Hyphen — Views from the Moroccan-Algerian border

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S|O|S contributor : George Bajalia

North Africa and Southern Europe are divided by a sea, a wide sea, yes, but a sea that for many centuries was little more than a river. Families lived on either side, and still do. Now, however, their movements are governed by national and international bodies with whom they have little relation. Along the eastern edge of Morocco, along the border between Morocco and Algeria, the discrepancy between colonially imposed borders and the people who they separate is pronounced. On the Moroccan side, people wait with knapsacks to unload the cut-rate cigarettes and medicines smuggled in from Algeria. Just outside of Saidia, people stop on the side of the road to wave across a ditch. In Saidia proper, poles and rope demarcate the border on the beach, and military keep watch to make sure that no one crosses in international waters.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/77474467 w=700&h=394]

In this video, I document a journey down to Figuig to Saidia, and back to Tangier. Taking the ferry from Tangier to Algericas, I crossed from Moroccan waters, into international waters, and into Spanish territory all within 45 minutes. I spent the majority of that time looking back towards Tangier, a white city on a hill, a city I had called home for nearly two years. Just a few short days earlier, I had crossed from Nador into Melilla, a Spanish enclave nestled on Morocco’s coast. A few days later, I would be crossing from La Linéa de Concepcion, Spain into Gibraltar, United Kingdom, and flying out from Gibraltar to London. At the outset of this journey, 2 continents, 3 countries, I spent my time on the ferry looking back. As I looked around me, however, I saw that I was one of the few people gazing back. Most people on the boat, whether business regulars or first time travelers to Spain, were looking forwards. They were looking out to the next step, snapping photos and recording videos of what was to come.

During my time in Tangier, I looked out across the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain and tried to understand how my friends who grew up gazing out across this sea possibly felt about my own travels. I was embarrassed about the privilege I held just by nature of my birth. Tangier was, for me, a nodal point; a point from which I was able to see the world, take ferries to planes to trains to buses and arrive again, safely at the intersection of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. During these years, marked by coming and going from a city with porous borders and a strong informal economy, I came to realize that the passport I carry is the most valuable thing I have, and it doesn’t even belong to me. Driving from Figuig, in the southeast corner of Morocco, to Saidia, in its northeast corner, I carried it in my front pocket. I entertained some fantasy that I would be able to cross the border at some point, as long I had those helpful papers. It was a fantasy and nothing more. And I understood a little bit. Still no answers, but I’m closer to asking the right questions.

George Bajalia is a Palestian-American playwright, former Fulbright scholar to Morocco, and scholar of globalization and media. George currently lives and works in Chicago.

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