Conversations with Sub-Saharan Migrants

By Amy Lane

Blessy, her son, and Peh Sic

Blessy, her son, and Seh Picas

We were fortunate enough to have three subsaharan people talk to us in Rabat about their experiences after migrating.  Two men were from Cameroon and one woman was from Nigeria.  The first man to talk had the best English of them all, the two men were francophone and the woman from Nigeria spoke pigeon -a dialect that was created in order to communicate without the colonizers knowledge- but not formal English.  The first man to speak was Pierre de la Grange and founder of Collectif de Communities Subsaharienne en Moroc (CCSM).  De la Grange claims that only 3/10ths of subsaharan migrants plan to go on to Europe, 2/10ths plan to remain in Morocco, and the remaining half plan on returning to their country of origin after spending time in universities.  De la Grange came to Morocco for the jujitsu World Cup and stayed in order to help change the image of subsaharans in Morocco.  He also collects clothing and bedding and hands them out to those in need.  De la Grange mentioned that subsaharan students in Morocco legally found themselves judged just as harshly as if they did not have papers.  Local police often gather up the subsaharans then take them to the desert and leave them, many legal students are caught in the mess just because of their origin.  CCSM works with other NGOs like OMDH and AMDH who have adopted human rights universals upon which to operate.

Seh Picas was the second man from Cameroon and left home because there was little options for him.  He attended University of Yaounde I then worked as a for Club Safari, the biggest club in the city, and felt that he needed more so he made the long trip North.

Blessy was the Nigerian woman who talked about her migration and life in Morocco.  At one point during the talk, she swung her baby from where she was carrying him on her back.  This woman traveled from Nigeria with one baby to Libya and stayed with her husband for four years.  They decided that when the political instability began they would leave.  Blessy and two children left for Morocco by foot while her husband went back to Nigeria.  Blessy, pregnant and two children in tow walked 16 days to get to Morocco where she has been for two years. Her husband came as soon as she was able to obtain a room to rent.  She said that with money the walk from Nigeria to morocco would take two to three weeks; however, without funds the walk could take up to two months.

It was an interesting discussion because a few days prior we had a meeting with the editor of the magazine Gibraltar.  In the first issue was a feature on a man migrating to Spain from Limbe, Cameroon.  It was important to see what their lives were like once they reached their intended destination.  Blessy would only go back to Nigeria if she had the ones but seems to be content here.  However, she makes her living by begging.  Her children go off to school and she goes to the street in search of the rent money.

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The Trip to Moissac – Being There and Feeling There

The first moment when I stepped out of the train station in the afternoon of February 22, I felt that the trip to Moissac was going to be special. The cool air was crystal clean, saturated by golden sunlight and the faint smell of faraway fireplaces. No more close-knitted houses with well-decorated balcony, and no more busy streets lined by a rich variety of modern shops. Moissac is simpler and more peaceful than Toulouse. Here the road is widely open before us, lined by small brick houses with plain red roofs and lovely chimneys. Now and then clusters of winter trees with scant leaves and abundant branches appear in the interval of small houses. In their gray and dark green canopy one could sometimes catch a glimpse of a beautiful mansion, which stood on the small uplands. As we walked towards our hotel, the roads were leading upwards, as if we were heading towards the top of a hill.

After walking up a steep slope, we are literally on the top of everything: under the clear blue sky there is a magnificent view of brick roofs and dark green trees, with the flowing Garonne River clearly visible in the distance. Turning away from the view we saw a stone cross, which marks the entrance to the International Housing Center, our “hotel”. What I love the most about the hotel is the nice “common room” on the first floor where we gathered everyday to discuss, to watch movies, and to eat breakfasts and dinners together. Painted on the front wall of the room is a huge tree whose branches resemble the roads of Moissac, leading towards different lovely places and situated in a refreshingly idyllic environment. Then there is the inviting fireplace with nice chairs and cushions. The firewood would be gently burning every night when we squeezed together lovingly like a family. Afterwards when we got back to our room upstairs, we would find that our hairs have the faint smell of firewood. 🙂

What is also interesting to me is the farm we have visited, which gave me the impression of Moissac as especially idyllic. The one farm that all of us have visited is a small one, but the rolling dry weeds and the array of well-tended fruit trees greatly impressed me with their natural beauty, especially in the nice afternoon sunlight. We sat in an old house, which belongs to the mother of Bernard Redon, the farm owner. A nice interview was carried out in the sweet smell of apple juice made from the fresh apples of the farm. The old mother who spoke French with a heavy Occitan accent gave me a sense of going back to an old era when life was simple and everyone was content. Sitting in an old house situated in the beautiful countryside was a truly enjoyable experience, even if I did not understand most of the conversations carried out in French.

Besides physically enjoying the environment of Moissac, we also enriched our knowledge of the subject of immigration. Our interview with the mayor of Moissac: Monsieur Nunzi, is one of the best intellectual experiences we had in Moissac. The mayor is an in-depth observer of the phenomena of immigration in France, especially in Moissac. In his talk we could see a broad perspective on the problem of North African immigrants’ integration in French society. In terms of gender division, the mayor told us several stories about how Muslim women lose freedom when they get married and how religious pressure and patriarchal family repress them. These factors fundamentally limited the female immigrants’ ability to totally integrate into the French society. In terms of generational division, religion poses barriers to young Muslim immigrants’ integration. In his opinion, for the integration of younger immigrant generations, race is a problem that could be overcomed. The real problems exist in the ingrained cultural and religious differences between host culture and culture of origin. These observations are interesting and have provided new perspectives to our study.

The trip to Moissac did turn out to be unique, as I have predicted at the first moment when I stepped out of the train station. The bright, fresh, and peaceful impression Moissac has left to me and the rich memory of field works combine to make this trip the highlight of my staying in France.

—— By Xueyin Zha

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Polish Workers in Moissac

McGarvey Photos (210)

Annabelle, Amber, Marlena, Daniel, Kamil, and Monica have a discussion in Moissac about migration from Poland.

During many of our interviews in France, many of the employers and even immigrants mentioned that France has recently seen a large number of Eastern European workers immigrating to France for work, especially in the agriculture sector. Even though Eastern Europe is not where our focus is, I’m glad that the Mosaic group got a chance to meet with migrants from this area to gain some more knowledge of this emerging migration trend. Our last day in Moissac, Sunday, we went to a Polish cultural center and met in small groups with Polish immigrants of many different demographics.

Annabelle, Monica, and I met with Kamil, his girlfiend Marlena and her son Daniel who is 10 years old. They both are from Poland and work in the fruit industry in Moissac. Kamil arrived in Moissac 4 years ago from, Marlena arrived 5 years ago, and they met through mutual friends and have been together for a year.

Kamil says the cultural transition from France to Poland was pretty difficult to him. For example, he still misses Polish food and tries to cook it on his own with ingredients brought back from trips to Poland. Even though moving was hard, there are many positives to living in France that Kamil and Marlena recognized. For one, school is more affordable in France, because Marlena is not required to buy books and supplies for Daniel, like she was in Poland. Both Kamil and Marlena agreed that they were excited to move to France to work because France seemed like an exciting, exotic place to them, and the people were friendly and welcoming. However, this noted that French people would probably think the same about Poland if they were in the same position.

Overall, I really enjoyed speaking with Kamil, Marlena, and Daniel. I found them quite easy to talk to, maybe because they reminded me of my ancestors, but also because I could tell that they were a caring family. I was inspired by how well they adapted to a new culture and how brave they were for leaving behind their home country to find a better life. Like I mentioned earlier, I was also grateful that we got a chance to talk to this emerging wave of migrants from Eastern Europe, and compare them in the context of Mediterranean Migrations to France.

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A Chat with a Photographer of Immigrant Workers



On Monday February 25th,  Sara Jabbar-Allen, who is the photographer for the exhibit at the Dickinson Center, came to speak to us. The title of the talk was “The Making of “Travaillerus venus d’ailleurs” (Immigrants Workers).” Sara explained that she originally was interested in sociological studies, and then decided to enroll in photography school. Hence, she wanted to use her work as a way to counter stereotypes. She said that she is often not satisfied with the media portrayal of immigrants and wanted to dive deeper into the issue and show the evolution of their integration into French society. It was also an area of personal interest to her as she grew up in the Middle East in cosmopolitan society and explained that when she arrived in France, she was struck and disappointed by the portrait painted of immigrants. She worked with a team of journalists, historians, and another photographer on this project for 3 years, interviewing immigrants across the Midi-Pyrénées region of France.

What inspired me most about listening to Sara speak, was hearing about her and her team’s approach to documenting and journaling their work. They began the project with a lot of research, before they even headed off into the field. Once in the field, they would always interview people before photographing them, in order to learn about who they were and what their story was. After they had their interviews, they coded them into 5 major themes: migration, adaptation, work, identity, and generations. From here, they were able to organize their photo exhibit, book, DVD, and presentations. This set an incredible example for us, on how we may go about organizing our work as we continue through our travels, and also when we return to campus and dive into our independent study projects. Seeing Sara’s journals encouraged me to go deeper in my own journal, and write about anything and everything I observe, because it all comes full circle. Seeing her photos also inspired me to use more of a critical eye in my own snapping of pictures, and really try to use my knowledge on Mediterranean migrations as another lens with which to perceive. Sara’s work and expertise was a great lesson for us and helped us to start to envision our own projects.

Here is an excerpt from Sara’s work:


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Les Tounas

Monsieur and Mademoiselle TounaAt the beginning of our journey in France, Kathleen, Zha, Catherine, Monica and Professor Toux took the metro to interview a Moroccan immigrant and his daughter. When we arrived, Monsieur Touna and his daughter, Fouzia, welcomed us into their home and generously shared their stories with us. Fouzia prepared the traditional Moroccan sweet mint tea, served in little glasses etched with beautiful designs. Looking around the room, we could see that the family had kept reminders of their father’s home. We sat on long cushioned benches covered in patterns more evocative of Morocco than France. On the wall hung passages from the Koran and images of Islamic religious figures. We wanted to know more about the Touna’s and their experiences mixing two very different cultures.

The Touna's house
Before Monsieur Touna immigrated to France he worked on an American military base in Morocco, as a cleaner. When he first moved to France he worked on an orchard with 25 other men, and was responsible for the cooking. After leaving the orchard, Monsieur Touna worked in a factory that made perfume bottles. He proudly showed us a couple of the intricate bottles he had made. His family came to join him in France after he had been working for a few years. Because Fouzia was born in France and not Morocco, she called her sister to talk with us about her family’s first impressions of France. According to her sister, one of the first things the whole family noticed was how cold France was!
One of the most striking discussions we had was regarding the sisters’ perceptions of identity in school. Fouzia said that although she was born and raised in France, she never felt French. She identified more as the daughter of a Moroccan. The first time she really felt French was when she moved to the United States for a year to work as a nanny.
Just as we were leaving, Catherine asked Fouzia where she had been a nanny in the United States. Catherine was surprised when she replied, Montclair, NJ, a small town just 25 minutes from Catherine’s home, and where Sarah’s family plans to move after leaving Mexico. We were reminded of how small the world can be. We wonder if anyone in New Jersey had ever realized the stories Fouzia had to tell and if they had ever bothered to ask. Even after the mosaic is finished and we return to Carlisle, we hope to keep up our curiosity and to continue asking questions and learning from others.

Catherine and Kathleen

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Foyer Saint Simon

Wednesday afternoon February 20th, a group of us went to Foyer Saint Simon. Here, a group of Moroccan men live. While combined they spoke a mix of French, Spanish, Arabic, and different types of Berber, we interviewed them in French. Hence, those who have French spoke and later translated it for those of us who do not. Despite the language barrier, the men were extremely courteous and friendly. They offered us delicious mint tea and we shared some pastries we brought them as well. Here is the story, as was translated for us:

They got the house in ’82 and is a place for men from morocco to stay either temporarily if in transit, or permanently in the case of the retirees. All the men come from the Middle Atlas region in villages near each other. They did not immigrate together; the oldest (age 86) who only spoke Berber, came to France when he fought for the French in World War II. He came back to France in 2005. The Imam arrived in the 1980’s. The youngest who spoke mostly French immigrated with his father when he was 8. He is now 22 and originally went to culinary school, but his ideas for the future have changed and he does not want to pursue that career anymore. He says that his life now is in France, his friends and his girlfriend, who he is planning on getting an apartment with soon. The Imam is married with two girls and one boy. The oldest man has five kids, four girls and one boy, who all still live in Morocco. The man who talked to us the most has kids that now live all around the world. They do travel back to Morocco a couple of times every year, but the men have to spend at least six months in France because of French retiree benefit stipulations. They say that originally the migrants that came with them experienced bad living conditions, but that they themselves did not experience much discrimination. The Imam practices alternative medicine the origins of which are from the Qur’an. He explained how the medicine is very reputable and that other Moroccans come to him for healing. The Imam also gives Qur’an classes in addition to the whole house practicing praying five times a day in a prayer room. ‬

I think we all enjoyed the visit to the home. Because 3 generations were present, we got to hear 3 different perspectives. It was also interesting to observe the differences in the way they carried themselves and dressed. This is evident in the pictures of the men. We look forward to comparing this experience with those we have in Morocco and hearing the other side of such stories.

-Claire and Becca



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Arnaud-Bernard neighborhood in Toulouse

By Fallon Winters
photo-4 photo-5
On our second day in France we got an insiders look at the primarily immigrant neighborhood in Toulouse. Arnaud Bernard features Moroccan stores, cafes which serve delicious Moroccan Tea, and offers a generally different feel than the rest of the city. Professor Touhami led us through the streets and pointed out important landmarks while informing us about the area’s rich history. Originally a neighborhood where Jewish and Spanish immigrants settled in Toulouse, remnants of each culture are visible in the street names and architecture. We listened to Prof. Touhami’s personal stories about migration while sipping tea on the plaza in the middle of the neighborhood, and our French speaking students had their first experience with translating!
Professor Touhami

Professor Touhami

Prof. Touhami was born in Morocco and now lives in France. He spoke to us about his family’s roots in Moroccan culture, and left us with a better understanding of how immigrants have been navigating life in Europe. Professionally, he focuses on the correlation between mental illness and immigration. The combination of poverty and isolation that is experienced by many migrants, he said, is a recipe for damaging psychological effects. An often stigmatized problem, mental illness was an effect of migration that most of us had yet to think about. After our talk and afternoon spent walking around, we ventured forward in our journey with a better understanding of the significant and pervasive effects of immigration.

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Dr. Carole Michel

Dr. Carole Michel

This morning, we met with Dr. Carole Michel. Dr. Michel is the chief doctor for French workers and also works with health insurance for farmers. Amongst the multiple statistics that were listed, it was interesting to hear France’s policies on migrant workers. A few facts that Dr. Michel touched upon stuck out to me.  There are two main types of working contracts – temporary and permanent. Workers who come to work in agriculture and stay for less than 45 days are not required to undergo a health examination by a professional. In fact, 50% of the seasonal workers are temporary, and do not undergo health exams. So, what happens if one of the workers gets injured or sick? France’s public healthcare system will fund up to 70% of health insurance. However, when there is an injury or sickness, majority of the workers deliberately do not report it to the village doctor because they fear the repercussions. More importantly, the fact that satisfied me the most, Dr. Michel noted that if a worker becomes sick and needs to overstay his or her 45-day work limit, French doctors and the healthcare system view it as their priority to continue patient care until the person is well enough to return to their country. Unlike America, France has an incredible healthcare system, benefiting even overseas workers. The concept of putting the patient first, regardless of who is being treated or what the problem is at hand, rather than focusing on the politics that tag along to every situation, is something other countries can learn and gain from.

While others were slightly critical of Dr. Michel’s presentation, I thought it was quite informative and learned a lot. It appears as if France’s stance on immigration and healthcare usually go hand-in-hand and are a priority, which is vastly different from the United States. Even 30-year residents of the U.S. will avoid healthcare because of its high cost and lack of employment offering health insurance. Truly, I am looking forward to learning more about France’s system and its constant advancements.

On a completely separate note – when traveling in Toulouse, the front doors of buses do not always open at every stop. Make sure you and your travel buddy always exit the same door!

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Day One, Le Premier Jour

Group photo in Cremes

Group photo in Carmes

At the Carmes

At the Carmes

Today we had our orientation at the Dickinson Center and I am pleased to announce that we all made it to the center on time despite having many of our hosts get us lost during the dry run.  We received our keys to the city, or at least to the center, and the tour of the “maison” or house, it’s a fantastic house with an extensive library and computers for all students to use.  After a delicious lunch of three different types of soups and a salad, we took a guided tour of the city with Professor Eric Crema.  He was so energetic and knew so much about everything Toulouse.  There are multiple languages on street signs due to previous languages spoken in French history.  This I found to be an interesting juxtaposition to the angst against immigrants in France that we had read prior to our trip.  We found ourselves in the historical part of the city which is outlined by the road that used to be on the outside of a wall which encompassed the city.  Now you can see which parts are old based on two things, the road signs and the roads themselves.  The road signs are painted when they are old and the streets are narrower when they are older because of the lack of cars.  After the tour we all met up at a coffee place to decide how we would get home because we were now in a different part of the city.  It was a steller start to our adventure and look for more coming from Fallen.

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