“The Dream of Europe”

Melilla Photo credit: El Pais / Julian Rojas

Melilla
Photo credit: El Pais / Julian Rojas

On March 20th, Julian Rojas, a photojournalist, and Damian and Jesus, two students from the University of Malaga, came to speak to us on the subject of immigration to Spain at the Ateneo de Malaga. Rojas is the regional photographer of Andalusia, for one of Spain’s leading newspapers, El Pais. He presented to us his photographic essay on immigration entitled “The Dream of Europe”. The majority of his photographs dealt with the struggles Sub-Saharan immigrants face when they attempt to illegally emigrate to Spain, rather than the stories of Moroccan migrants. Rojas explained that Sub-Saharans were his primary focus as they had a higher chance of staying in Spain, and in the Andalusian region. When we asked him why he decided to undertake this project, his main reason was the proximity of Andalusia to North Africa. The huge inequality from one side of the border to the other, as demonstrated in particular by the large socioeconomic divide between the Spanish enclaves and the cities in close proximity (for example Melilla and Nador, Ceuta and Tetouan) spurred Rojas to look deeper into the issue.

A large part of Rojas’ essay focussed on the Guardia Civil’s treatment of undocumented migrants.  If these migrants are caught attempting to cross into Spain illegally, the Guardia Civil rounds them up, and drives them to Oujda, Morocco or to the Sahara desert, where they are left without provisions. Humanitarian aid groups wait at these deposition sites to help the migrants, but it remains a contentious issue, and the treatment of these migrants is currently being debated in Spain. Rojas also recounted the story of a Sub-Saharan woman he had met during his research. She had lost many of her male family members whose boat had sunk during their attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. The Spanish Guardia Civil had deliberately punctured holes in their boat, trying to prevent the migrants from arriving in Spain, but they continued nevertheless, and when their boat submerged from all the water it had been taking on, thirty three migrants, including her brother, son and husband, drowned.

Rojas spoke on his experiences working as a photographer with this vulnerable group, talking about his difficulties getting immigrants to talk; those who spoke to reporters often had more problems trying to immigrate. The only negative reaction that he had while doing his research was from the Moroccan police, who detained him in a detention center for fourteen hours. The police told him that they had ways of making him disappear, and he was forced to sign a declaration because of his camera equipment before he was released.

Rojas also talked about the Spanish public’s reception to information and images concerning illegal immigration. He said that the same horror stories get repeated over and over again, and now it is only very dramatic stories, such as a pregnant woman or a child drowning on the crossing that captures the public’s attention.

Walls between Ceuta and Morocco. Photo credit: Julian Rojas

Walls between Ceuta and Morocco.                            Photo credit: El Pais /Julian Rojas

While we had been studying the issue of clandestine immigration, and had read accounts from undocumented migrants, I think we were all surprised and shocked by what we saw in Rojas’ essay. We were all confused in particular, by a number of pictures showing people with large white bandages wrapped around their hands. Rojas explained that their hands had been badly cut by the six metre high concertina wire fences that surround Melilla and Ceuta when they tried to climb the walls to get into these enclaves. These militarised double wire fences, built with sharp wire, were constructed in 1996, after the leaders of the nearly created Schengen space identified the need for a strong outer border. Beginning on New Year’s Eve, 1999/2000, climbing these walls has become a popular way of illegally gaining entry to Europe, and many hundreds of people can be found waiting in the nearby forests, waiting for a chance to storm the walls of Melilla and Ceuta.

For me, seeing the photos of the hardships immigrants face as well as meeting immigrants living in Malaga, and hearing their stories, really hit home the lengths that people will go to in order to find a better life and better opportunities for themselves and for their families.  Rojas’ photographic essay was definitely a learning curve for us all.

The Right Way to Pour Mint Tea: Meeting a Moroccan Family in France

On a weekend trip we took while staying in Toulouse to a small town called Moissac, we met two Moroccan workers currently living in France. The pair had previously spent 12-13 years living and working in Spain but made their acquaintance in Moissac.  Jiovanni was a tall dark man with glasses and his companion, Albidi, was his physical contrast, short and heavyset.  We invited them to have a conversation with us in the back of a restaurant-pub where earlier the group had indulged cravings for “American food” with mediocre cheeseburgers.  “We” consisted of three of our Spanish speakers, Becca, Catherine, and me, plus our one Arabic speaker, Amber, and professors Borges and Rose.  Our table in the back of the dimly-lit pub was occupied for hours as the men slowly gained our trust and started revealing their trials and tribulations of life in Europe as Moroccan immigrants.  By the end of our exchange we were invited to tea and crepes the next morning at Albidi’s and Catherine was stumbling on the phone with his wife speaking in Spanish, English, and Arabic all at once.

2013-02-23 16.51.33

Albidi, Prof. Borges, Jiovanni, and me at the restaurant in Moissac.

The next morning, we met Jiovanni on the town square in the frigid early morning and he drove us to Albidi’s complex.  Upon entering the three bedroom apartment we were immediately greeted with warm hugs, kisses, and handshakes from the men.  I was at the front of the group and cautiously followed the hallway to the living room where a fold-up table covered with a plastic flower table cloth was set up for us.  Their four children greeted us shyly, prodded by their parents.  Soon, a silver tray with small decorative glasses was brought over and we were served mint tea out of a tall silver tea pot.  This was not our first time having mint tea in France, but it is here we learned the importance of pouring your mint tea while holding the pot up high to create white bubbles on the surface.  “If it’s not like this, it’s no good,” Jama informed us.   As we waited, chatting with Jiovanni and Albidi, Albidi’s wife Jama brought out plates and plates of food.  Moroccan crepes, rghaif (pronounced raif), and yet a third type of bread surrounded us.  Bowls of olive oil, argan oil, and honey were set out before us.  Before we knew it, we were convinced to stay for couscous that had already been cooking on the stove before we even arrived.

 

Our Moroccan feast

Our Moroccan feast.

Pouring the mint tea.

Pouring the mint tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the table was empty and our bellies full, Jama sat at the table with us while the men sat on fold-up chairs on the other side of the room and continued with their own chat. When the men left to go on a walk, Jama opened up to us as if she hadn’t spoken to a friend in years.  While her husband’s Spanish was strong, she felt more comfortable in French because her Spanish had faded since being out of the country.  So Jama and I spoke together in broken French.  Occasionally, she would substitute a word or phrase in Spanish that she did not know in French.  Luckily, speaking French and Spanish made it easier to follow the conversation when she would do this.  However, listening to Jama required a lot of attention.  She stumbled over her words and made long pauses, searching for the right way to express her ideas in whichever language she could.  It was a nice form of communication since neither one of us had perfect language yet we could still understand each other.  Of course, there were moments when a few things were lost in translation or when I had to ask for a clarification which entirely changed what I thought she said and left me feeling a little ridiculous.

2013-02-24 13.07.14

Jama talking to us while holding her baby daughter and youngest child, Sarah.

Jama’s story is powerful, full of struggles with her mother-in-law during her time in Morocco, her husband, her first-born child, and her first years in Europe as an immigrant.  It would not do her story justice to begin telling it now; the entire experience was so rich that a book could be written about it.  The family’s hospitality was incredible and Jama was so grateful to have us visit.  As we left, she kept repeating “Come see me, come see me again! I’m alone in the house all day.”  She smothered us in kisses, hugs, and wishes for good health at the door.

Since I am writing this post after my experience, and not the day it happened, or even in the same week, I can definitely say it was the most illuminating experience for me on this trip.  There are so many things to talk about it is almost impossible to decide on where to begin.  I gained so much from my time with the family: learning about Moroccan traditions and culture, seeing their reputed hospitality, how to navigate the situation as a sociologist, etc.  It definitely eased my anxiety about our next stop in Morocco…

The whole group minus Albidi and Jiovanni.

The whole group minus Albidi and Jiovanni.

What’s in a name? : Immigrant Identities

Abu Olinto Sebastián ibn Mateo ibn Juan ibn Isaac alkurtubi alubedi algarnati ashibani alkutubi

The words above are not a random string of words; they are one person’s name.  This name represents a combination of both Hebrew and Arabic naming practices and traditions and is that of a man who spoke at a conference we attended in Malaga on March 15, 2013: “Citizen Participation in a Multicultural Society and the Challenge of Interculturality.”  It was hosted at the Center for Spanish-Moroccan Studies (Centro EHM), well-known for its efforts to promote harmonious relations between cultures.

The person behind the card.
Credit: http://www.mwakilishi.com/content/articl…

The man who spoke is a well-respected librarian and historian and is active in politics in Spain, specifically in the Andalusia region.  His real name is above, but the name on his ID is Sebastián de la Obra Sierra, which he conveniently pulled out of his front jacket pocket for all of us to see.  When he went up to the panel to speak, he had a serene presence.  He wore a maroon jacket that appeared to be of velvet.  The voice that escaped his lips under his perfectly groomed salt and pepper  mustache when he spoke sounded as satiny as his blazer looked.  Before he even began giving his original talk, he insisted that he “name himself.”  His Arabic name immediately lets the person he greets know: the name of his son, his father, his grandfather; where he lives, where he was born, and where he has made an important journey; a physical characteristic, his profession, and a moral trait.

As he spoke, I was in awe of how much effort he put in to creating this name, this identity that tells so much more than the simple, “Hello, my name is…”  I thought, what a powerful way to be able to introduce yourself.  Often we wonder where a person comes from, what their journey has been, but as Sebastián said himself, you can learn so little from the official name on your identification.  And this identification is often what immigrants become reduced to when they arrive in a new country: a name, a number, not a person with a background or a story to tell.  All throughout our journey we were learning people’s names, asking questions about where they are from, how they arrived where they are today, and so on.  This tradition of naming lends so much more to a person’s identity.  It is a constant reminder of where they come from and where they want to go.  It is important to remember that people are more than what they are on a piece of plastic.  Opening conversations breaks down barriers  to reveal more about a person and their journey.  That is not to say if people introduced themselves this way there would be no need for further questions, but it would without a doubt facilitate curious conversations.

Centro de Estudios Hipano-Marroquí

 

Link to a description of the conference on the Center’s website (Spanish):

http://www.centroehm.com/actividades_descrita.php?id=22

 

Realizations in Rabat

Our lectures in Rabat were held in the heart of the Medina, at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning (CCCL).  Over our five day stay, the lecture I enjoyed the most was by Professor Abdelhay Moudden of Mohammed V who spoke to us about the recently formed Council for Moroccans Abroad.  The council was commissioned in 2004 and 2005 to interview Moroccan citizens around the world to assess their needs in order for them to be able to give back to their country as expatriates.

The reason this lecture spoke to me is because I am an expatriate myself.  Twelve years of my life were spent growing up in Mexico City, Mexico.  Before this mosaic, I never thought of myself as an “immigrant,” rather, I was a “foreigner.”  The discussion between these two words was brought up by several of the professors we met on our trip.  “Immigrant” carries a negative connotation, reserved for those who “steal jobs” and are accused of being illegal, while “foreigner” is used for those that are more similar to the citizens of their host country.  To give an example, in France, a Moroccan is an “immigrant” but a European citizen of another country is a “foreigner.”

But I am an immigrant, I am a foreigner.  I have lived in Mexico for 12 years but that will never make me Mexican.  I could easily relate with the problems of integration that Moroccans faced while abroad.

As he spoke about all the Moroccans who move abroad in order to find work because of the lack of opportunity for employment in Morocco, I began to wonder if there are Moroccans that make a deliberate choice to live abroad or that are employed in jobs that require moving.  In fact, the professor answered yes by giving the example of his sister who lives in Canada because of her husband’s job. However, the family’s elevated social status is what allows them this type of mobility.  Now they are trying to balance the struggles of raising children in a non-Muslim country.  When this is the case, the family faces the problem of how much to integrate; how do you continue to incorporate customs and culture from your country of origin while adopting new traditions in your host country?

Center for Cross Cultural Learning lecture

Professor Moudden giving his lecutre at CCCL in Rabat.
Courtesy of CCCL’s Facebook page. Click here to be linked to their page.

I identified with all of these issues in one way or another.  Since I moved to Mexico when I was so young, I automatically soaked up parts of the culture that have now become a part of me.  However, since I grew up with American parents and continued to visit the United States while growing up, I never felt like too much of an outsider in my own country.

I enjoy being able to have this perspective when listening to others’ stories of migration.  It has made me realize that my story is a story worth telling too.

Afternoon in Parliament

For our last day in Rabat, we decided that going out with a bang would be the best way to celebrate an end to our time in such a wonderful place. Having just said goodbye to our host families, lugged our belongings to the entrance of the Medina and onto the bus, we very abruptly had to snap into a professional mindset as the Parliament building was only minutes outside the wall of the Medina. At the entrance to the large and stately building we were greeting by several officials and organization members who were there to participate in our discussions. After shaking several hands, we were ushered into a large and beautiful conference room with long tables equipped with personal microphones and glasses of water. We sat down and introductions took place. Every representative there including ourselves expressed great gratitude and appreciation for the other’s attendance and willingness to share their time and ideas. To our delight, of trays of cookies and steaming Moroccan tea were brought out and offered to everyone shortly after we took our seats. There was a great deal of excitement on our part and it was much harder this time than any other to wait for the translations after every answer. Among those who spoke with us were the vice-president of Morocco’s Parliament Mohamed Yatim, and the president of the Democratic Party. Several NGO’s and Associations were present as well, including representatives from “Don’t Touch Our Children” and “Virtuous Women”. It was amazing to speak directly to these influential organization members and their answers helped give us an understanding of the significant role women are beginning to play in the political realm. The goal of several of the parties and organizations that spent time with us was to obtain a more equal gender balance among political representatives both in Parliament and at local levels. The crucial role our generation will need to play in transforming Moroccan society into a more free and equal place was emphasized by all.

 

After the proceedings took place and questions were answered, we left the conference room to mingle in the grand entrance and to make our way to the deputy’s chambers. We again sat down at a large conference table and we were again served tea and cookies while we took notes, listened carefully, and asked questions. The President of the Council Chamber was the main speaker this time and he invited us to voice our opinions and thoughts about our experience thus far in Morocco. Moroccan’s Abroad was the focus of his talk, and through this we learned more about the rights Moroccan nationals have beyond the country’s borders. A large focus of the government at present is working with the almost 15% of the Moroccan population which lives in other countries, and finding ways to preserve Moroccan culture in second and third generations abroad. We learned that the new National Constitution actually secures their right to vote, ensures the naturalization of their children regardless of place of birth, and makes provisions for social support through Islamic schools and programs in European countries. It was truly invigorating to be able to converse (as best we could with the language barriers) with prominent representatives of the government and organizations. We were overjoyed with their willingness to meet us and were blown away by their interest in our goals as a research group.

 

After this second meeting we were shown the large room where representatives of all party members sit for the official Parliament proceedings. As we were told by a cheerful guard, the room was the equivalent of “your American Senate”. It was incredibly stately with an ornately carved, wooden ceiling and lush carpet underfoot. We left the building with much hand shaking and picture taking. It was such a rare and incredible experience to be able to meet and share ideas with people from all different backgrounds and political standings. It was definitely one of the main events of the overall trip and I know that all of us will hold our time in the Moroccan Parliament fondly in our memories.

bocAzoul04 IMG_2897bocAzroul02

-Fallon and Claire

Visit to School in Malaga

When flipping though my notes from our time in Malaga, there are certain events that stand out sharply in my memory as being very moving.  On March 19th, a few of us visited the offices of an organization called Movimiento contra la Intolerancia to interview Valentine, one of the main program workers. We had met him the day before at a panel discussion and were excited to go to their offices and learn more about their work.

We met in the morning and walked together through new and unfamiliar streets of Malaga to the address of the center. When we got to the address we didn’t see any indication that this indeed was the office building, so as we started up the several flights of stairs we crossed our fingers that we had gotten it right. Thankfully, Valentine greeted us when we rang the apartment door. He explained that they couldn’t have the offices be recognizable from the streets because they would run the risk of potential hate crimes or assaults to the building or even to themselves. This small fact was an appropriate introduction for us in our understanding of just how serious their line of work is, just how controversial.  We set up our flip cameras and began our questioning. He was a soft-spoken man who gave off a no messing around demeanor that seemed fitting with the serious, sometimes life or death work that they do. There are over 4,000 hate crimes in Spain every year, hate crimes against gays, against immigrants, and many more minority groups. People who have suffered hate crimes can approach Movimiento contra la Intolerancia and they will facilitate pro bono cases. We also learned that one of the main aspects of the organization’s work is the education of young students in regards to different kinds of intolerance in an effort to create a more accepting generation. All of this information provided a great basis for us in our full appreciation of the afternoon’s activities with the organization.

After the interview we had the privilege of accompanying one of the workers to a middle school to sit in on their lesson to kids about different types of intolerance. On the bus ride there, she explained to our Spanish speakers of the group that their organization frequently gets asked by schools to come back repeatedly and teach their kids about intolerance. The class that we visited was co-ed with kids from a clear variety of upbringings. They waved excitedly at us and we responded with the same enthusiasm. I felt an immediate connection to the dynamics of the classroom. Was it really so long ago that we ourselves were struggling through middle school? The organization worker started with the explanations of different types of intolerance and their harmful consequences. Homophobia, xenophobia and “racismo” were all concepts fully discussed during this lesson. It was clear that for most of the students these concepts were new information. It was truly captivating, watching these kids ask questions and become engaged in the lesson. To see before our eyes this next generation of Spaniards learn the meanings and consequences of racism, xenophobia, and hate crimes was incredibly moving.

 

This trip gave us all hope that there would some day be a change in the status and conditions of living for the overall population of immigrants and minority groups within Spain. Watching the kids get excited about the new information in such a positive way was truly inspirational. We were all very appreciative of Movimiento contra la Intolerancia’s willingness to include us in their work. It provided for me a beautiful wrap up and hopeful ending to a trip full exposures to the hardships of these marginalized populations. To know that immigrants might one day be treated with more respect and equality in this country, and to have personally witnessed the beginning stages of this new acceptance, was such an honor.

IMG_4097

 

 

-Claire Murphy

Visit to Incide in Malaga

On March 19, Carmen, who earlier led us on a thorough tour of “immigrant Malaga”  brought us to Incide Organization on our walk around the immigrant neighborhood near Place de la Merced. “Incide” stands for Inclusion, ciudanio diversidad, y education. Incide has existed for 24 years in Malaga. There are 500 total employees, with 50 full-time. The focus of the organization is on Moroccan and African immigrant, many of whom work in Agriculture.

For immigrants to be regularized in Spain, one needs to have been in Spain for at least 3 years and possess a job. Once one person has papers, they often want the rest of the family to also obtain papers. Incide helps immigrants do this, as well as working with minors who are on their on. The organization owns apartments in Malaga that migrants under 18 years of age can reside in.

P1010654

After we left the main office of Incide, Carmen continued our tour of the neighborhood and brought us to a preschool that Incide runs for children of immigrant. This was definitely the highlight of the tour for many, as the children were so energetic and happy to see us. It is clear how much the employers of Incide care about immigrants and their families by observing how they interact with the children in the nursery.

Mounir, a barber in Malaga

Mounir, a barber in Malaga

 

After the nursery we stopped back at the barber shop where her friend Mounir works. Mounir was very close in age to us, so it was especially impressive to hear his story. He got his degree in Tangier but left Morocco at age 20 to find a better future. He entered Spain by stowing away underneath a truck. The first place he went was Barcelona, where he found work as a barber. Soon he went to Sevilla and obtain papers. Eventually he made his way down to Malaga. He first found work by making house calls as a barber. He eventually worked his way up and now owns his own shop, a pretty impressive feat. Since so often we hear stories of struggle and despair for immigrants in Spain, it was inspiring to hear about the success Mounir was fortunate to achieve.

-Amber McGarvey

 

Fez

 

On March 7th, we left Azrou for Fez in the early morning, stopping en route in Ifrane, a holiday town in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco. Ifrane, known as the “little Switzerland” of Morocco due to its European architecture, is popular during the summer because of its temperate climate. The town served as a Prisoner of War camp during WWII, and during our visit to the gardens we saw a lion sculpture that is rumoured to have been carved by an Italian prisoner during the war.

 

After taking a short walk around the many gardens in the town, we continued on to Fez. As we approached the outskirts of the city, we began noticing a strong military presence and a huge number of Moroccan flags on the roads coming into the city, and the inner city streets. Our driver, Mohamed, told us that King Mohamed the Sixth was visiting the city, for, what we later found out, the beginning of the construction of an expressway that would link the Fez-Oujda motorway to the Fez airport, and Fez proper.

Upon our arrival in Morocco one week beforehand, I think we were all surprised by how modern the roads and highways that linked the cities together were. However, if we compared that to the roads that we took to visit the small village near Azrou where volunteers were providing aid, there is a huge difference in quality and upkeep of these roads. While I understand that reducing the amount of time it takes to travel to the airport and the number of car accidents that occur on the motorways in Fez is important, it is imperative that the Moroccan government also reviews and improves the dirt roads that link small villages with local larger towns. We were unable to travel quickly along the road to the village due to potholes and mud, and this could definitely hamper the ability of ambulances and other rescue vehicles to arrive in time to help.

Our first stop in Fez was at the city council building, where we met with a representative of the Mayor, who spoke and answered our questions about immigration to and from Fez, and the impact of remittances on the city. He described the twelve centuries old Fez as the “cradle of Moroccan civilisation,” and the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco. According to the representative, urbanisation is having a large impact on the city, with the arrival of at least 700 migrants per day spurring the creation of large shantytowns in the outskirts of Fez. He also spoke on the “brain drain” that he believes is depriving Morocco of its young intellectuals who are moving to Europe, North America and Australia in hopes of finding better jobs.

Following the meeting we dropped off our bags at the hotel before being taken on a tour through Fez’s medina (the old part of the city), by our guide Lotfi. We found that Fez’s world famous medina was even busier than that of Rabat, though we recognized a lot of the same goods that we had already seen previously.

We were lucky enough to be able to visit Al-Qarrawiyin, which was founded in 859 by Fatima Al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy Muslim merchant and is, reputedly, the oldest university in the world. Al-Qarrawiyin has served as both a mosque and a university since its foundation, and even now it remains a state university.

Our tour ended at the tannery, where we saw the pools of dye and other chemicals that prepare the leather that is used to make the leather products, such as the slippers, or “babouche,” that Morocco is famous for. We were given mint leaves to smell in order to hide the pungent odour of the chemicals.

After sampling the local cuisine, our tour guide Lotfi spoke to us about his own personal experiences dealing with immigration.

The next morning we hopped on the bus for the six-hour journey to Tetouan!

Kathleen

Al-Qarrawiyin

Al-Qarrawiyin

Mosque

Mosque

Tannery

Tannery

 

 

 

 




“The Eyes” of Tetouan

As soon as we arrived in Tetuoan, I knew it was different than other Moroccan cities we had visited. But I couldn’t quite pinpoint what exactly cause the difference.

Since Tetuoan is located in the far North of Morocco, near the Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta,  there is a lot of Spanish influence, which was one notable difference. Many of the residents spoke Spanish, but, many spoke Moroccan Arabic and French as well, making the city a very multilingual place. There is also Berber influence, from the South of Morocco, and in fact the name “Tetouan” directly translates to “The Eyes” in Berber. One day while having lunch in the restaurant of the Hotel Atenas, where the waitstaff spoke all three languages, I at one point said “un bouteille maa’”, before realizing it was a combination of Spanish, French, and Arabic. Communicating was confusing at times, but it was fascinating how much people can understand while speaking odd mixtures of languages they have in common.

Architecturally, the new part of the city seemed very French so I was curious as to what the medina was like, especially since it is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. On our first night in Tetouan, I went into the Medina in the evening with Zha to search for a teapot. We did not have much of a plan, but entered the medina at the “bab” near the Royal Palace. We must have entered the produce market, because most of what we encountered was fruit, vegetables, and fish for sale. We eventually decided to head back to our hotel since it was getting later.

Royal Palace in Tetouan and entrance to the Medina

Royal Palace in Tetouan and entrance to the Medina

On Sunday, a group of us decided to go back into the medina for more shopping before we left Morocco for Ceuta. This time we entered through a different “bab.” While at first it seemed like we were again heading in the wrong direction, through muddy, winding alleyways, we eventually were stopped by a man sitting outside a shop. He asked us if we were interested in going to the artisan market and then led us in the right direction. Even though it was a Sunday and many shops were closed, the market was larger than I expected. While walking around with Sarah, one shopkeeper asked us if we wanted to see his rug shop. Of course, he was trying to sell us a rug, which I was interested in, but I’m glad we went in his shop, because he brought us to the roof and showed us an amazing view of the city. He also had a family member of his bring us the to the “Spice House” that his family owns, which sold many oils and herbal remedies. Later, a different shopkeeper brought us on a personal tour of the tanneries and then brought us to an artisan’s co-op, which had the most amazing selection of rugs that I had ever seen, which is a feat for Morocco, where incredible rugs are crammed into shops hidden in the tiniest of alleyways. While I realize that much of this personal attention occurred because it was a slow Sunday and these merchants were trying to make sales, I still appreciated it. I was able to get an impromptu tour of this fascinating Medina by the people who know it best: those that work there everyday.

More than a Language Class…

Ahmed, founder of Associacion Marroqui

Ahmed, founder of Associacion Marroqui

Part of what Asociacion Marroqui, the organization headed by our close friends and helpful partners Ahmed and Karima, does is offer Spanish language classes for any immigrant to take for free. Becca and I had the great experience on sitting in on a class one Thursday night and spoke with some of the students as well as the teacher. That evening there were 3 different levels being taught, each led by a different teacher who volunteers their time for free to the organization. The medium level course we joined had 3 Moroccan women, and a man who had immigrated to Spain from the Ukraine. On average, the teacher explained to us, most students will take classes for a few months until and learn elementary level Spanish. After this time period, however, the classes are often dropped to make extra time in their schedules to manage work, family, and integrating into their communities more completely. One of the biggest obstacles for the instructors is the literacy level, especially of Moroccan women, that attend the classes. The teachers usually find themselves teaching reading and writing, as well as a second language, to the students. By the end of their time taking classes at Asociacion Marroqui, most migrants can speak and read in Spanish which opens even more doors for them and their families in terms of bettering their life, and job opportunities.

Costa Del Sol from the Sea

Costa Del Sol from the Sea

My time at Asociacion Marroqui made me realize how many people dedicate their time and efforts to improving the life of immigrants coming to Spain from all over. Despite a large population of people who support migrants and their families there is still an opinion throughout Spanish culture that the government should do what it can to curb migration into Spain. The effects of the current economic crisis were obvious while we were in Spain; not only were immigrants struggling to find work, but Spaniards as well which created an atmosphere of resentment in many cases. The bear economy means that the government’s spending money is also restricted, leading to the eventual decline in government funding associations like Marroqui’s receive. Although the effects of this in the future cannot be known for sure, tougher times lie ahead for Moroccan immigrants in Spain and for those hoping to help them as well.