Translated by Hisham Khribchi from Christophe: Un Togolais à Rabat
Togozine begins a series on the Togolese diaspora around the world. We are now headed for Morocco. In collaboration with the Moroccan site talkmorocco.net which is currently holding a forum on the subject, we look at the lives of sub-Saharan Africans in Morocco. Christophe, a student from Togo shares with us his daily life.
Why did you come to Morocco?
I’m studying in Rabat and I came to Morocco on a scholarship program for foreign students. The most brilliant students with a Bachelor’s degree receive a grant from the Moroccan government. Personally, I have been informed about the Moroccan government’s grant and this is the reason behind my presence in Morocco today.
What strikes you the most about Morocco?
It is the cosmopolitan character of Morocco that challenges me the most. Morocco hosts annually more than 500 students from different backgrounds, either from Africa or Asia. We are 250 to 300 Togolese students in Morocco, with about 40 in Rabat.
This is an opportunity for all of us (students) to be in contact with other cultures in a spirit of brotherhood and friendship. But the picture is not completely rosy. There are all those little difficulties one might encounter in a multicultural society. Our destiny though is forged daily from experiences we get while being away from our families.
What’s the most obvious difference here in comparison to Togo?
In Togo, you have less opportunities to interact with students of other nationalities and you gain less in terms of maturity, because back home, the family is always around to help if need be. In Morocco you are more responsible. We live thousands of miles away from the family, therefore we develop skills to support ourselves. That’s my point of view and the experience I live through.
Do you have any hobbies in Morocco?
I love football and I practice after school when I can afford time for it. We sometimes organize tournaments and even a mini African Cup of Nations. Our results as a football team are a reflection of those of our national team. As the Hawks (nickname of the Togo football team), we often get eliminated in the knock-out stages. Besides football, I participate in activities organized by the Coordination of Students and Interns of Togo in Morocco (CESTOM) http://cestom.free.fr/index.php/accueil, which is also the diplomatic representative of Togo in Morocco since the closest Togolese embassy is in Libya. Since 2007, CESTOM helped organize annual cultural events where we have the opportunity to show our talents as dancers, singers and so on. … We meet between Togolese around our national dishes.
During the holidays we go out, visit the tourist sites, go to the beach etc …
How easy was it for you to integrate into the Moroccan society?
I will not lie to you, integration is not easy. The population of Morocco is mostly Arab and Muslim. This differs greatly from the environment in which I was raised. If you are a Christian, it is also more difficult to live his faith and evangelization is prohibited in Morocco. Without foreigners, the churches would be empty.
From my side, I can not speak of full integration. I still can not understand certain practices and habits not to mention racism that is unfortunately a reality in Morocco. This concerns foreigners in general and sub-Saharan Africans in particular. We do not hang around a lot of Moroccans. Some are very nice but others just want to take advantage of you.
In Morocco, there are many clandestine African immigrants. What is your relationship with them?
Our relations are not particularly positive. Let’s say it is simply an entente cordiale. Clandestine immigrants are sometimes involved in illegal activities and the students do not take the risk by being friends with them for fear of being arrested. We’re not in Morocco for the same reasons. Our brothers live in hiding, waiting for an opportune moment to try to immigrate to the other side of the Mediterranean. The students are here legally. Moroccans do not make the difference. It distorts the idea they have of us.
Will you stay in Morocco?
If I’m staying in Morocco, it is because I really have no other choice. The living conditions of students here are not the best in the world. I deplore the lack of equal treatment of students. All students are not housed in a university campus. Some, if not the majority, live in apartments often located in areas deemed dangerous. These students do not have the financial means to live in the city.
Others are relatively well established in the dorms. They pay a sum 6 or 8 times lower than that paid by other students living in neighborhoods. Students living in dormitories are paying about 50 dirhams (US$5) to 200 dirhams (US$20) per month while the rent for those staying in the rooms (often two or three) is 750-1000 dirhams (US$75-100) per month and for those who live in apartments (often 3, 7 to 8 people) it ranges between 1800 and 3500 dirhams (US$180 and 350) a month. The housing is relatively cheaper in most small cities but more expensive in large ones like Casablanca, Marrakech, Agadir, Fez and Rabat.
Those who deal every day with the harsh realities of the neighborhoods are torn between paying their rent (which gobbles up almost all of the 75 euros, equivalent to 97 US dollars, allocated every two months by the Moroccan State) and paying for studies. In comparison, the minimum wage is 10.64 dirhams per hour (about US$1.30) or 2110 dirhams per month (US$260). Students struggle as they can to minimize daily expenses.
The likelihood of finding a scholarship for studying outside of Morocco is minimal. Basically, life is far from being good in Morocco for students who come from poor families. In addition, after graduation, we do not get the same wages as the nationals.
What are your plans for this summer?
I was planning to leave for the holidays but plane tickets are expensive. In addition, the Togolese government is cutting the vacation subsidies enjoyed by students so far after the first two years. My promotion has not had the chance to benefit from them. This will soon be three years since I have not seen my family, my relatives and friends. I miss them all. I commit myself to finishing before returning definitively to see my family.
Christophe, thank you for this interview and good luck.