12. Hassan

I met Hassan through Frankie and Stephan. They’d needed a kettle and while walking around a market looking for one, had met Hassan. He quickly became the ‘solutions guy’, always having the answers to every problem.

Although pleasant, at times I found him overly generous. For example, he would show us something he was trying to sell and if we showed polite interest, he would simply offer it to us. This applied to everything, which sometimes made it difficult to be friends on an equal level with him. Regardless of this, I still grew to like Hassan very much and we became good friends.

He showed enthusiasm for everything in life and life itself. He would tell me stories of his home town and the tranquil life he grew up in. He introduced all kinds of people to us in the street, most of them addicts or recovering addicts – people Hassan had personally helped. Every one of the people I met that knew him showed only warmth and respect. They spoke kind words and always regarded him as their brother.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Hassan had become completely penniless and was unable to continue helping people in the street. But always expressed that it would not be the end.

Me: OK, so, tell me a little about yourself.

Hassan: OK, my name is Hassan. I am thirty four years old. I have a diploma in low… its lou or low?

Me: It’s Law.

Hassan: Ah Law, my apologies. I have a diploma in law from Rabat, OK. But I am jobless. I fight to eat. I have some business in streets, that’s all. I’m not from Tangiers, I’m living here because it’s a big city and opportunities to have job but I am four years without job (laughs) yeah its OK, it’s not about me.

Me: So you still find it hard to find work here in Tangier?

Hassan: Yeah, I find a lot of work but… not so much money. I don’t find work with my diploma. I only find work like someone… who never go to school. With something like two thousand Dirham per month, this is nothing to live in Tangier. Tangier is so… expensive to live in it.

Me: Really? And you have work in the street at the moment?

Hassan: Yeah, I repair the phones and the computers. And I sell something… some old stuff in streets.

Me: And you get by like that OK?

Hassan: Yeah.

Me: OK, so how do you see Tangier, what do you think of the city?

Hassan: Tangier is nice, its so beautiful, nice place, nice people. But for someone without job, without money it’s… so hard.

Me: And there’s many people like this?

Hassan: Yes, many people. So many people from Morocco and many people from other place in Africa. But my problem is my people. A lot of people die in Morocco, they have nothing to eat. And all the people dream of going to… El Dorado (laughs).

Me: El Dorado? Interesting. Like the golden city? You mean Europe?… So do you think Tangier is quite a different city compared to other cities in Morocco?

Hassan: No it’s not a different city. But the same problem, you find in Marrakesh, Rabat. It’s poverty. And I see on Facebook, somebody give a proverb… I “like” it, someone…the poor have nothing to eat, except the rich. And a lot of people in Morocco… not only in Morocco but all over the world. Like in America, I know that millions are eating from the garbage in America. But you know, this is the capitalism. If you have money, its OK…

Me: Yeah, it’s the same in Europe, I also eat from the garbage in Europe.

Hassan: (laughs) Yes but in Europe, you have a lot of opportunities to find job. To find good education. You have peace, we have no peace in our country. The big eat the small, the strong kill the… the weak.

Me: But you still love your country?

Hassan: Yes of course. It’s in my soul. I don’t choose my mother, I don’t choose my father and I don’t choose my country. I like Morocco, Morocco is like a paradise for me. I can speak Arabic very good, I have friends, I have family. I have a lot of place that I like to visit again and again and again. But, for my country now, is for when I get job, if I get visa for Canada, this is my country.

Me: (laughs) Yeah I understand. So you would like to leave Morocco?

Hassan: Yes, why not? If I find good job to… to be sure I have a good future, then I have no problem going to Europe. I would like to go to Europe like a tourism, like a king with a car.

Me: Is that like a dream?

Hassan: (laughs) Yes like a dream.

Me: But you’ve been to Europe before no?

Hassan: Yes, I have been to Germany… for one year. Yeah, without papers, without nothing.

Me: And how was that? What were the local people like?

Hassan: OK, German people are like …like machine (laughs). It’s not like French people, French people speak a lot of… and Spanish people. Germany people are people like really… straight. They only think about house, family and work. They can only go for coffee and cinema at the weekend. All the week, they are working, hard working. I like people from Germany.

Me: Which city was this?

Hassan: Erm… Bremen, in the north.

Me: Bremen? Interesting.

Hassan: It was long time ago now… maybe… 15… 20 years ago. It’s been a long time.

Me: So why did you come back, what happened?

Hassan: Because I have no family to hide with until I have papers, no language. The Deutsch is difficult for me. I can speak a little English and little French.

Me: yeah, German is not an easy language.

Hassan: Yes. And also… it’s very cold (laughs).

Me: Yeah, it’s not Morocco.

Hassan: And there’s a lot of people in the street. I was in Bremen… and Bremen is… is so cold. You can only see people in cars, not people walking in street. If you wanted to meet people you have to go to… shop or coffee, not in street. And I was in winter, not in summer.

But the people of Germany are good. They arrested me and ask me many question, I can not speak any language. They ask an Algerian woman… to translate… in Arabic. And they say “How do you come to Germany? Why did you come to Germany? Where do you live?” In the end, they know that I am a student, but they take from Germany and let me at the frontier between Germany and France. But that’s good.

Me: Well… so they didn’t beat you… or…

Hassan: No, nothing, no. But you know… I was young, and a lot of people are attacked by the police of Germany, they fight with all. But me, I was young, and I was a student, and I can speak a little French and English. So I say “I have nothing, I am not a killer, I am just looking for a new life for me, I want to live”.

So I can do this, I can do this, I can have paper for work in manufacturing, something like this. Erm… I want only peace, I want to live. And this is the world, it’s not for you, it’s mine too. I’m not from Germany but this the name of Allah; I can live in every place I want. But I must respect condition to live in every place. I believe in law.

Me: OK, so what differences do you see from Germany and Morocco?

Hassan: W…We… excuse me, I will look for the words.

Me: Of course, take your time.

Hassan: …We can not do… something like, the first world. Germany… is a rich country, and the third world is Morocco, it’s Africa. A lot of people don’t go to school. We also have a lot of people… rich people, kill and stole everything. We can not choose between or give our idea of Germany or of Morocco. Germany for me, is the heaven, Morocco is the hell.

Me: I’ve met many people that think like this.

Hassan: Yeah, this is the world. Because this is the reality, we have nothing here in Morocco. We have mountains, we have two seas, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. We have Marrakesh and Agadir. But if you have nothing to eat, what do you want to do with a mountain?

Me: Yeah, good question.

Hassan: We are not Romeo and Juliet. I am a simple man, want to eat and to live, have a family and have children. But Morocco is good for someone that’s with money.

Me: What are your views on migration?

Hassan: I know that Africa, all Africa will move to Europe… one day. Because Africa has nothing. And all Europe take money from Africa. A long time, England, France and Spain stole… a lot of things from Africa. And now Africa want to… to…

Me: Take back?

Hassan: No! Africa wants to ask, not to take. And anyway, Africa is weak, it’s poor. Only want to ask. We are poor, we just want to eat. We have nothing to eat, we only have Sahara. And we want to work, we are strong to work. What is the problem?

But now we have the problem in Europe, the economic problem and a lot of companies closed. That’s why people of Europe, thinking of a solution to stop immigration to Europe.

Me: Well, it’s said that the economy is low but they still spend a lot of money on border protection.

Hassan: Yes but they can not do anything because… the reality is people moving all over history, people moving all continents of the world. I have a lot of African friends in Sweden and in Norway, what is the problem? A man from Nigeria living in Sweden, what is the problem? He have nothing in Nigeria but he have a new life in Sweden. He has a wife with a white woman. He have the work, he have a house.

Me: Yeah?

Hassan: Yeah… I like this. And I have a lot of people from Europe living in Morocco.

Me: Yeah, its strange that it’s OK for Europeans to move freely to Africa but…

Hassan: Yes, we have a lot of… a lot of people from Spain, from England, from Holland. Choosing to pass the rest of the life in Morocco and die in Morocco. Because they like Tangiers or something like this.

Me: OK, and what kind of work do you do when you say you help people?

Hassan: OK, I only to help the… the people on heroin. I… I can not help so many people.

Me: Yes, of course, you help who you can.

Hassan: I lose a friend using heroin before. And I see the picture of my friend when he die, with the… with the…

Me: The syringe?

Hassan: …The syringe, in his hand. I was in the university, in the third year. And I know that everyone in Morocco have a right to eat, to have a good education and to have good job. But I see the…the different things in the street. Many people looking in the garbage to eat. And we have a lot of money in Morocco…. and a bad government. That’s the problem.

I try to buy medicine for them; I try to ask “Why are you using heroin? How you are using heroin? How long you using heroin? And do you want to stop?” Sometimes I only give the hope. Sometimes I lie to them, saying “Someone has stopped and now they are married”. Something like this, but… what’s important to me is that I am so near the people using heroin, because heroin is so dangerous. A lot of people die here in Tangiers… young people, not adult, young people die using heroin.

Me: It’s like this?

Hassan: Tangier is the first city in Morocco, that have a lot of people using heroin. Heroin come from Algeria. Yeah, Valium and Heroin. In Morocco, we only have hashish and we have no problem with hashish. But heroin is expensive and the man who use it, he can do anything. He can kill, he can stole, because he is in need. Yeah, and you have a lot of people using heroin in England?

Me: Yeah, there’s also many people using heroin in England.

Hassan: Yes, the same problem. When you want to use heroin and have no money, you will hurt someone for the money.

Me: It happens, yeah, it happens. And have you had good results from helping people?

Hassan: Sometimes… it’s good. But you know, if you do something the government must do, you are not good. The police many times, not sometimes but many times, say “Why are you helping people in the street? This is nothing, he choose to use heroin, let him… die”. It’s not true… we must do something.

Me: Why do they ask you this?

Hassan: Sometimes they ask me if I sell the Valium to the people. And sometimes “Why are you helping the people, who gave you money to help the people using heroin?” and they say “Don’t say that you have money to help people from using, say that someone give you money”. It’s OK someone give me money, what is the problem? We have one way in that… that we want to help. And I have only the people using heroin in meeting, what is the problem? “No, you have a big organisation behind you”, and I say “No, I’m alone”.

Me: And do they believe you when you say that?

Hassan: In the end, they take my phone and my camera. Because they find a lot of pictures of… of homeless child, people using heroin and women without a husband, in my camera. And they find a lot of bad, bad picture of small kids in street, small girl in street, poor old man, old woman in street… Yeah a lot of. And they ask me “Why you only have?”

And in the end he say that I give bad picture of Morocco to Spain, and they say that I am working with newspaper in Spain. I give him pictures… to attack Morocco. Because Morocco in war with Spain for tourism, they want that Morocco have nothing. And they say to the other people that “Morocco is dangerous to travel, to Morocco. If you want to see the world Arabic, go to Andalucia… it’s the same”. Something like that… yep.

Me: So you’re talking about when you were arrested?

Hassan: Yeah, because they say I give bad picture of Morocco.

Me: And you were arrested for how long?

Hassan: A few days, it’s not prison it’s…

Me: I understand, like police station.

Hassan: Yes, commissary. Just a few days. But my problem is my phone and my camera, they take it all. I asking again, I ask… OK, we will see.

Me: What else did they ask you?

Hassan: Nothing.

Me: Were they hard with you? Did they beat you for example?

Hassan: No, I have a diploma in law. And the police man…

Me: Ah and they know that you understand?

Hassan: Yeah, but when you are arrested in Morocco, they can know all about you. Who are you, where are you from, how old are you, what diploma you have, what you do right now, what job you use before. And now that I have diploma in law and international law, they know I have diploma in technical and that I can repair computer or something like this. I have nothing, I never fight and never cause someone a problem. I was never in prison or jail… But I want to help… I’m different. This is my problem… that I’m different. I have a heart.

Me: That’s good… that’s really good. This is nice… it’s hard to find this sometimes.

Hassan: Yeah but, you know, this is my country and the people die is my people, and I believe that… I am one of this society, and I must do something. And if I have nothing to give, I must say no. A lot of people don’t say no, they hurt, but they acute. Calm. When you ask someone “It’s OK, Khamdoulah”, no, it’s not Khamdoulah, we have a bigger problem. We need to eat, we need to have a good education, we need to have a good job, a good future, a good life. A few people is rich in Morocco, and the rest of the people is poor… that’s not good. We have the king and the government, have a lot of company.

Me: Yeah…

Hassan: Yeah, this is not a secret, I don’t tell you is a secret. Our king have a lot of… a lot of company.

Me: A business man?

Hassan: A big business man. And the rest of the people is… nothing.

Me: Whalloh.

Hassan: Whalloh (laughs)… it’s OK.

Me: Yeah, so is there a lot of corruption because of this? Between the police and locals, and government and locals

Hassan: That is our problem, its education. The government know that if you keep people without education… then… then you are king.

Me: The King?

Hassan: No, not the king, but y… you are safe. If people get good education then you are not safe. The government will talk that… we speak with… we have a lot of diploma, all people is have a good education. You cannot lie to someone who have a good education. But you can lie and stole from someone who never go to school. They are naïve, have not good idea and have nothing to do. No solution to keep hands closed, and they stay in the jail, in the prison, in the street, in the situation a long time. But someone who have a lot of education in hand… in head (points to head)

Me: In the head?

Hassan: In head. They will look for… for a new life. For studies… to make his situation better. That’s why we have the same problem in Tunisia, the revolution. Because the people is… know a lot of things. They like to ask “Please stop, enough, a long time you lie to us”. That is the same in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco. That is the problem but I want my life right now. And Bob Marley say good words “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your right”. No-one give you your right, you must fight to have your right. Is that true?

Me: It’s very true.

Hassan: Okay (laughs)

Me: It doesn’t just get given to you.

Hassan: No-one can help you with your own right. You must fight. And we need our right for Europe too.

Me: Yeah. So do you see change in Morocco?

Hassan: Change?

Me: Like, do you see things becoming better?

Hassan: No, well, if my situation changes, I will answer you. But right now, there is no change (laughs)

Me: Well, I have an understanding that student population is growing in Morocco. More and more every year. More education available. There’s more people out there with… with political ideas. I’ve spoken with some Moroccan students here and they seem pretty switched on, they have a good understanding and a strong opinion of what is going on in Morocco. So do you think things will get better because of this? Perhaps in a generation or two.

Hassan: Yes… yes… if we only have people that can read and write in our society then we have no problem. Because when you have someone with diploma, they will find job. But we don’t need diploma for philosophy, or diploma for history, we need diploma in technical.

Me: Yeah, true but if you can at least read and write, then you can educate yourself.

Hassan: And you will know your right, a lot of people in Morocco don’t know their right. They say that “We live, Khamdoulah”, we are okay, we are in peace. The most important thing for people in Morocco is the peace. But it’s not good.

Me: Sounds like ignorance

Hassan: Yes, sometimes.

Me: And that they just don’t want trouble… which I can understand.

Hassan: And they believe that they can never change the situation. Because… yeah. Because the government have money, have soldiers, have arms. And if you want to say no, they will simply kill you with one shot. We have this in Morocco before, lots people die in street because of army, they shoot them, it’s nothing. Morocco is the same, same Arab world, like Tunisia and Algeria, like Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, it’s the same. If you say khamdoulah you are a good man, you are good citizen, you are welcome. If not, the prison is empty, no problem, we always have a place for you (laughs)

Me: Okay, yeah… it’s there anything else you want to say or add?

Hassan: No it’s okay… I hope that people in Europe know that we don’t like to live only in Europe because we love Europe, but we look for a new life. For me, the world is mine. I cannot go to Israel, okay? But I believe in David, and believe in Jesus too. And in our holy Qur’an, if you don’t believe to Jesus then you don’t believe to Mohammed. If I meet someone… Israeli people in… England, then I have no problem to talk and to sleep and t…to get like friend. But from Israel, I have this problem.

Do you know the problem right now in Morocco? A lot of young people go to work in Israel, because we have no opportunity in Morocco… and I don’t like this. Because he need money and now they work with the enemy, the Israeli army is the enemy for us. They stole the land, they kill people Palestine, and now a lot of Muslim people work for Israel. If I meet someone Israeli religion in England, I have no problem with him, I must believe him, and respect him, and have no problem with him, because our prophet say “Don’t hurt… the other religions and believe to the other religions”, David is true and Jesus is true. And a lot of people go to work in Israel and work in Israel for a new life. For living in Johannesburg is better than living in Tangier.

Me: Really?

Hassan: Yes, and any place, in Australie, in Canada, in Norway, Sweden. But I would like Vienna, inshallah (laughs)


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An autobiographical novel documenting the struggles of Sub-saharan African migrants in the EU border town of Tangiers, Morocco. Content note for rape, trafficking, police violence, murder and racial abuse.

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