Noura’s story

I’ll tell you my story if you want, but there are others even more interesting, like Kigalia’s one.

She is a young girl of Tunisian-Algerian backgrounds. She arrived without papers in 2018. She was my neighbor and she worked with me at home as an instructor, she helped me take care of children.

She is a middle class Tunisian young woman, she emigrated and settled in Marseille for personal reasons. She is now in Nice and she is going to get married.

Departure from Morocco, then return and departure again…

After graduating from Al Akhawayn University, I relocated to Paris to do my master’s degree. I was studying and working at the same time. I enrolled in two schools at the same time to have two diplomas and I had a food job. It was in 2012, it was difficult. But it was during that same year that I met my husband. We were together in primary school in the Hassan neighborhood in Rabat. We were almost neighbors and we belong to the same social class.

My father is a university professor and my mother a middle school teacher. They both come from a humble background, their children and they got by thanks to their studies. My husband’s father worked at the Ministry of the Interior and then at the Moroccan consulate in Marseille. His whole family moved here.

As far as I am concerned, my life followed its normal course at that time. The year I relocated to do my master’s, my husband had returned to Morocco to start a business in Casablanca. He came when he was 15 and never wanted to settle there. He did two years in Casablanca and during that time I lived in Paris. We got engaged and I decided to go back to Morocco.

I didn’t like life in Paris. I didn’t want to spend my life commuting or pay 1000 euros to live in 20 square meters. I felt that after 6 years of studying, I had the right to a peaceful life. In the capital I struggled to make friends and build social bonds. Everything was complicated there, housing, transportation, social life…and even weather!

I tried, but I couldn’t get used to it. I was afraid that my life would become dull and monotonous. Like many Moroccans in the diaspora, I was afraid to spend all my time between home, the metro and work to repay a mortgage. So I decided to leave.

In addition, 2012 is the year that followed the Moroccan Hirak of February 20, 2011. I was not one of the initiators but I felt that at that time my place was in my country, Morocco.

I have lived since I was 18 in the city of Ifrane, within the university. It is possible that the ideas that we have been taught about Morocco and the studies that we have carried out in order to integrate the world of work do not match the country’s reality. Life in Ifrane is really different compared to other cities in the country. The courses taught us critical thinking, to be creative, productive and to respect others despite our differences.

Akhawayn University the one  I studied at is a private institution, the courses are therefore paying. The vast majority of Moroccans do not have the means to offer this type of school to their children. Only 50% of students receive a scholarship, which means that different social classes come together in this university. Among them, there are on the one hand people from a wealthy background whose drivers come to pick them up in state-of-the-art cars. On the other hand there are those who come from the south of Morocco, most of them are sons or daughters of farmer women.

In the midst of all this we learned something important: coexistence in diversity that includes both city dwellers and villagers without forgetting foreigners. When my stay in Ifrane ended I had the feeling that we had built a certain philosophy of life in our studies together. I was sure that I would then find a job. In fact, courses in economics and business management give you a higher chance of getting hired. In my case it was not the disciplines I had studied. I had done social sciences and political sciences so I could not benefit from a scholarship.

There are many female students whose parents are forced to take out a loan in order to pay the tuition fees at Akhawayn University. I consider myself a product of the Moroccan education system, a public school girl. I had to pass the scientific baccalaureate to be able to put all the chances on my side in order to study even if I had no scientific backbone at all. I come from a family of literary tradition, since childhood I learned to appreciate writing and reading. It was therefore difficult for me to pass scientific examinations. I knew that I would end up moving abroad to complete my studies.

I went to France and then returned to Morocco after obtaining my diploma. I looked for work but it was a distress. I couldn’t find anything for 7 months. One day my father met Mr. Yazmi  who told him that a new law governed the Consultative Council for Human Rights (CCDH) and that we were trying to breathe new energy into it by recruiting young people in particular. So I sent my CV and after three months of internship there, I ended up being hired full time.

How was your experience at CCHR?

It was disastrous! I went there thinking that after three months of internship I would be officially hired. I tried to showcase all my skills. I was very enthusiastic because of the hopes raised by this institution for Morocco. In the end, I stayed nine months on an internship without ever being offered a contract! As it is a public institution, it was actually necessary to pass an oral and written exam to obtain it. I worked every day from morning to evening, sometimes until 11 p.m. I felt exploited. This way of working is in total contradiction with the values ​​defended by the institution in the reports it publishes.

Then, from 2013 to the end of 2015, I worked in the same organization, officially, as head of department. I learned a lot but I got exhausted, I lost 12 kilograms. I was confronted with problems which in my opinion plague Moroccan institutions: cheating, lying and trickery.

How was your arrival there?

I was looking for a school in Marseille to do a doctorate or a master’s degree. I asked my husband to submit an application for me to a school in the city. When he called me to show me the building, I was amazed and told him, “I want to study here, I won’t go anywhere else.” Then I called the institute’s administrative services . We leased an apartment in a fairly modest neighborhood, it was my husband’s idea. He started by showing me the worst neighborhoods in Marseille!

I told him I couldn’t live there. So we visited other more beautiful neighborhoods. At the end of the week we had to go back to Morocco for work. I went home and talked to my father who encouraged me to go back. 10 days later I submitted my resignation.

How were you accepted at the EHESS?

I was accepted on the basis of a research project that I presented.

What was your research project? How did you interact with them?

I didn’t have too much difficulty writing a social science research project. This is mainly because I was not a beginner in the field. The project was five pages long and I wrote it quickly. I have attached my various certificates as well as my transcripts.

And were you accepted directly?

No, I had to enroll in master 2 even if I already had one in addition to the baccalaureate. They did not accept it because it was a professional master’s and not a research master’s. So I had to come back to master 1. That was nothing, given that I was psychologically exhausted.

Do you remember the places you visited during your studies here?

I lived near my school on Boulevard des Dames. I liked it, leaving my house at the door of my building there was Casablanca on the left and France on the right. Sometimes I wanted to go out in my pajamas and turn left to buy a Moroccan Harcha. Another time I preferred to turn right and dress more chic.

I liked the possibility of being able to choose between several options and to be able to make my trips on foot. I also got a taste for the more individualistic way of life, being alone and relaxing. It is different from Morocco where the relations are intense and the society intrusive. Being here gave me the opportunity to be “nobody”, which is what I was looking for. At the same time, I didn’t want to live like my husband. He has a lot of friends, he made his life here. This is what I have tried to avoid, Until now, I have built a more lonesome life instead. I haven’t met many people. I don’t spend my life partying. It was the opposite in Rabat.

Why this change? In what state of mind did you do it?

This is what I needed at this time of my life.

Could you explain to me how you found accommodation when you arrived in Marseille?

When I arrived, Amr was living with his mother who took me in for about ten days while waiting for an apartment. We found something on Le Bon Coin. The first time I talked to Amr about it, he refused because he didn’t like the neighborhood. We visited it anyway and we immediately liked the apartment. So we moved there. At first we had nothing, neither money nor furniture.

Did you work to pay for your studies? How can you live in Marseille when you are Moroccan and you are a student?

You can’t live there without working.

How did you do yourself?

I did not work, but I had an apartment in Rabat which brought me about 500 euros per month. We rented our accommodation in Marseille when we travelled. By the second year I found a job for a project funded by the European Union. It was about helping someone translate from Arabic to French and English. It was a project about borders and globalization. I also talked about it to a friend of mine who spoke fluent Spanish. I worked on it for a year and it helped me a lot financially.

In your opinion, what differentiates the Noura of 2015 and that of today?

The past five years have been difficult. I lost people I cared about. This happen together with my pregnancy and my motherhood discovery, which was not an easy period.

How do you experience motherhood in Marseille and in Morocco?

Maternity is a new experience, especially since I lost my father when I was 15. My mother, on the other hand, was not really one in the literal sense of the term. He was a free person in relation to the family. It was especially my father who played his role. She died without me being able to speak to her. I was so afraid to do the same with my children that I chose not to have any at all.

What made you change your mind and become a mother of two children?

It was difficult, my husband and I had agreed to stay together even if we had no children, unlike many couples who consider becoming parents to be essential in life.

After my miscarriage, I was very afraid of getting pregnant again. My mother, who was also the person I cared most about, had passed away. I made sure to gather my strength and rejoice in my pregnancy. I was still afraid of what would my life turn into later.

I was aware I did not approach this question in the same way as many other women. I did not consider motherhood as a happy event. Pregnancy is hard, childbirth is even harder. This damages the woman’s body, the couple is tested like the rest of the family for that matter… In addition, you cannot share these feelings with anyone.

Our two families had insisted on being present, but I had to refuse, especially since my husband has seven aunts. I couldn’t have found myself there in the middle of all this people. They didn’t like it, but it was my decision.

It gave me a bit of a rest. My father, my father’s wife and my mother-in-law made me feel cramped during this time because they always had an eye on what I was doing. I have a friend and a cousin who gave birth around by same time I did and fell into depression because of social pressure. For example, I was supposed to have a feast at home a week after the birth to introduce my baby (the Seventh Day tradition). In fact, I really didn’t want to, so I didn’t.

What would have happened if you had lived your maternity in Rabat?

In Rabat, daily life is subject to a certain rhythm. You go by car from point A to point B. In Marseille it is different. I usually walk and take my daughter with me. Unlike Morocco, here I can drink my coffee or take a walk on the beach without anyone looking at me askance because I took my daughter out of the house.

Women are generally respected there, especially if they are pregnant. Nevertheless, pregnancy makes anyone, male or female, feel empowered to judge your body as if it no longer belongs to you.

I will continue to criticize Morocco whether I am in Marseille or elsewhere because life is no longer bearable there.

Social inequalities are blatant there and are unashamedly perpetuated. People deal with it as if it was all normal. I will never accept it. How could I have a car, an apartment and a job when many are sleeping rough and starving? I had a poor uncle who worked as a tailor. Unlike my father, he didn’t have the chance to study. When his health deteriorated, my father’s money could not pay for the treatment to cure him. My uncle died in apathy at a public hospital. This is something most Moroccans experience.


Translated by Yvan REÀZZA S-M (Università di Bologna, Master in Cooperazione Internazionale e Inclusione Educativa).