Pain and Hope on the Border
Rosa Ros, rjm y Montse Prats, rscj. (Community of Oujda. Article originally published in RCSJ España) We arrived in Oujda, a city located inside Morocco on the border with Algeria. The ten-hour trip in a van was truly an odyssey, given that there was no way to make ourselves understood by the driver who spoke only dariya (the form of Arabic used in Morocco). When we arrived at Oujda, the welcome we received was incredible. Young immigrants who live in the parish came to help us take our luggage off of the van. Immediately afterwards we participated in an intimate Eucharist which was both a means of giving thanks for our safe journey and for presenting to the Lord this new stage in our development as a religious community.
Now, several weeks have passed and what can I tell you? This has truly been a time of grace and confirmation. The parish at Oujda is a place of welcome for immigrants who cross the border from Algeria. They include children and young people who are sick, wounded and/or tired and who cannot continue on their way, and also those who need to stop and rebuild their strength after the hard journey which they suffered in order to arrive here. This is a place where there is room for everyone, where they can receive help to rebuild themselves and to reflect about the next step that they should take. There are some with tuberculosis who need care and attention while others arrive in a state of mental brokenness. Some are still children and alone (their mothers having been expelled from their countries of origin) and still others who have been hurt by police roundups. Today we are accompanying a woman who lost the child that she was expecting when she crossed from Algeria to Morocco in the snow. Today they have just amputated her feet and she is waiting to find out if they will do the same thing to her hands.
We cannot begin to be aware of how many borders one has to cross in order to get to Europe and which one is the most dangerous. How much pain there is! For us, every day is different. There are always unexpected things and new persons who arrive and who need some special attention. Life itself makes decisions for us! And here we are, accompanying, being present, creating family (as sisters, mothers, grandmothers), becoming integrated into the project team which is made up of people from different countries of black Africa and from whom we are learning every day.
On a daily basis we are coordinating the formation of the minors and young people who are in our house. There are 15 young people who are receiving training in things like baking, electrical work, cooking and mechanical repair. There are another 20 in the house who are receiving educational help in the morning and afternoon while they recover physically and decide what they are going to do next. We have incorporated classes in Spanish into their education since that is a request that has been made of us. Every day we accompany the two small children in the house to their school and we follow up by helping with their homework. Some young, Christian university students come to the parish and we are present for their meetings and activities. That is a way of getting closer to the sub-Saharan university world in a Muslim country.
Yesterday we invited Antoine to dinner. He is the French priest who is in charge of the parish, a committed and restless man who looks for responses to every need. We took advantage of the moment to share and chat calmly in our house. He again encouraged us to look for a space where we can work with women who as always are the most vulnerable and fragile. And we are doing precisely that: investigating, listening, trying to get closer to the women so as to be able to be attentive to their needs and to offer them something. The situation of the sub-Saharan woman in Morocco is really terrible and in Oujda we are most conscious of that. The majority are women who are seeking protection; some are victims of abuse.
So, this is how we occupy our lives while at the same time we are finishing the move into our house and making it more welcoming, creating our community project and hoping that one day the third member of our community might arrive. … Insha’Allah.
At this time of the year, the words “wait” and “hope” echo in a special way being beside all those who at our side continue to wait to be able to fulfill their dream, together with those who in the midst of uncertainty, difficulties and pain struggle to maintain hope and some sense of their lives. I pray that Hope might find root in us so that we might know how to welcome it and share it.
Picture by RSCJ España