I love taking the train to Kenitra. One passes rolling green hills and neatly kept farms interspersed with abandoned development projects and pockets of slums from which children play with lost sheep. But seeing the children again at Dar Lekbira is truly a breath of fresh air. By this time I have had the honor of building some relationships with the staff and children of Dar Lekbira, an association that provides housing, food, and care for 40 street children and orphans. The kids know me as the American-Muslim who desperately needs help with his Arabic. I met some new street children today. We laugh as we try and converse in Arabic, or rather they laugh at me. Some of the girls tell me how much they love fashion and design and they show me some of their designs. So much talent and potential here. We talk about Beyonce, Shakira, and Bollywood. It is both amazing and worrying just how much our American cultural identity and values are monopolized by American pop culture. Most in this region identify America through the lenses of Hollywood and MTV. And truth be told, I think there are some Americans that also identify themselves in the same way. Whose to blame? 😉
The boys take me outside and teach me how to play marbles. They are so encouraging and clap every time I make some progress. Afterwards comes the inevitable quizzing by the kids about my knowledge of Islam. They are simply amazed that practicing Muslims exist in America and that America is home to millions of Muslims who freely practice their faith. There are many myths about America here that need to be cleared up. If the youth find it unbelievable that Muslims are happily practicing in America then the State Department has some work to do with engaging with the youth here. Then of course come questions about Obamamania, and then the questions of US support of Israel and the tragedy in Gaza. Keep in mind these are 10 year old children asking me these questions. What Americans fail to realize is that anytime Israel attacks Palestine, (for instance when the Israeli army recently killed over 1500 Palestinians in less than a month), the people in the region see it synonymous with America attacking Palestine. Thus Israel’s actions directly impact America’s security and interests in the region. This is problematic. But enough with politics for now.
Rasheeda and Hannah, two girls from the center, keep asking to come to America with me. Hannah and I have become good friends as she has publicly claimed the role of my little Arabic teacher and I her English teacher. Yet it is difficult when I am asked to take her to America. I cannot say yes. I cannot say no, lest I risk breaking some hope she may have. I simply respond, inshallah.
The kids have just returned from a visit to a Moroccan customs storage facility. They were invited to come pick up whatever clothes they wanted for themselves from the customs office. The kids come running into the house with plastic bags overflowing with clothes. They begin carefully folding the spoils. I watch them and see the tiny working bodies of 8 and 10 year old children who possess eyes exhibiting the focus and seriousness and untold stories of someone in their 60s.
Today, as permitted is by the courts, some of the children are allowed to visit their homes and parents, if they have any. One boy begins screaming and throws his bag on the ground, cursing in Arabic as he receives news that he is not permitted to go home because his father forces him to beg on the street to get money for himself.
One mother comes to pick up her daughter. I have never met such a rude, dirty, selfish woman who called herself her a mother. It must be noted that she is mentally unstable yet the way in which she exploited her daughter in the past leaves me with little sympathy towards her mental instability. She comes over to me. There is dirt smeared symmetrically on both her cheeks, as if on purpose. She comes over to me. She says “Hallow” in a cracked, high pitched voice. The woman orders me to giver her some chocolate I am eating. I oblige. She eats the chocolate and licks the palms of her hands while looking me directly in the eyes. She brags about how many languages she knows and how crazy she is. She takes her daughter out to the street only to return hours later that night screaming and banging the door as her daughter stood behind her staring at the ground. The mother demanded that the orphanage pay her rent and return a pencil they allegedly stole from her daughter. The daughter says she lost it at school, but her mother insists it was stolen by the orphans.
There is a saying I am known for here in which I say, ‘what a stupid world we live in’. Yet what drives this stupidity? Certainly poverty. I can’t understand what it is like and I wont pretend to understand. All I can do is observe, listen and try and help. I don’t like the woman I met earlier. Yet who I am to say such things? This woman must struggle to survive on a daily basis. Yet I can say without any guilt, that the way she treats her daughter is wrong.
It disgusts me how dark humanity can be. Yet, it is the selfless staff and social workers of places like Dar Lekbira who are the light. It is these people who provide these children with the only sense of stability and order they know.