Sunday, 28 November 2010

3 Million People. Is It Possible?

Mustafa wakes up at 6am, heading to Paris for an interview to determine his asylum status, to determine if his claim is real or not. I wake up with him and film the rituals. Packing your bag is a ritual. Praying is a ritual. I wish him good luck, now that his life here in France is in the hands of a panel of assessors.

A demonstration today in Rabat, against the call for a UN investigation into the recent violence in Western Sahara. Salah and Hossam are entranced by the television coverage. There is Moroccan news, celebrating the nationalist demonstration. They say there are 3 million people. Is it possible? Other news outlets call the number "inflated".

What strikes me the most is that the protesters hold up placards with a red hand, the hand of Fatma, and the words "Don't touch my country" written above. I recognise those placards. They were used in May of 2003, when a series of deadly bombings - a phenomenon that seemed to be seeping across the Arab World - first hit Morocco. Morocco had never seen anything like it. I stood with the crowds, staring at the bombed out hotel the next morning, in disbelief. "We don't deserve this" they thought. Then, they were right to say "Don't touch my country" to the bombers. But now, those words seem out of place, misused.

Around sunset, I want to film Salah's neighbourhood. He says it's not safe to film outside, the guys that hang around the building - he says they're drug dealers - and the other locals wouldn't like it. But it's necessary. It's a simple request, to film the outside of his building at sunset. No people. No names. Just the building. But everyone approaches me with questions. The first man is just curious. In my broken French, I explain the film, and what I'm doing here. He admires the camera. The next person is more aggressive. A boy, he only tells me to stop filming, but instead I have a discussion with him about the film. If you want me to stop filming, I'll stop, I tell him. But I only want to film the neighbourhood, nothing else. He seems satisfied. Later, an older man shows up with two of the boys who are in front of Salah's door every night playing cards by the light of a gas heater. He may be their father. He's a mixture of curios and suspicious. When he finally seems satisfied with my explanation, he asks "why isn't Salah here with you? Why are you here alone?" as if to say 'this isn't safe for you.'

I only manage two shots, between the children jumping in front of the camera, and the questions. When I go back inside the flat, Salah seems surprised. "You went outside? It's not safe." I know. But it had to be done. How can I tell this story without filming the outside of your building? In the back of my mind, though I don't say it, I'm thinking "I've been threatened at gunpoint in Gaza for filming, interrogated and followed by Hezbollah, intimidated by a Burundian general for asking the wrong questions. I think I can deal with a few neighbourhood drug dealers." I can't, of course, but these experiences offer a cloak of invincibility, a false sense of security. Often those most mundane and insignificant dangers are the ones that get us in the end.

Later that night, as if to prove Salah's point, the police raid the building looking for some of those boys.

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