Now for the last 8 months, Mr. Cat in Rabat and I each taught 2 classes of impoverished children who were selected to study English on a scholarship-basis; needless to say, these students - who came from Rabat's & Salé's slums and poorer neighbourhoods - would otherwise never have had such an opportunity to invest in their own futures. And as onerous as it sometimes was to haul our asses into school for 6 hours of tuition on Sundays (and it was), it was also the most meaningful and profoundly positive experience both of us have had in Morocco. The kids were polite and sweet to the point of rotting our teeth and they were pathologically eager to learn as much as humanly possible in the short time that they were there. Their enthusiasm was boundless; their thirst for knowledge inspiring. In short, they put every rich-kid that we taught to shame.
But they also stank.
Not all of them but a lot of them. In truth, most of them. On the coldest of winter days (which aren't very cold by our Canuck standards) Mr. CinR and I were compelled to throw open windows and let the salvific fresh air waft through our
Why did they smell? Many of Morocco's poor rely on a weekly trip to the hammam (public bath) to get scrubbed and scoured and splashed clean and our classes fell on the afternoons of bath night. Interestingly, the intrepid writer at The Morocco Report - herself an English teacher - recently polled her students in order to find out what they perceived to be the worst job in Morocco. The unanimous answer: a hamman attendant. As she points out:
Imagine scrubbing the dead skin off human bodies all day long, sitting in wet clothes and sweat, pausing only for a sip of water or an orange, because for every body you scrub, you might get ten or twenty dirhams. Such is the life of a hammam worker.
Funny how going to a hammam is always touted as a must-do for the Western visitor to Morocco; this almost makes me proud of refusing to frequent these establishments. But imagine, if you will, earning possibly less than that and not scraping the backs of the Great Unwashed but rather working as a public toilet attendant. Now imagine that you are so poor - your meagre savings have been completely exhausted recovering your kidnapped daughter - that you have no alternative but to move your family of 5 into the public toilets. A temporary fix you say, and suddenly seven years have flown by. Seven years of hardship and public ridicule and ineffable frustration from not getting any satisfaction from the government.
A family living in a public toilet in
... such was yesterday's BBC report about a family of toilet squatters who were barricaded from their 'home' (a home replete with a noxious zoo of various vermin and god-knows what airborne distempers) with cement and concrete. Why such draconian measures? What was their crime? - Mr. Baja had had the effrontery to go to the press seeking assistance in raising public awareness to their plight. Blocking access to the toilets was a bit of a double whammy: not only is a family now out on the street, but Mr. Baja no longer has the means to earn his bread - a living which had hitherto been less than $30.00 a month.
And Mr. Baja? - he just wants to get the hell out of Dodge. Of course, he has no money and no way of acquiring the legal means to emigrate so, instead, he's considering crossing the Straits of Gibraltar in the rusty hull of a freighter (which will probably be apprehended) or in a rickety fishing boat (which will probably capsize). He has run out of alternatives.
So kudos to the
pinhead government bureaucrat who came up with that flash of genius. Ramadan starts in roughly 3 1/2 months - I'm sure he'll be doling out his fair share of alms to the poor with a totally clean conscience. Your Mother Theresa Humanitarian Award is waiting for you at the door.