Friday, March 10, 2006

Up in Smoke

I confess that when I had access to a television that regularly spouted out English words, I watched the Apprentice. I'm not proud of it (I was coerced by my work mates - really), but I soon became enthralled in The Donald's hair and his gargantuan ego, and, to a lesser extent, the show itself. It became a weekly ritual for my husband and me to watch and try to anticipate which schmuck would face the Trumponian firing squad. "You're fired" - poof! another one bite's the dust.

So with those words in mind, I find it a little perplexing that one should marry the concepts of fire and employment in such a literal fashion, and yet last week, here in Rabat, 10 individuals did just that. In what may be becoming a Rabatian tradition, they conducted a public demonstration, culminating in the swallowing of poison and then - the pièce de resistance - setting fire to themselves. Sometimes poison just isn't enough. Their reason for committing communal suttee? - they are unemployed. This isn't the first time (hence my use of the word 'tradition'): 3 months ago, 20 Moroccans torched themselves for the same reason. Now I have strong sympathesies for the unemployed - most of us (at least of a certain age) have faced the challenges of looking for a job, of dealing with the attendant feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. But to burn yourself alive? Either these individuals are counting on the fact that they will be saved (after all, they did light up in front of the Ministry of Health) or are clearly psychotic. Would you hire Charcoal Man from Chefchaouan? I know I wouldn't. Imagine the job interview:

Interviewer: Tell me Mr. Choukri, how did you sustain burns to 90 per cent of your body?
Mr. Choukir: I was frustrated because nobody was listening to me, so I set myself ablaze.
Interviewer: I see. Such zeal!
(to himself): Gotta remember to call my brother-in-law later. He's a lazy son of a bitch but at least I can trust him around matches.

Granted, the guy may be a sure thing when you need volunteers for overtime, but how will he react if you change the bottled-water supplier or switch the printer cartridges from colour to black & white?

In 2005, the unemployment rate in Morocco was 10.8 %, but among younger graduates the figure is more than double that. So when the official response last summer was to offer half of the protesters government jobs (the good news-bad news speech), one might suggest that there was a definite lack of long-range thinking on the part of the government - in essence, the proverbial band-aid solution (although I don't know of any proverbs which figure the word 'band-aid').

But to set yourself alight? Come on guys, get a grip! The only thing that you'll accomplish (other than possibly getting jobs for 20 of the country's 3,000,000 unemployed) is to incur some nasty burns or die. If you survive, that's a whole lot of aloe vera which you can ill-afford, and of course, if you're dead, then you won't need a job - and you've just played into the government's evil hands. And by the way, self-immolation isn't terribly effective if no one outside your little group is paying any attention. Frankly, no one really cares. Besides, if every unemployed Moroccan becomes a fiery accessory for the Kon Tiki room, then there will be no unemployment. It's all so logical. Demonstrate all you want, but leave your Bic lighters at home.

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