Bodies for Sale in Barcelona

While in Spain, I made a trip to Barcelona.

Barcelona is a beautiful city in the daytime. It’s full of life. Very easy to navigate, you turn one corner and you run into the Sagrada Familia. Hop on the metro, walk a few minutes and you find yourself in the famous Parque Guell a magnificent park known for its sculpture and panoramic view of the city. A little bit longer and you can walk along la playa of La Barceloneta, enjoying a sunny day on the beach.

However at night, it is a different story. I was staying in Las Ramblas. The difference between day and night life of Las Ramblas was very noticeable. In the day time it is full of tourists, families, couples, students, all eager to get a taste of the Spanish lifestyle by means of Barca. At night however it transformed, the students and couples were still there, the smell of drunkenness and lust permeates the air, the lights of night clubs glow as promoters attempt to fill their clubs and their pockets. The vendors selling little trinkets on the street are now replaced. In their stead, are women. The streets of Las Ramblas are lined with women at night. I noticed immediately the fact the majority if not all the women that I was seeing were African, many of them I recognized to be Nigerian.

They intermingled with the drunken crowd of vacationers, sometimes approaching groups of young men, striking up a conversation. It hurt to watch how they were offering themselves up to men. I noticed the drunk tourists and the way they treated these women. I cringed as I watched blond boy, who appeared to be in his early 20s and clearly American, scream at a women who approached him. He told her to go away, if he felt like it, he would call her later.

Later I saw a man who was clearly drunk being followed by one of the women. She chased after him and latched onto his arm, stumbling with him as they walked to a patch of bushes nearby that would hide the act that was about to be committed.

I looked into the eyes of some of the people I was surrounded with, but especially the men. I saw in there eyes how little respect they had for these women, calculating and accessing these women and equating them with the lowest of the low. Ironic because to me, these men were the lowest of the low. When the gaze turned upon me, I noticed something akin to lust and disdain in their eyes. They didn’t know how to categorize me, biologically and physically I was just like these women, but by an accident of birth I was on the other side.

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Prevention of Upward Mobility for African Migrants Then and Now: A look in the past

From the 1970s to the 1980s, Spain saw rises in the numbers of African migrants living in the country. The majority arrived to Spain in search of work and found their places in the agricultural sector. Now at this time, Spain also saw significant number of their citizens leaving the country for abroad in search of work. You might ask why a country who previously was sending its citizens outside of the country in search of work, was accepting migrants from abroad for just the same reason. The answer is though to be because most of these migrants were entering the country from Africa to work in agriculture and farming.

According to a study (Zapatto-Barrero 2008) agricultural work provided the first Spanish job for almost half of the African workers interviews. An indication that farming is a major employer of Afro descendants here in Spain. Even despite the high levels of unemployment it was still Africans that held many of the open agricultural positions, few farmers even citing that they hired limited numbers of Spaniards because it was proven that African were harder workers.In interviews, farm owners stated that “Africans are good workers, and are used to the hard working conditions of farming. Africans have a good physical endurance so they put up with hard agricultural tasks”.

However it can be assumed that the hiring of Africans meant there were fewer legal obligations toward their workers, as unfortunately the Africans were not informed of their workers rights and were more often worried about keeping the job they had than whether they were treated justly or not.

Exploitation of African migrants was not uncommon and often prevented them from upward mobility. Spanish law stipulated that a worker had to be contracted on a permanent basis after working for the same employer for three years (Zapatto-Barrero 2008). But in order to avoid paying social security for workers, Spanish landowners found ways to get around this clause. They would fire their migrant workers and then offer them a new work contract after a period of time, as to be able to claim that their workers had not been employed with them for three years.

Unfortunately for African workers, it was stipulated in Spanish law that, yes, workers could come to Spain with a one year work permit but they had to renew it at the end of the one year. With successful renewal of a work permit, they could maneuver throughout the country more fluidly because this now meant they could hold a permanent residence as well. But in order to renew they had to have held a contract of employment and fully-paid social security contributions from their employer. However, with the system of firing and rehiring, it was hard for immigrants to prove that they had consecutive and consistent work for the time period required by the Spanish government to obtain legality. Hence it became very easy for migrants to cross the very thin line between legality and illegality, restricting their mobility and their opportunities.

According to Zapatto-Barrero, the work left for African migrants is described as low-skilled work where little formal education is necessary to perform it. But it also yielded poor pay and was made available in fields which were of little to no interest from the local (or in-migrant) Spanish population. This being said, the work is the lowest of the low in Spanish society and not even Latino immigrants, no matter how desperate for work they are, would willingly stoop to do it. The probability of Africans being able to rise from this type of work was very small. And if they were unable to move freely within Spain, how could they gain access to bigger cities where their were more opportunities for not only them but their children as well in terms of work and education?

In a survey it was recorded that 41.9 percent of Africans with more formal education (secondary or higher education) wished to leave Spain dour to lack of access to professional work in country. A observation that was affirmed during my investigations in Spain. It is almost as if their is a glass ceiling preventing African nationals from upward occupational mobility.

Dozens of fathers amongst migrants being forcibly deported tonight from the UK

Feminist Philosophers

The Home Office is preparing to deport dozens of west African migrants on a specially chartered aircraft leaving Stansted tonight, bound for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gabon. Immigration officials have reportedly detained hundreds of people this month ahead of the flight.

Many of the men booked on the flight are being separated from pregnant partners and young children, according to volunteers at the Unity Centre, Glasgow, who have spoken to deportees. They say that the the men, being held in London immigration lock-ups, expressed “terror and desperation at the prospect of being separated from established lives in the UK”.

Anthony* has a wife and two-year-old child who both have the right to remain in the UK. “We lost a baby in 2008, we visit the burial site regularly. They are trying to take me away from this,” Anthony told the Unity Centre. “Every time I call my wife…

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Algunos nombres de la lucha de la mujer en África

Definitely a few authors who I will be looking into as I have yet to familiarize myself with their work. If Spanish is not a language you are familiar with… well I´m sorry
BUT, I would like to add two more authors to this list, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Molara Ogundipe, both Nigerian writer who have written about African feminism, more specifically as it relates to their home countries. Ogundipe is of an older generation, while Adichie has been in the headlines for her popular book Americanah. Adichie is a personal favorite of mine as I can relate so much to her works which relate to young women in the Nigerian culture who fight and struggle with the pressures placed on women in the Nigerian society. Particularly in her book Americanah, which I think tells of her personal experience coming from Nigeria to America, I can relate to her confusion with a lot of American customs and the struggle to find her place.

If you have free time and interest in African feminism, all of these authors are definitely worth looking into!

Afroféminas

Tsitsi Dangarembga. Foto de zimeye.com Tsitsi Dangarembga. Foto de zimeye.com

Generalmente cuando se habla de feminismo en la Diáspora se suele hacer alusión a figuras europeas conocidas como Virginia Woolf o afroamericanas  como Bell Brooks o Barbara Smith, pero ¿y qué hay de las feministas africanas? ¿acaso no existe ningún movimiento feminista en África? Pues lo cierto es que sí que hay feministas o womanistas (término acuñado por  la feminista afroamericana Alice Walker para designar el feminismo concerniente a las mujeres afroamericanas) en África, lo que pasa es que no oímos hablar de ellas casi nunca porque su voz no roza nuestros pensamientos.

Debido a esta falta de representación he decidido escribir este artículo, para hacer un pequeño tributo a éstas heroínas que sin querer llamarse así mismas feministas (porque ellas mismas no se llaman así ya que intentan alejarse de términos que ellas consideran reduccionistas y provenientes del mundo occidental) se han convertido en ejemplo…

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From Dakar to Ceuta: Joseph’s Quest for a Better Life.

Although Morocco is an African country geographically, culturally and socially it differs greatly. Due being conquered by Muslims in early 8th century AD, like most of North Africa, it is predominantly inhabited by people of Arab descent, making it an Arab, Islamic nation. There is typically no kinship between Arab Africans and Black Africans, and in Morocco it is no different. In Morocco,like in many places in the world, those of a darker complexion are treated much worse than their fairer skinned counterparts.

I want to relay the experience of a man that I met from Senegal. We will call him Joseph for the sake of preserving his identity.

Joseph is a 26 year old man who currently resides in Tangier. Tangier was not his first destination in Morocco, but given the circumstances, it seems like it may be his last.

He came from Senegal because as an adult or as the man of the family, he had to find a means of providing for his family. He could no longer burden his aging mother, who still had his 4 younger sisters to care for. With this being said, in search of a better life and better opportunities, he left for Morocco as it was known for being a place for crossing. Those who sought better lives came to Morocco because Morocco was closer in route to Europe. Europe meant better opportunities for them. It, at least, provided them with better opportunities than those in their home countries.

With the intent of crossing, Joseph’s first stop in Morocco was Casablanca. He stayed with a friend who was kind enough to provide him with housing. He had no plan when he left but was prepared to do anything necessary to survive, even if it meant begging on the streets. He was lucky enough to find work in a restaurant where he made just enough to care for himself. However, Joseph knew that Casablanca could not be the end for him. If he wanted to find a job and just work, he could have stayed at home but he had a responsibility to provide for his family. He knew that he would have a better chance at getting to Europe if he went to Tangier.

Once in Tangier, he found himself arranging with another group of immigrants attempting to jump the fences of Ceuta. Ceuta is a Spanish coastal exclave that shares a border with Morocco. Many immigrants try to jump the fences because success means being closer to an opportunity to stay in Europe. However, failure in jumping often means abuse at the hands of Moroccan police and, in some cases, repatriation to your home country.

With the group, Joseph hid in the forests near Ceuta awaiting nightfall and an opportunity to try and jump the fence of Ceuta. When nightfall came, they ran reached the fence but were caught by police. Once they were captured, they were detained and beaten brutally by the police. They were beaten to the point that they could no longer cry out in pain, as to cry out only caused them more pain. One man stood up, and told the police that if they were going to kill him then they should kill him right then and there, as he would rather die at that moment than to endure any more abuse.

They were kept without food and water but released the next day with no means of transportation back to Tangier. They were lucky enough to find a taxi leaving Ceuta that took them half way to Tangier. From there they took another taxi back to Tangier.

Joseph has tried to cross to Spain via the Strait of Gibraltar six times. All of those attempts were unsuccessful. Although some perished during each try, Joseph was lucky enough to escape with his life. He does not see himself trying to cross again. He has given up almost all hope of making it to Spain. He has seen with his own eyes how difficult and dangerous the quest to freedom, so to speak, is and says that he would rather keep his life and try to find a way for himself here in Tangier, than to die trying to make it to Spain.

From Nigeria to Morocco: Words from Adiaye

She was 28 years young with very little to hope for but, somehow, she still kept her faith. For her, that was the only thing that had brought her this far.

I was on my way home from my Arabic lesson the other day when I passed a woman who caught my attention. She caught my attention because it was the first time I recognized another black African woman on the streets of Tangier. She was dressed in all black, wearing a dark black djellaba with blue trimmings and a hood, which formed her hijab. As she noticed me notice her in passing, she began to beckon toward me, obviously asking for monetary donations. I stopped. Usually I don’t as there are many people who need help on the streets, and as one person, I cannot help everyone. But something about her caused me to stop. I approached her in front of a cafe and began to talk to her, subconsciously taking notice of the eyes of Moroccan men in front of the cafe where we stood, looking at us in confusion and some with suspicion.

I gave her three Dirham; it was less than a Euro, I could definitely spare that. I began to ask her where she was from. She told me that she was Nigerian, from Edo State. I asked her if she would be able to meet with me another day to talk a little bit. In a rush she agreed, “Yes, yes of course.” I asked her of her family, how she came here. She told me that she had two kids and she came here to be with her husband. We exchanged numbers and went our separate ways.

We arranged to meet near the cafe at which we initially met. She showed up two days later, in the same attire that she had worn the first day. I sat down and started to speak with her and she proceeded to tell me her story.

Three years and six months ago, on October 31st she’d paid 300,000 Naira (1,500 Euros) to be transported illegally by land from Nigeria to Morocco. She called herself, in transit to Spain, as her final intended destination was Europe. When she spoke of her upbringing, she described herself as dull, unable to achieve high marks in school, despite her efforts. She’d left school to pursue fashion design but had to abandon that quest as well, as it was too expensive to continue. When her parents asked her of her future plans, she told them that she was going to attempt the journey across the Sahara and across the Strait of Gibraltar to reach Spain. She described her journey to Morocco as one characterized by maltreatment, and both verbal and physical abuse, ultimately comparing it to slavery.

When she arrived, she found that her living conditions were no better than when she was in Nigeria. She lived as a beggar, walking the streets hoping some kind stranger would spare her enough change to eat and afford her expenses. She had grown accustomed to lying and saying that she had two children in order to procure more pity from people. Her situation was better than others, she said, as many women who came to Morocco come with children or fall pregnant intentionally with the hope of touching the hearts of kind souls who had money to spare. I’ve seen with my own eyes as women line the street corners begging with their child in arms, often an infant in hand and a toddler in stroller.

She’d noticed that here in Morocco, an Arabic, Islam nation, the people seemed to be more sympathetic to beggars who were Muslim, recognizable mostly by dress. Hence, although she was Christian, she’d turned to dressing in hijab, the traditional Muslim veil worn by women, and covering her whole body, so that the Moroccans would be more likely to give her money on the streets.

According to her, her options were begging or prostitution with no other work available for her as in illegal immigrant in Morocco. She spoke of the women who seek to leave their home countries in order to find a way to make their families proud. The ultimate dream of many Nigerians, and Africans at that, is to be able to take care of their family financially, build a house for them so that their families could be comfortable. Many who leave with this dream and no plan, see no other way out than to sell their bodies to men. Often when they are lucky enough to cross into other countries, they fall into prostitution, working for madams in brothels where they don’t see a quarter of their earnings. All of the money they do see, going back home to construct houses in the villages for their families; all in the name of pride.

I asked her about her own family, what did they think of her plan? She replied that her mother and father encouraged it as long as she thought she would be successful. However, the truth was, the chances of her ever successfully crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain were very slim. Even if she somehow found the money needed to secure a place in one of the illegal boats headed to Europe, the chances of surviving the journey are very slim. She spoke of an immigration intent made in December by 44 men, women and children. They never made it to the shores of Spain; the poor quality of their boat was hardly sufficient enough to brave the nine-mile stretch. Twenty-four lives were lost, while the other twenty were rescued and returned back to Tangier, where they await until the next opportunity to cross. The journey cannot be described as anything else but a death trap. The trip itself is so dangerous that the odds of surviving are slim to none. In the miraculous case that one should successfully make it across to Europe, without papers and a plan, immigrants have no means of providing for themselves. Women are often exploited, used for prostitution or as drug mules, while men wander the streets aimlessly, begging or distributing odds and ends for a little bit of loose change.

She ended our talk by telling me that if all else fails, she will have no choice but to go back to Nigeria and try to pick up life where she left off. I wonder should she ever make it to Spain, what she plans on doing. With no degree, no skill set and no family to take care of her across the sea, where could she end up? What would her options be? The sad part is that this is only one story of thousands who wish for a better life and take the leap of faith from their home countries to Europe each year.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee

Skin: Black and Female in Morocco

As a black woman in North Africa, it is no easy task to walk to the streets without being subjected to glances, comments, few good and many negative. You would think that being of African heritage in North Africa would make things easier for me, but maybe due to the presence of tourists, a general disrespect for women who are not Muslim or lack of regard for black bodies, it has been anything but.

Here in Morocco, I personally have experienced colorism, sexism and xenophilia, although not in a positive manner, to quite extent. Some might say that I have been privileged. My skin is not as dark as some Africans, I can be described as brown or, cafe au lait, if you want a visual. Walking through the streets of Morocco I have been called all sorts of names, mostly by the men who feel the need to give their unsolicited attention to every female who crosses their path. On the streets of Tangier, I have been called “Negrita”. I have been called “Chocolate”. It seems as though there is some glaring necessity to point out my race. On one occasion, as I stood outside a restaurant with a friend, two men passed by us and felt the need to point out the fact that I was black and she was white.

Although my skin color is the most obvious of my physical characteristics, in the United States, people certainly don’t feel obliged to point it out casually in passing or to identify me by it. You would think that being in Morocco, an African country, the people, or men more specifically would have grown accustomed to the presence of black females. But alas, no.

Recently I travelled to Chefchaouen, a small city in Morocco. Nicknamed the Blue Pearl for its buildings painted in varying shades of blue, Chefchaouen is nestled amongst the Rif mountains of Morocco. The city itself was peaceful and quite, a wonderful escape from the intensity of Tangier. Unfortunately, I was unable to escape the leering eyes and heckling of the men in Chefchaouen. It seems as though this necessity to harrass women who are obviously not Moroccan is a trait that most of the men throughout the country have been raised with.

In Chefchaouen, the heckling differed a little. While in Tangier, the name calling and leering was focused on my skin color, in Chefchauoen there seemed to be an obsession and confusion with my identity, with who I was and where i was from. The catcalls this time ranged from”Cubana”  and “Dominicana” to “Rastafari” and “Mama Africa”. Various times throughout my visit, I received the question of where I was from or what my ethnicity was. One man even assumed that I was Argentinian because of my Spanish. Another man felt inclined to tell me that, if I were to dress in a traditional djellaba, with the way I look (I’m guessing he was referring to my skin color and the shape of my eyes), that I could pass for a Moroccan and be able to walk through the streets without problem. This I had no problem with, but I have never experienced such fascination surrounding a part of me that usually not given so much obvious attention.

I don’t know if it is my dress, the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes or the way I observe the world around me that makes it so obvious that I am different from the rest of Moroccan people or at least makes them want to point it out to such a great extent. I can’t comprehend the obsession of knowing where I come from. In the United States, although there is a general curiosity when my name is mentioned, apart from this not much passing thought is given to this. But then again, in the U.S. there is a general assumption that if your skin is brown, you are African-American and that is the end of the story. At first I thought this obsession with knowing where I was from was an attempt to grow closer or to recognize a kinship with someone from another African country. But I’ve come to realize it is more of a fetish, one that men here have with women that are not their own, and two with black women whose characteristics can’t be obviously used to pinpoint their origin.