A Boy and his Family in the Wake of Tragedy: Anas
September, 2017. When I first met Anas in the spring of 2015, just a few difficult years had gone by since his father passed away from lung cancer. Here, he stands at the foot of his father’s grave in the tiny town of Foum El Ansar on the edge of the Middle Atlas Mountains, Morocco.
September, 2017. Recycled pieces of steel from cargo ships, colorfully painted and weathered, serve as doors for most typical homes in Foum El Ansar. Many rural Moroccans are proud of their indigenous ‘Amazigh’ heritage, and the ingenuity that results from surviving as hearty people with limited means. These repurposed sheets of metal are a small reminder that practical can be beautiful.
September, 2017. Anas wraps his arms around his mother Aisha as she sifts through lentils. Aisha learned to cook traditional food from her mother and grandmother, and has been a homemaker since she first married in her early twenties. After the death of her husband, she kept the family afloat on her late husband’s pension of around 1000 Dirhams per month, less than 100 Euro. The Moroccan government subsidizes bread and sugar, which helps families with less buying power. However, Aisha says vegetables and olive oil have become more expensive in the past few years due to drought, which has been so severe that Morocco’s King Muhammad VI has in recent years called on the nation to pray for rain.
September, 2017. Anas and his two brothers, from left to right in order of oldest to youngest. Ahmad, left, lives in Casablanca and is recently married. After attempting to join the police, he used his language skills to work at various call centers throughout Casablanca. Many Moroccans say it can be difficult to enter government work, such as the police, without family or friends to intervene on one’s behalf. Youssef, center, studied law at university before leaving to search for work. A year passed with no luck, and ultimately Anas helped him find work as a manager for the Center for Youth in Difficult Circumstances, a youth employment skills center in the nearby city of Beni Mellal. Anas, right, took a gap year after high school to study baking and information technology at the Center for Youth in Difficult Circumstances, before starting his undergraduate studies in English.
Ripe red olives hang from a tree in the farmland surrounding Foum El Ansar. In much of rural Morocco, farming is one of few available sources of work, along with construction and mining, and many young people don’t see their futures in farming. Unemployment among adult Moroccan youth is known to be very high, and youth complain of a general lack of job opportunities. According to Anas, there are simply too many youth and not enough jobs, and he and his family have felt the impact of that reality.
January, 2018. A bright green shard of beer bottle rests in the rust-red mud of central Morocco. Soon after we became friends, Anas told me that the risk of substance abuse among young men in rural Morocco is surprisingly high, and that he too had struggled with the temptation to escape after his father’s death. Although the conservative Muslim culture outwardly forbids drugs and alcohol, many young men drink beer or moonshine, and smoke cigarettes and hash. Sniffing toxic glue is another troubling trend among some poor rural youth.
January, 2018. Anas, ever the outdoorsman, climbs a rock formation in the mountains looming over Foum El Ansar. When I met him in 2015, he had recently failed the Baccalaureate exam required to enter university. He worked hard to improve his English in the following year, and as we became closer friends, his English skills began to dramatically eclipse my abilities in Arabic.
September, 2017. A long exposure photograph of Anas in the mountains above Foum El Ansar gives the illusion that he is in two places at once. Anas told me that when his father passed, he was utterly lost, without direction. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in the future, if there was a future at all. During the course of our friendship, I heard him repeatedly ask himself what he wanted to do with his life. Before leaving his job to attend university this past fall, Anas told me that his father would have wanted him to pursue higher education, to be able to access better opportunities.
January, 2018. “In Allah Maana”, “God is With Us” is written from right to left on an old mud brick wall near Foum El Ansar. The Islamic concept of ‘Maktoob’ or ‘Destiny’ plays a significant role in Moroccan life, providing Muslims with a comforting perspective in times of hardship. According to Maktub, anything that happens in one’s life was destined to happen, the wise choice being to accept God’s decisions and move forward.
September, 2017. Anas walks through the graveyard in Foum El Ansar where his father is buried. Since his father’s passing, Anas and his family have accepted a new way of life, and made the best of it. This past summer, Anas’ accomplishments earned him a place in the Middle East Partnership Initiative Program, and he spent a month in the United States studying leadership and government. His brothers have found employment, and he is working towards an English degree.
Today, Anas works for a USAID-funded NGO that provides direct cash assistance to cooperatives in rural Morocco. He can be found traveling around the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, where he helps to ensure the effectiveness of cooperative programs. He and the author are still friends like brothers.