What can you buy in Africa for $120….

Tonight I’m here at coffee again, my favorite place on the square and the weather is nice. As it sit here at the last few days of Ramadan I am in awe of the celebrations that I’m seeing. I didn’t realize that the closer to the end of the holiday the more people celebrated. I’m going to try to get some of that on video for my FB friends so they can see what I see. The sad part is that you can’t smell what I smell. The food smell will make someone hungry even if you’ve just stuffed your face. So now I’m hungry but will wait to eat because street food can be “iffy” if you know what I mean. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the people I encounter while I’m out walking the streets here in Khemisset. I’ve been sitting here for less than an hour and already 5 people have walked up to me asking for money. I realize that this is a poor town and most of the people who have asked have been older women. I’m sure they need the help but when Mbarek leaves me here at my table and goes to work he normally leaves a few dirhams with Hassan, the waiter, and I send those people to him. The beggars on the street are like they are anywhere, classified into those who really need help and those who just don’t want to work. This is why Mbarek leaves money with Hassan because he knows who those people are and determines if they really need the money. Almost every time we are out we give to the needy because it’s our duty to do that. I see so many people who really need help and if I were rich I’d be doing alot to spread the wealth. It makes me sad to see so many people that are in need, especially here because you know they need help.
The other night we were at coffee at a different place and we saw a young man walking alone. He was obviously from one of the sub saharan countries and we knew he was not a resident of Khemisset or Morocco for that matter. So Mbarek and I got to talking about this young man and we started discussing a Moroccan Anti-Discrimination campaign that the government just rolled out. The way the posters read are somewhat insensitive but I think that’s just me being American and how I’ve been taught political correctness. However the message on the posters are clear, please be kind to those immigrating from other countries. It goes into detail informing the reader that many of the immigrants are from the sub saharan countries. (Sub Saharan is the region below the Sahara Desert south of our country.) It clearly states that many of the people are being discriminated against and that this is wrong. As we discussed discrimination based on race we also got into a discussion about the conditions the immigrants are fleeing from. What I believe alot of people in the US and the Western World think is that modern day slavery exists only in the sex trade. That is the furthest thing from correct. I’ve read documentation since I’ve been here in Morocco that clearly says there are many people escaping sub saharan countries because of slavery. So I found this very interesting and to think that I’m now in Africa where this is still an issue. There are several countries in Africa where slavery is still very real and what I didn’t know is that there are many different types of slavery in existance. As I see these immigrants walking the streets of this little town I begin to wonder what their stories are, I probably couldn’t even imagine. When I got home I started to research about the modern day slave in Africa. I’ll say that many of the countries below of the Sahara still have a slave trade. Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Kenya all still have people who own slaves, even whole communities and it’s not limited to the indigenous peoples either. I read an article published by the Los Angeles Times where a reporter was in trouble in Mali for buying a person, a slave, for $120. I sit here and I still can’t grasp this concept that you can buy a person, a human life, for just $120 in the year 2016. Hell most of us can’t even pay our utility bill with $120 and yet it buys a human life, very troubling.  This reporter paid the money for a few of them and then set them free. In turn the reporter found themselves in hot water with the government and the slaves were recaptured by their owners. Even though the governments like Mauritiania and Mali have all signed laws to abolish slavery and make it illegal, it still exists. So you ask yourself, why don’t they just leave. It’s the 21st century why don’t they just leave and go to the authorities to report they were held as a slave. Well it’s not that simple. Signing a law that gives slaves rights doesn’t make them free evidently because the slave owners go to great lengths to make sure they don’t know they have rights. Modern day slaves are kept in the dark about their life and human rights. They are uneducated, poor, and they are bound by the fact they have accepted that God intended for them to be slaves. They are taught this by their owners who use religion as a way to keep them bound because of their skin color. They have no idea that they have rights under the law.
I read another article that just made me cringe, sick to my stomach to the point I couldn’t read anymore. It was an interview with an escaped slave and this person spoke about the forms of torture that are used. They explained the owner would put tiny ants in their ears then stuff rocks into the ears, bandage the ear completely up and leave it for 10 days. It sickens me to think that another human would do this to someone. I cannot imagine the pain this type of torture brings and my heart hurts. I cannot imagine even after escaping being afraid for your life, running to avoid recapture. Again the sad part is that many of these people don’t even know that they have rights. Now I realize that many community governments of these countries could be corrupt and actually support slavery even when the national government has condemned it. What I’ve learned about being in Africa and seeing the news is that many of the countries of this continent are very corrupt and very poor countries. I know the rest of the world knows this but they are too entrenched in their own struggles of every day life that they just brush it off. There’s little attention paid to these poor countries and thus you have overwhelming poverty, no education, no reliable governemnt and it’s these things that allow for people to abuse others and enslave them.
I will give you a sinero that I’d like you to think about. There is a man who has a family of 3, with a baby on the way, living in Mauritania. This man would like to start a business, let’s say a very small store to sell home goods like toilet paper, water, snacks, some food, diapers etc. This man has no means to start his store because he is poor. Many of us in modern countries, who have a job, would go to banks and take out a loan right? You can get a small business loan to start a business especially if you are a minority fairly easy. But in these underdeveloped countries people have zero collateral and own nothing, so how does one go to the bank for a loan? Enter, The Man, the man who is going to give you a loan to open your store. Let’s say he gives you $1000 USD. Yes in reality you can start a store in these countries for just $1000 USD or less. I look back on this and that’s what I paid in a house payment every month when I lived in the states. But ask yourself, if you loan someone money you have to know they will pay it back right? How could this man possibly pay back the money loaned when he has no job or house to offer up for collateral. I realize when you take out a loan you do have every intention of paying it off one day, however you must supply some collateral. What they do in these under developed countries is use their children, even unborn children as collateral for things like this. In the case the person cannot pay back the loan the family is strapped for generations paying it off.  I’m not saying everyone does this but it happens more often than it should. So the man upon the receipt of the $1000 decides to sign over his unborn child as collateral. This man does very well in the business and has half of the debt paid off in two years then he contracts the Ebola Virus and dies. Enter, The Man, the one who loaned the money, he’s come to collect. The Man takes the business and determines that the debt has not been paid in full so he has the right to the child and takes the two year old baby. The Man then considers the debt paid in full. What happens to this child? All I can say is this is one of the many sineros of how some of these people are slaves. Many people are very afraid of trying to start a business in these under developed countries because they fear the repo man, or shall I say the Reaper. God bless these souls, sad. What does happen to the child? Many go to work on farms, many beg on the streets for money, many are sold to God knows who. Regardless of the situation they walk among us and they have it HARD. Harder than any of us reading this blog will ever understand or know, including myself. There is still a very active slave trade in Eastern Africa and many of the slaves are still traded along the Arab Trade Route which has been around since before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which most of us are familiar with. These slaves, many of them children, are trafficked into Asia and the Middle Eastern Countries to work on farms, house hands, sex slaves, it’s impossible to think about what happens to them. It is shocking to me to see the statistics of how many are traded and sold. I mean we are in 2016 not 1716. What I’ve learned is that wealthier countries are raping people of their basic human rights and it’s the rich countries that are doing this. I remember watching the movie Blood Diamond for the first time. I love this movie, it’s one of my favorites. I really got into researching the country of Sierra Leone and the struggles that the people had with the rebel group, The RUF. How many of you really researched about this movie?  How many of you didn’t go farther than the movie? The reason I ask is because this was not just a movie. The RUF, Revolutionary United Front, demolished this country and it took over 10 years of civil war to bring some minimal peace to this country (1991-2003). My heart hurt for this country on the west coast of Africa and I started to subscribe to the newsletters of the government, reading the newspapers from Free Town, the capital, and listening to the music of Sierra Leone. I ordered many CD’s from artists who were trying to make a difference with their music and call attention to the hurt of their country. Two of my favorites out of Sierra Leone are Project X and Daddy Saj. I’ve never had much money to donate to funds but I did have a little to buy music with. I felt that anything I could do to support the artists of Sierra Leone would help the country and the communities heal. Every day I would get to work early just to check the news of the day from this small country, that even after the war ended, had so many problems. They had a struggling government, thousands of people marred by the war missing limbs that could never ever begin to provide for their families and the ones I read about were just happy to have their life. Get that… they were just happy to be alive and with their families even though they couldn’t walk or had missing arms. They were happy to be alive even though their children were killed.  When was the last time any of us have felt that way? Many had escaped the slavery in the diamond mines marred, wounded, near death, missing limbs, injured near death and they were just happy to be with loved ones and/or to be alive. Tears are just rolling down my face here at coffee because I know what I read and how it changed my view on the world. We as people are only as strong as our weakest. I see it here every day the weak the poor and granted Morocco is a very progressive African country, it’s still a very poor country. I believe my heart has been in Africa for much longer than just my six months of being here. I wanted to experience the world and I don’t think sitting behind a computer in the United States working every day just waiting for a vacation allowed me to do that. I know when I moved here I ran the mileage on the maps and did some research on what it would take to visit Sierra Leone. I would love to spend some time there in the country that is still healing from a war that ended many years ago.It’s my destiny to visit there one day.  It was over a week ago that I started this blog and since then we have had many lives lost in the United States which saddens me. I will say this … there is no place in my heart for hate and if my brothers and sisters are hurting in the US then I hurt. I felt many years ago the people of Sierra Leone were my brothers and sisters as I learned about their world and struggles, even though I knew I’d never identify or know what they were going through. They were screaming for help back then and I listened. I couldn’t do much to help them but I learned about their situation and became outspoken to my friends, educating them about Sierra Leone. I had someone ask me once, “Julie why are you even concerned with this it’s sad”? I literally jumped all over them and told them, “I can care and I can educate you about the pain of these people.” If I could just open one persons eyes to what happened in that country then I had succeeded.

Within the last few weeks I have been attacked and called a racist and that hurt me bad. I’m a person that feels accusations, such as that, as a dagger to the heart. I pondered over being called racist for over a week, and still it bothers me today. My answer to that is I love and I always have. I don’t fight with people over that because I will stand up for what is right. I consider myself to be a person who has compassion for others. I don’t pick who I have compassion for, even if you are an asshole I still have love for you. If you are a racist then you have no place in my life unless you want to learn from me about how to open your eyes. Now I’m not above common sense and calling bullshit in situations but all in all I respect everyone’s opinions, doesn’t mean I won’t call you on bad behavior or ethnic slurs.  You better not use slurs around me, you might get knocked out..
For many of you who started reading this and who thought that I just pulled this article out of my ass, you’re wrong. I’ve been attuned to what’s going on in Africa for a long time. Since 2006 I’ve been a loyal subscriber to many of the publications of this continent even though I had never been here. Another one of my countries I follow is Zimbabwe. I remember when I first got here I was pushing to get married, running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. When in Rabat at the last office I went to I sat down next to a young man to wait for my number to be called. Not many of us spoke the same language in there because we were all wanting to marry a Moroccan, so you had to get the paper stamped. While waiting he said, “hello how are you”. Shocked someone spoke English I was excited. He was a very handsome black man who was sitting with his friends. I started to talk his ear off and he just smiled the whole time. Once I was done he said wow and he smiled at me. He said I’ve never met an American who talked so much, then laughed with me. He told me his story and how he was from Niger. I quickly said “that’s down there next to Zimbabwe”. He was shocked that I knew where his country was and that I named many others around his. I told him I knew more about Zimbabwe than Niger but that I would have to do some more research. He immediately told his other friends that I knew where their country was and next thing I know we were all talking and laughing.They were surprised that a random American knew about Africa.  Of course you know when you are out of your element finding a friend is the best way to feel comfortable so that’s what I did. All of these young men were marrying Moroccan women so we all had something in common, marrying a Moroccan. As each one of their numbers were called and they left one by one they each gave me a hug and we extended our well wishes to each other as we said our goodbyes.
Another country that I had began to do research on is Mali. Mali is one country still struggling with slavery eventhough it’s against the national law. When I was in Paris on my way here, I had gotten my animals checked in and had been back n forth through customs then got my ass kicked by Air France for my carry on bag being over the 12kg weight limit. Finally I was able to sit down and call my mom. There was no one in sight in the wing I was in because I was early so I picked a spot and planted my ass. while on the phone my mother stepped away from the phone so I got quiet. Then I hear someone from behind me say, excuse me ma’am and I turned around to see a handsome young man smiling at me. He asked how I was talking on the phone, which service I was using and I told him skype. It took a while for my mom to get back and when she returned I told her I was going to go for a minute and I’d call her back. I turned around and began a conversation with this man. Come to find out he was going to be on the exact flight I was on flying to Casablanca. We talked about him being from Mali, living in New Jersey and how hard it was for him. He had to fly to Casablanca, had no where to stay the night until his flight left the next morning for Mali. He went on to tell me that his family risked everything and took out a loan to get him to the United States, where he could go to school and make something of himself. We talked at least 45 minutes off and on. We went to board the plane and he was in front of me, they delayed me like I said they hassled me, but I went running up to him and patted him on the back proclaiming him as my travelling buddy to Casablanca. We had a 4 hour flight and I slept the whole way then when we landed who did I see after I had gone to the restroom. I caught up with him again in the hallway on our way to customs. He helped me get through customs and then gave me a big hug.
I know I will never see any of these gentlemen again in my life but they really did have an impact on my life. I sit here hoping that the man from Mali and his family didn’t sacrafice a loved one as collateral in order to get him a better life in the United States. I only hope that the young men I met in Rabat have a life of happiness with their new wives. They sure did make my life different just spending some time with them. In the end we all went our seperate ways and will travel to our destinations alone. See in this world we are all travellers on our own journies, it’s the people you meet along the way that helps us make our journies unique.
So for all of my black friends in the United States and around the world, I feel pain and my heart breaks for you. I will never understand why you are treated the way you are, why the world is so unloving, so unkind, so mean. I will never be in your position but I can be a good will ambassador to extend my kindness, empathy, sympathy, my heart, my hand, my friendship to you.
And yes all of the men I met were amazing black men just travelling through this world like me. I hope they know that by just being there to talk to me they made a difference in my life. God really is good.
Now I’m going to clean myself up because I’ve been crying through this whole blog. I hope you reach out to someone and give them the best of you, it’s all we have in this life to give. Be appreciative of what you have because there are many more people out there that do not have what you have. Extend a helping hand or just hold the hand of someone else who is struggling. Be kind to each other.
As far as me being called racist… I know the truth about me.
Have a wonderful day and I hope I’ve given you something to think about.
Change yourself to change the world around you my friend.

Love,

Julie

After the first round of crying at coffee.   Yes there was a second when I proof read….  13658958_10207814260448135_6441888954324366066_n

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