Updated: Jun 25
| This is the 413th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born and raised in Ajdir, a small farming village in Taza Province, Fès-Meknès, Morocco. My father was a tailor and my mother helped him in the shop when she wasn’t tending to my two older sisters, me, or my younger brother. My childhood was simple, as is most of life in our community. And for many years, it was all I knew, all I needed.
However, many of the villagers have relatives in Europe. In the summer, they come back to visit their families, they bring them all kinds of gifts like new phones, clothes, even cars. Each time I heard of this kind of generosity, my interest piqued a little more. Then, I met Saufian.
I was 16 years old the summer I met Saufian. He was from Paris, France, and was visiting some family who lived down the street from me. Each hot afternoon, we played soccer together in the street. His dream was to play professional soccer in France, and he told me a lot of stories about his life in the big city.
I found out that what the Moroccan people struggle with is much, much different than other places. Many don’t have access to education, employment, heck—even freedom of speech! In Europe, life is somehow easier. The opportunity is greater and the government values their citizens.
I was so fascinated by his stories. He seemed to have everything that I didn’t have, and would never have, due to the huge difference in our lives.
After Saufian went back home to France, I couldn’t stop thinking about all I’d learned. How amazing would it be to go to Europe, be successful, and then come back to save my family from poverty and all that is bad in my country! That’s when I started planning to migrate illegally at a young age.
I started asking older people about immigration. Some said funny stories about their experience and others warned me of the dangers of such dreams. I didn’t give much thought to the latter. I was that small, skinny kid, with the ambition of a lion chasing his prey. I was so focused I couldn’t see anything but my dream.
One year took off like an hour and I was still dreaming and planning. Then, when I turned 17, the circumstances met me with Hamid. He was three years older than me and shared the same dream. It made it the fantasy feel like truth.
On June 2012, I had a huge discussion with Hamid over the perfect plan on which we can make our goal happen. We had two options. Either we could hide in one of the Spanish ferries that arrive in Morocco, or we use a makeshift boat which is a boat with one or two engines, run by people called “Hraga,” a Moroccan term that refers to men who work as sailors of these boats; they know the sea roads but are not reliable and most of them are criminals.
Ultimately, we chose the first option one under the condition that if it doesn’t succeed we will try the second. We figured that the makeshift boats were too small for us both, we could manage hiding in ferries. Plus, Hamid knew a guy with a boat. He assured me that we would just have to find a tourist bus or a big car to hide under. With a prayer and maybe a little luck, we could avoid getting caught by guards or the Spanish Navy.
We knew that both were risky, but as they say, it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all.
We passed that month gathering money for our trip. I worked with my father in his shop, and on my free days, I worked with other people in farming. I tried so hard to gather as much money as I could; I used to wake up at 6 AM and sleep at 10 PM, I didn’t waste any time. Even still, Hamid collected more money because he was older than me and worked in construction.
By the end of the month, we end up with a sum of 15000 MAD (about 1560 USD). At that time, I never had the opportunity to touch or see that much money, so it was like I had a million dollars in my hands. Surely my dream was just a step away. Moreover, if we made it there, Hamid said that he had a lot of relatives living in Spain, and he was sure that they would hide us and show us how to become permanent residents just like they had.
I had a hard time convincing my family to let me go on the “trip” with Hamid. I told them that I was tired and wanted to enjoy what was left of the summer on the beaches of Tanger because it is the closest city to Spain. After begging for two days straight, they gave me their blessing.
Two days later, Hamid and I took a taxi to Taza so that we could ride the train to our destination in Tanger; it was a day-long journey. When we arrived there, Hamid and I went straight to his friend’s house, his friend who owned a boat. The friend told us he would be setting sail at 5 AM the next morning.
That night, I couldn’t get any sleep; my mind was all about the journey. Believe it or not, I had never gone to the beach or seen the ocean before, but I trusted Hamid. We wrapped our bodies in cellophane and wore plastic bags on our feet to keep us warm.
In the morning, we went to this place called the Strait of Gibraltar which separates Spain from Morocco. As we waited for the boat to arrive with about 10 other people, Hamid and I hid behind some rocks. I remember just staring at the ocean and thinking about how scary it looked. The anxiety of it all crept into my bones. Hamid tried to calm me, saying that he had my back. I couldn’t speak because my teeth were chattering like a morning alarm; I didn’t know if it was because of the cold or the tension.
The boat arrived and we jumped into the Zodiac. It smelled like fuel. We looked around its cramped quarters. There was barely any room to hide in. As the boat began moving, each wave threatened to flip us. I kept looking at the faces of the passengers, each one was terrifying. It felt like we were on our way to meet death.
When we noticed that land was close, I looked at Hamid thinking that we made it. Turns out, we were only halfway there. The smugglers shouted, “lay down.” A silence went on for several minutes until we heard the navy alarms saying, “turn off the engines.” The fear in Hamid’s eyes cracked the last of my confidence. This was the worst-case scenario.
The navy led us off the boat where we were given warm blankets and then separated into two groups, one for minors and one for everyone else. I shared a room with two kids.
Suddenly, an officer came into the room. Just from his stature and his deep voice, it was apparent that he had no time to waste or joke around. He towered over the three of us in the room while passing us some blank paper. “If you know how to write,” he said, “write down information about your background.” We were too afraid to lie so we wrote only the truth. After that, they gave us food and a place to sleep until our parents arrived.
The whole day I was so ashamed of myself. I didn’t even think about Hamid in the other room, rather, I only imagined how my parents would respond to this news. I realized the weight of the situation and wondered what life would be like if I were home.
After two days, my father arrived, and let me tell you, I have never seen such anger on his face. He talked with authorities and paid the fine so that he could take me. Then I had to sign some papers, admit my fault, apologize, and make a promise to never try that again or else I would get locked up in jail. From the guards, I found out that Hamid was going to face three months of prison and how lucky I was for not having the same penalty. I truly felt weak and very stupid for having such a dream. It was even a mistake to call it a dream.
At home, my father was so upset. He asked me a lot of questions and punished me for months. I deserved far more than that. I cried and asked for forgiveness. Even though I did a terrible mistake, my parents accepted me and guided me. I felt safe that I was where I have to be, home. I regretted being so immature and so dangerous.
As I got older, the dream to better myself did not fade. In fact, the entire experience that I have just shared with you made me who I am today. I grew up to understand that I can change my life from where I am; I can start over and make a change. And, I knew that I could withstand much more that I had ever thought possible, as long as I had something to chase.
And so, without running away, I reformed my desire. I am now learning ways in which I can build my community to be a place of opportunity. I focused on my studies and got a BA in English studies which opened my eyes. I plan to use the skills in writing that I have honed to contribute to my society and possibly start a youth organization.
My hope is for the younger generation to see that escaping is not always the solution—I have learned that tenfold! It is hard to challenge a dying community. It is tiring to inspire change. But it is not impossible. And so, we must try.
This is the story of Mohamed El Maayouf
Mohamed lives now in Morocco, in a small city called Taza. Growing up, Mohamed wished to move to a new country in hopes that his life would change for the better. Unfortunately, because his only feasible escape plan was to flee without proper documentation by hiding on a boat, he was intercepted by the Spanish Navy before entering into Spain. Because Mohamed was 17 at the time, he was not sent to prison as many of the others on board were. In the chaos, Mohamed realized that he did not have to go to another place to be successful if he just changed his path in life. He says that illegal immigration that remains a serious problem not only in his country but in the whole world. Every day, millions all over the world try to flee to other lands in search of a better life. Hence, this story showcases how dangerous that dream is. Thousands of them end up either dead in the sea or in jail. Mohamed didn’t lose hope and started a new goal, he aspires to be a writer, and he dreams that his writings can reach the world and rebuild his community.
This story first touched our hearts on September 4, 2019.
| Writer: Mohamed El Maayouf| Editor: Colleen Walker |