Tag Archives: hope

The Cost Of Greener Pastures: An Afternoon On The Streets of Rabat

1:30pm. It’s almost the end of the lunch break. I am on a sidewalk just a few metres from the Place Al Joulane in Rabat Ville. The tram passes by slowly, stops to allow cars to cross, before proceeding to its next stop. People walk past, each in a hurry to get to their destination.

A toddler plays on the pavement as his mother, seated a few steps away, keeps an eye on him while begging for money from passers-by. She extends her palm towards an approaching woman and then digs into her pink jacket to keep the coin she’d just been offered.

Rabat Ville

Rabat Ville

Susan* has been begging on the streets of Rabat for the past four months, to sustain herself and her son Blessed. Hers is not an isolated case, as the Moroccan capital has seen an increase in the number of illegal immigrants begging for survival, over the past few years. Most of them come from various countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but some are Syrian refugees fleeing from the unrest in their country. For many of these Sub-Saharan Africans, Morocco is just a transit point, their destination being Europe, where they go in search of a better life.

It is not Susan’s first time in Morocco. Her first encounter with the Royaume Cherifien was in 2003, when she arrived from her home country, Nigeria. She would eventually spend four years in the Kingdom before finally gaining access into the Spanish capital, Madrid. “I did not have my papers but I made it to Madrid, where I was able to find work. In Morocco, I did not have any chance to work and life was difficult”, she revealed. For Susan, getting into Europe was a dream come true and together with her husband, they were able to make enough money to survive on.

Their illegal status, however, meant they could only get barely decent jobs while hiding from the authorities. After four years of living and working in Madrid, Susan and her husband were arrested on their way out of a bank and sent to a deportation camp, where they engaged the services of a lawyer to plead their case. After 39 days at the deportation camp and a lost case in court, they were deported to Nigeria. “During those four years, we tried very hard to get papers so we can stay peacefully in Madrid and get better jobs. We spent a lot of money -over 5000 Euros- but we were still denied legal residence”.

I had been standing beside Susan as she narrated her story, both of us keeping an eye on Blessed as he tested his recently acquired ability to walk. Moved by her story and wanting to hear more, I sat down on the low brick wall beside her.

Is the grass always greener on the other side?

Is the grass always greener on the other side?

Deportation did not stop Susan’s quest for a better life. She returned to Morocco in 2012, with hopes to get back into Spain, joining her sister who was lucky to obtain legal residence in Madrid. Up until her arrival in Rabat four months ago, she lived in Oujda in the extreme North West of Morocco. “We lived in a forest, where we put up tents and it wasn’t safe at all. The cold was unbearable, so I decided to come to Rabat. I found an apartment in Sale, which I share with other people in the same situation”. She gave birth to her son, Blessed, in Oujda but the little boy was denied a birth certificate because Susan could not afford the hospital bill.

Like many other children of illegal immigrants in Morocco, Blessed’s future looks bleak. With no identification papers even in the country of his birth, he remains one of the 230 million children who do not officially exist, according to UNICEF. This means Blessed could not reclaim his rights and enjoy the benefits of being a Moroccan citizen, one of which is free basic and secondary education.

A new directive from the Ministry of National Education in October 2013, provides access to public and private institutions of formal and informal education for immigrant children in Morocco. Children like Blessed now have the opportunity to go to school, but the conditions may not be met in many cases, given the absence of some of the documents required for inscription. For some parents, as is the case with Susan, this information is news to them. “It’s the first time I’m hearing of this provision. I haven’t heard any of my friends and neighbours talking about it either. It is good and will help some to educate their children free of charge”. Asked whether she will enrol Blessed in school, Susan tells us that she prefers to send him to a private school in her neighbourhood in Sale, where her friends send their children to learn.

Femi, her neighbour, has a 6 year old daughter who goes to this school, started by a fellow Nigerian. “We pay DH100 every month and the children are able to learn in English. Also, they are not afraid to go to school because they don’t get mocked and called names as is the case in the streets”. For parents like Femi, the safety of their children is worth the fee paid every month. Equally, this Nigerian-taught school ensures that their children learn in English and do not have to struggle with learning Arabic, which is the language of instruction when they enrol in the public schools.

A man dressed in a well-pressed suit approaches us. I cannot see him for I have my back to him. He hands a one-dirham coin to Susan and nudges me on the shoulder. I look up and he hands me a coin too, smiling. We thanked him as he went on his way. I handed the coin to Susan and we resumed our discussion.

Susan doesn’t mind sending her son to a Moroccan school for free. After all he was born here, even if unaccounted for officially.  However, she does not see the benefit of him learning in Arabic and would rather he study in English. “I’ll like him to learn French too, because that one is international and will benefit him more than Arabic. When his father comes we will decide”, she said. Her husband is set to return to Morocco, joining his family as they continue to find ways to get back into Spain.

A passer-by walks past, pauses to play with Blessed and then hands Susan a 1 dirham coin. She smiles and thanks her, drawing Blessed closer, with a faraway look in her eye. Just then a black 4X4 stopped in front of us. The traffic lights had gone red. The driver and his friend in the passenger’s seat lean forward to look at us. The latter lifted his hand and pointed to his ring-finger, his way of asking Susan if she was married. She pointed to her son and they smiled. He gestured in my direction and Susan told him I was also married. I was used to these approaches, having dealt with about three on my short walk from the taxi-park to Susan’s spot, so I had averted my gaze as soon as I noticed the car. The lights turned green and they drove off.

Susan looked at me and smiled. “See what they do. Even when I walk in the streets, carrying Blessed on my back, they stop me to ask if I want fuck-fuck. They think we are all prostitutes.” I commiserated with her, while reminding her that we all suffered the same problem and it always took a lot to remain composed in the face of the perversity.

hopeI prefer to stay in the streets and beg so I can provide for my son. There are some women who accept their demands, but their living conditions are not better than mine. I’ll beg and use what I have to pay my rent and take care of Blessed. I’m just waiting for what God can do for us here. Hopefully, Blessed will go to school and become a great person”, she tells me.

A wish that all parents have for their children, even when the future looks bleak and there is little hope. Susan and her neighbour, Femi, are only two of the many Sub-Saharans who risk their lives, live in difficult situations and sometimes resort to desperate means for survival, while they wait to journey into greener pastures.

I pray he brings you many blessings”, I said to her, smiling.

After a moment of silence, I thanked Susan for her time and for sharing her story with me. As I walked away, I remembered to be grateful for the little I have because many are in worse situations and would consider themselves blessed to have what I may consider little.

For Susan, Blessed and many others in the same situation or worse, I continue to use my voice even as I grapple with my own struggles. Service to humanity gives my life much more meaning and I encourage you to reach out to the next person. It might just be what they needed to get through the day. It was for me. Susan and Blessed were my blessings today.

What are your thoughts on illegal immigration and the risks taken by these immigrants to reach this Eldorado that is not all it’s cut out to be.

(*) – not her real name




You Are Woman

You are born, the only one crying in a room filled with laughter and smiling faces…your cry either natural or induced by a large palm on the small of your back. Sometimes, there is no laughter… the smiles replaced by grim looks on the faces of those around you… disappointment and fear lining their eyes as they take a quick glance at your sex. It doesn’t bulge out… it is flat… tame… as you would be expected to be… all the days of your life.

On your eighth day, you are given a name… carried onto the basang by your bajen. You hear it first from the Imam… and then it sticks on… to be used by all around you…. uttered on the lips of many who meet you… in varying tones as per the varying situations. Your mother will use it…as she sings to you each day… telling stories of going to Saloum…Saloum of the three rooms… a fourth being the kitchen… belonging to the Buur… that Burr of Saloum. Your father will use it too… as he calls out for water… for his meal at the end of a long day… for one to run a short errand for him. He’ll use it when he discusses with your mother… of your coming of age… of the time to make a full woman of you… of your visit to the ngaaman. This latter will use it as she prepares her instruments… the same ones she had used on your friends before you… telling you to calm down…promising you it wouldn’t hurt… assuring you that you will be worth a lot more when you come out of her room…a part of you missing. She does not only cut your flesh off… she cuts off your feelings… your sense of arousal… the ownership of your body… a part of your femininity. Your family uses it as they receive you… a second welcoming… your coming of age… amid dancing and drumming… feasting and merry-making… while you bleed somewhere within your chest… and further down.

You grow up… growing increasingly conscious of yourself…your feelings… your features… your surroundings. Your chest has turned heavy… curves mirroring those on your lower limbs… your hips… still capturing the defined contours of your face… your lips when you smile… your brows… suspended atop your large eyes. Yes, you are aware of these changes… just as everyone else starts to notice them too.Your mother lives to rain admonishment on you… telling you to be careful… to stay away from men… that a mere touch could get you pregnant… that your father will not hesitate in harming you for bringing shame to his name. That name he had proudly handed down to you… waiting for a suitable person to add his own to it… waiting to hand you over to another… a new owner… for a price. Your father…he says nothing to you… choosing to warn you with his eyes…his grunts… his refusal to let you attend the school party. He warns you silently… for his silence is louder than any words he could use.

You count yourself lucky… one of the few who go to school… even when you have to return to waiting chores. You are brilliant… a fast learner… fired up to shine among your peers… easily gaining recognition from your teachers. You keep growing… more beautiful… smarter… and as you grow, your dreams grow too. Your vision expands and you can’t wait to turn your dreams to reality… even as you hurt… even as your days are often marred by painful memories…painful moments…painful truths. You resolve to grow out of them.. to choose a different path… refusing to let them define you… reflecting the strength of the women you look up to… women who share similar stories but have overcome the pain…or so it seems. You keep trying… succeeding sometimes…failing most times. They’re a part of you… etched in your mind…your feelings… your being… until that last day… when you shall take your last breath. You force yourself to work hard… to take up more responsibilities than you can handle… to zone out of this world… to live a life void of pain and suffering. Your work pays off… at home… in school… as you weave your way to your final years… a secondary school certificate in hand.

You want to go to the University… to learn some more… be introduced to more ideas… philosophies… theories. You want to create your own… become a professional… from whom others could learn. Your family has other plans… different from yours… tied to the destiny of another… willing you to complete him… while he completes you…makes a full woman of you. You are entrusted in his care… but in fact, you are the caregiver… to feed him and cater to his needs… succumb to his demands and respect his wishes. His wants will be your wants… and all he loathes… you shall loathe too. This is expected of you… as it was of your mother… and her mother before that. You turn has come… and the legacy is for you to continue… your family’s pride in your hands… your wishes a non factor. You still have dreams… and still wish to see them come true. You were wronged once…left with the painful memories to live with… never having  a say in what concerned you. Not anymore… you tell yourself… not anymore. On your wedding eve… you walk away… covered by the darkness of the skies… the heavens aiding you… hiding their lights… yet guiding you. Your feet lead you on… even as you heart threatened to burst through your chest… and your head swam with a million thoughts. What if you get caught… what  will your father say… do? You still went on… starting a new life… an unsure one… one full of doubts… but still a new life.

The years go by… and you’ve survived them all. With God and his angels on Earth, your dreams start unfolding… when you thought you’d lost it all. You are independent…made it through life… the envy of many… most of whom do not know your story. They see your poise… the spring in your heels when you walk… the clothes you wear… the confidence in your every movement. They hear you speak… in that calm voice…yet so strong…commanding respect… willing everyone to listen. The women you’ve seen… once loved… once wished to become. You are them… they are you… the roles have changed… transforming from that night you walked away. You made a decision… a choice… to defy… refusing to conform to the norm… to let your future be planned…ruined… by another. You brought back life… to yourself… to your daughter after you… to her daughter after her.

Yes… you found love… even when you thought it impossible. You had been condemned to a life of solitude… by your peers…your colleagues… your neighbours and your friends. All they saw was a woman with too much power… too much education… a high-earner… an intimidating woman. They said no man would want you… that they would be afraid to approach you… that you should tone it down and settle for what was available. You… you stuck to what you believed… that which made you walk away… that which drew you through the pains…molded you and kept you strong when life threw rocks at you. Your growth wasn’t easy…but that was only for you to know… and with that knowledge, you  set your standards…for you deserved the best… never choosing to settle for less.  They talked… you worked… you earned… you built… you smiled and stayed happy… until love came knocking.  It knocked softly… and was let in… bringing all you deserved… worked for… started a new life for.

You had been hurt… a victim of tradition… of society and its beliefs… a patriarchy. You had a reason to crumble… to let go… accept whatever else was thrown at you. Yet…you chose to walk away from it… starting a new journey… with routes different from the usual… getting scorned by your family. They eventually came back… when you had made it…and you took them in… for they were still family. You traced a new path… for yourself… and for many after you… giving them the courage to make their choices… to own their lives…to live their dreams… to refuse to adhere to the rules that will only crush them. You are molded by the past…you are the present… you are the future.

You are hope… you are love… you are life. You are woman!

Day Twenty-Five: The Person You Know That Is Going Through The Worst Of Times

The Sarrs,

You alone know what you felt and still continue to feel. I shall not put myself in your shoes, for even then, I may not really know what it’s like. I have felt my own pain, but believe it pales in comparison to yours. I wished I had the words to heal your pain. I wished I were there to go through it all with you. I’m around to listen if you want to talk. I respect your decision if you don’t want to either. I can only promise one thing: I’ll always be here for you. I do not have the perfect words for you, but I found something which I hope will keep the smiles on your faces and comfort you through these times. I love you all.

Day Two: Your Crush

Hello to He Who Is Admired(Loved?) From A Distance,

Source: glogster.com

‘I wish, I wish, I wish’. Lol!

A few years ago, I had a very serious talk with my heart, for I did not like the things it was putting me through.  When I got its full attention, I said to it ‘Mon coeur, stop the crushes. They’re not healthy’. This was because I had lived a part of my teenage life nursing and nurturing crushes on guys, real and imaginary alike. The deepest were those I had for characters in a novel that would get me into deep thought. Now, my heart has a mind of its own, which does not usually align its thoughts with the mind of its owner. I would think that it would heed my advice and stop putting the both of us through the pains of yearning for that which might not be available… which is exactly what happened with you!

If you would ask the people close to me about my ‘ideal man’, they would quickly start ticking a list that would usually contain words like  smart, God-fearing, witty, matured, caring, patient, tall, dark, good-looking etc. My OSS would add ‘ a guy who knew his way with words and wouldn’t condemn me to a life of rectifying grammatical errors‘. Often, we wish for something and may even pray for it to be delivered just the way we want it. However, reality tells us that our packages would almost always miss an element… a string here, a broken handle somewhere, or even the wrong choice of wrapping paper. When it arrives, we accept it, hoping for compensation along the way. With you, it seems there’s not much need for compensation. You are THE package.

I’ve watched from a distance. I’ve observed your physical being and must say you are greatly endowed. Often, I’ve imagined myself tucked under those arms and reveling in the beauty of that thing called love! They say we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and I would agree if only our judging doesn’t always prove us right. You came in a great cover…not perfect, but certainly close to perfection. However, that which is enclosed within that cover is what blows my mind away the most. Your wits captivate my soul and have me imagining conversations of sheer brilliance on dark nights, under the stars. Where others would scream and shout in the face of confrontation, I have watched you personify maturity, while guarding your dignity.  You have every reason to make your voice heard and boast about your awesomeness, but the humility with which you go about your affairs speaks louder and leaves a greater impact on the lives you touch. Your love for God and your constant quest to live a life that is pleasing to Him kicks out all fear in my heart. An old family friend used to tell me ‘When you find a man with the love and fear of God in his heart, you should be assured that he shall not hurt you‘. I don’t how true this is, but it has stayed with me from that day. You may think that I’ve decided to paint the perfect picture of you, omitting the flaws and focusing only on the positive points. You see, it is no fault of mine. When Cupid shoots and hits its target, he certainly blinds the eyes to all things bad, if only for a short moment. I have been hit so bad, and in my hazy vision, this is all I can see.

From watching, I know that you are in love… with another… and it dims the light on my vision of the future… our future, but I’m still happy. You look happy,and because I wish the best for you, I stay happy too. While I nurse this crush, waiting for Cupid to hit again with a new arrow, I’ll keep watching and admiring… from a distance. I shall not give up on you, for I believe in that which is called HOPE! You don’t have to worry about me making a visit to Pa Bouteille, so he can get you back on the ‘market’ and available to the highest bidder: me! No, I shall go on with my activities and be satisfied with watching, admiring and probably loving. 

Bou yorn jehul, wahusil dou jehh. 

P.S Day 3 is for the parents and luckily, I don’t have to shop for them or turn to fiction at some point 🙂 Adios!

Three Months, Maman!

I heard her voice. Tiny and faint at first. Then , gradually, it rose and I could hear her better.

‘Maman’, she called out, ‘can I ask you a few questions?’

I groaned, knowing what to expect, and braced myself for the usual requests for food, followed by questions on how it was made and how I gained access to it. Njillan’s curiosity from her very early days had always baffled me. However I never complained, knowing very well that the apple does not fall far from the tree. I looked down at her and said softly, ‘Go ahead child.’ Little did I know that today’s discourse was different and of a nature I never would have imagined. What followed blew my mind away and I found myself speechless, searching for suitable responses to her questions.

Why do I live here? It feels so tight and I can’t move around as much as I’d love to.

Child, this residence is temporary. It is during your stay here that we’ll be able to build a strong bond together; a bond that’ll be impossible to break. Your closeness and dependence in me increases my love for you each second. Soon, you shall be free to move around as you wish. Soon, my child

You’ve been saying that since I got here. It’s been 6 months now. How much longer do I have to wait?

Be patient, my child. Patience, as you’ll learn when you get out of here, is a virtue. You have less time to wait than you’ve already spent here . Be patient.

Okay Maman. So tell me, what’s it like out there? 

Hmmm. This world is vast. Bigger than you can ever imagine. When you look up, there’s a blue expanse called the sky. Sometimes, it’s blue and breathtakingly beautiful. Other times, it is covered in grey clouds moving wildly and threatening to pour their contents on Mother Earth. Down where we are, we’ve got the land and the great seas; each spreading as far and wide as the sky. There are more than 7 billion  people out here and the number keeps growing. When you finally come, you shall increase that number by one. All these people live different lives. Some are happy and satisfied with the way they live. Others despair and hope for things to get better. In some parts, there is peace while war ravages other parts of this land. Some kids are happy, well-fed, go to school and have the very basic things in life at their disposal. Some have all these and more, living in luxury. Some have nothing at all. Looking for a means to survive is the order of the day for them. These people; they SURVIVE while others LIVE.

I don’t understand. Why can’t there be an equal distribution of all things so everyone can live well and be happy?

That, my child, is a question billions have been looking for an answer to. Some say it’s how life is supposed to be. Some say it creates a balance in society, with the two extremes that exist. You,like me, may wonder where the middle class fits in. I guess they’re just the fulcrum on which the two extremes lie. Others say there is a need for a hierarchy, you know, to distinguish between the different classes. This distinction eventually determines how one is received, considered and treated by others. The rest just dismiss it with a sigh and say life is unfair.

Exactly what I was going to say Maman. How do you feel living in a world like that?

How I feel? My child, how I wished my feelings really mattered. How I wished my feelings could change the status quo. If only they mattered, there would be equity and equality in all parts of the world. The most remote of villages shall be known and recognized. There would be peace everywhere.  The basic necessities in life shall be at everyone’s disposal. Leaders shall guide their people and oppression shall be a thing of the past. Freedom of speech shall finally become reality, and not just an article written in a certain convention. The world would be a proper global village, not a division of lands with restrictions to movement. Each shall practise his religion freely, with no fear. A person shall not be judged by his sexuality but by the substance of his character. The love of God shall reign in all hearts. It shall come as easily and freely as enmity is now sown between people. Children shall be free to play, run, jump and dance with no worries. My child, all these and more are what would exist if my feelings mattered. Unfortunately, I can only wish for them. Only in my imagination do they choose to come alive.

Maman, exactly how much longer do I have to wait to see this world? 

Hmm. Three months , my child. Three months and you shall be born. Then you shall see everything I’ve mentioned. You shall understand them, as you grow. Three months, my child.

Don’t worry Ma. They may only be wishes and dreams for you, but for me they shall be reality. Your child shall stand up against the injustice in the world. I shall make sure no-one goes through pain, hunger, oppression, discrimination, hurt and all else you’ve mentioned. Three months Maman, and I shall be born. Then it shall be felt in all corners of the world, that a great one has come. Great I shall be and you, my mother, shall get to see your dreams change to reality. Do not give up hope for I represent the new generation. With me, are many others who, at this moment, are having the same conversation with their mothers. Three months Maman. Three months and the journey to overcome shall begin.

My child, you speak with so much confidence and this renews my hope in the future. However, I’m old enough and have seen enough injustice to know that the road shall not be easy. I shall not dampen your spirits, but I shall prepare you psychologically. You shall face opposition, but I trust you to overcome them. Place your trust in the Almighty and you just might get there. It’s getting late now and my bones are weary. We’ll talk about this another day. Sleep well, my child, for we know not if sleep shall be this comfortable for you again. Sleep, my child.

Good night Maman. Remember. Three months. 

I sighed and turned over, my hand flying impulsively to my tummy. I caressed it gently, feeling Njillan’s kick within me. I smiled, knowing that she shall be great. Three months, she had said. Three months it shall be, before the world welcomes a Shero. I close my eyes and fall into a deep reverie, where pictures of all my wishes come to life and my soul hath no worry.