Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Road to Death, a play on life

A Play “Les Chemins de la Mort” (The road to death) performed by the group: La Groupe du Defil et d’Union (The Group of Disbanding and of Union) has been playing here for a few months. The group is made up of boys from the At-Risk Youth program at the DARNA Boy's Center, a type of orphanage and school. This is a summary and commentary.

As an introductory note, one has to know that everyone in Tangier wants to go to Spain. The director the play said that he tried to convince the kids to write a play on a different subject, but they refused. It's all they want to talk about. They say there is a better life there. More opportunities. People come from all over Africa to this port city thinking that once they've made it here, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar will be easy. If you say you are from Tangier in other places in Africa, people get a dreamy look in their eyes and tell you you are lucky. It is the most used entry point to Europe from Africa and it is only 12.9 km across at it's narrowest point. The artificial border (that is, strict visa requirements) was only put in place in 1991, when Spain finally cracked down on all the illegal immigrants, coming on vacation and staying indefinitely. The borders have become extremely strict lately. Military guard the port, and survey the ocean for Pateras (little fishing boats that take people across at their own risk) and take bribes to let a lucky few pass.

It is everyone's dream to go to the Spain they see on their satellite TVs, that they hear about from brothers, or cousins, or friends who have made it.

The opening scene is a classroom.
First line: “The Devil always comes late”
"The devil" comes in and blames his lateness on love.
He conjugates shoes as a verb. No one can concentrate in class. They have other things on their minds.

A boy comes in from the back of theater, walks down the aisle selling kleenex,
“Dirham, Dirham, Dirham”

He launches into a monologue, strutting across the stage.
“I have sold cigarettes, tic-tacs, cakes, pois chiches (chick peas)”

He huddles down and makes his elbows stick out at unnatural angles, “I have pretended I am crippled, and I have even sold drugs, yes drugs. But there are problems with the police for that and I decided it’s better to sell Kleenex. Everynight I have to give money to my father’s wife, she is an extortionist like all the others in the city, the police etc.”

A friend comes home from making it to Spain. He brags that he has a cellphone. He is dressed in brighter/cleaner clothes, says he has a 4x4 in Spain. Later, when the first boy leaves, he admits to the audience that he has no papers, no freedom, he is working in agriculture, sold carrots, it came to nothing. He wants to come back to Morocco, finds no peace in Spain. He says the fish could eat you on the way over.

Figures :
Many women rent babies for the day to sit with and beg for money. It costs about 50 dirhams to rent a baby for a day, more or less depending on how much profit you make.
Money made by selling loosie cigarettes: 20 dirhams a day
Bread costs 3-4 dirhams
A drink at the cafe you work out of: 5 dirhams.

The kids have to be good actors to be out there everyday. This theater piece is closer to life than to fantasy. It is in fact like an anti-magic show, where the magician shows you how he does all his tricks, which is often even more interesting than seeing the tricks, especially when you know that there is no magic, that there is something human behind all the oddities and extravert quality of the city. The play was closer to life than life itself. Wife to husband “you are old, go to the mosque, go to the cemetery, don’t sit in cafes and smoke kif.”

Thoughts come and go so quickly, watching a play, one thinks one has answers, and the next second, it’s a whole new world out there.

Enough with seriousness though, the man who does nothing but smoke kif falls off his chair when we’re not watching.

In the end the mother drives her son to go to Spain through abuse. He says he is leaving. Then his brother says he will follow him. His mother laments that she will be alone.

LATER at the port, the policeman stops them and asks them what they’re doing. “We’re looking for fish” (see fish auction photos below.)

(A note: There are stories; unbelievable stories. About mothers who come to get their sons from the port where they hang out for 5-7 months just waiting for an opportunity when a cop turns his back. The mother's were raped to death. No certain details.

With my own eyes: I see people jump the wall of the port everyday. They live there. There were the oranges on the beach that someone told me were provisions for the kids hanging out inside. Traces of the hopeful stowaways are everywhere. But on the ferry back from Spain last weekend, at 11 pm at night, we had docked in Tangier and I looked down and saw two shining eyes under the dock. They must have swam there. They made signs for cigarettes. The two kids, all shoulders and head, and no bodies, stared up at us from their crouching position under the piles of the port, facing the bleak white wall of the belly of the ship. It is non-porous, one hundred sealed windows freckle its uninviting, oft-painted face. They were as big as one of those windows. They motion downwards: throw anything, especially cigarettes. Throw something, a banana, to keep us afloat until we figure out how we’re going to make the next step, the most impossible step, and get on the boat. I ask myself how do they do it? They don’t even know how they do it. No one makes it back to tell. And each time it is luck, not method. But once they’re in they hide under the wheels of a large truck. And then run.


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