. i have since spent a life chasing her creative heart. i was born and raised right here in greater portland, maine, and after several years away at school in new york city and abroad in morocco, india, and turkey i am officially replanted right back where it all began. dear husband nabil and i are paying the mortgage on the house in which both my grandfather and father grew up. we do our very best to live a simple, honest, sustainable life, fully entrenched and at once released from our deep cultural roots found on opposite sides of the atlantic.
mary and nabil, bazaar bizarre, winter 2008
moving to new york from maine was a major event for me--though i would not have admitted it at the time, i was petrified and had stress dreams leading up to the move. but, being stubborn, i made my way to the city. this first big step out into the world opened the doors to my future. sophomore year at NYU, i traveled to senegal, west africa. this was the first bit of international travel to touch my life. my first exposure to africa. my first exposure to islam.
i had always known that i wanted to travel during my junior year of studies. with senegal so intensely fresh in my heart and head, i searched for programs in dakar, the capital city. alas, the programs were all in french, and i did not have nearly enough formal french training. i wanted to go to an islamic country. i wanted to go to africa. i wanted to study arabic. thus, morocco found me. i applied to the school for international training program and i was accepted. i wanted to spend my second semester in india--the first country to open my eyes to the world through the love and teachings of my aunt niru, born and raised until early adolescence there. and a year of great learning began.
i arrived in morocco eight days before september 11, 2001. i was eating lunch with my arab, muslim, moroccan homestay family when i saw the twin towers falling on al jazeera. had i not been in morocco, i would have been in new york. this was a time of immense emotional and creative output for me, and the period during which i came to know my homestay family--who would later become my in laws. on a trip back to morocco during christmas break my senior year at NYU, i was very surprised to find myself falling in love with nabil, who had once been my host brother, the great soccer enthusiast with whom i had never thought such a bond was possible.
thus, after college i moved back to morocco where i taught english for a few years at the american language center in rabat. nabil and i lived together in a rooftop apartment and built our own reality, brick by difficult and lovingly laid brick. it was certainly not always easy to navigate the cultural differences nor the emotional turmoil of cohabitation. it continues to a process that we refine, and learn through. in november 2004, after a disastrously failed attempt to live and work in istanbul, we returned to morocco and were married. the tidal wave of paperwork and the war upon my nerves began as we entered the immigration system and made our way through three whirlwind months of uncertainty and bureaucracy, ending in a 5 minute long interview to allow nabil into the united states. in early 2005, we flew from casablanca and moved to maine.
i had a breakdown in those early months together in the u.s.. coming home from living abroad was the hardest thing i have ever gone through. not only returning to the u.s.--but to your home town, to your parents' house, to your old bedroom, with your new husband, who is a new immigrant, is a load of stressors enough to break even the strongest.
though we had planned to live in new york, where my friends had settled and were beginning to start their careers, where i was sure nabil would prefer with its well-established muslim and moroccan community, we ended up being right here in maine. we have since visited new york several times together, and nabil has said without hesitation that he prefers our life here. and so things are as and where they should be. we are blessed with the close proximity of my family, and the ocean breeze. we are blessed with snow and ice, with strawberry fields in the summer and purple lilacs in the spring.
in the summer of 2007, i started moth designs, now known as moth written. the final step in my reintegration process comes in the form of ensuring that what i have seen and learned from my travels is expressed and shared. by silkscreening arabic, i hope to encourage dialogue and learning about the arabic speaking world. by designing a collection of bags named for the women of nabil's family, i nourish my creative spirit and bring their beauty here with me.
in our free time, nabil and i are devoted thrift shoppers and greyhound parents. we spend many hours together walking our retired greyhound gus and scouring the local thrift stores for fabrics and those magical finds. nabil was a professional soccer player in morocco, and continues to play here in maine, where a burgeoning population of sudanese, somali, and central african refugees have made a home in our community. nabil is the assistant manager of the seafood department at hannaford on forest avenue in portland--if you are local perhaps you have seen him there. he has quite a following of customers, and loves the diversity of portland. we enjoy our life. thank you for reading.