I find him in the back of a small shop, a place filled with bric-a-brac: everything from water pipes to decorative glasses. Today he’s running the shop, the owner is out. ‘For the rest of the day,’ Rachid says. ‘He has many shops.’
He speaks a little Dutch, learnt during the eight months he lived in Amsterdam. ‘But I’m going to improve it soon, because I’m going to follow a language course. I have to,’ he says, ‘otherwise I can’t work here.’
‘Because the Walloons don’t work. The Flemish do, so I need to speak their language.’
He’s sitting on a box, arranging shelves, and offers me another box as a seat.
‘In Amsterdam I worked as a cleaner, in houses and restaurants. It was easy to find a job there, they were very straightforward: when they needed someone, they would hire you. In Wallonia that’s not the case, you always have to know somebody who knows somebody. It’s not fair. You know, I’m well educated in Morocco.’
And he carefully fishes a piece of paper out of a little pile in his bag, and hands it to me. It’s his CV, and he wants me to keep it: you never know. ‘Look, I studied IT, I am Microsoft-certified.’ He would mention that company several times during our talk, as if to prove he’s ranked much higher than his current – and previous – jobs suggests.
In 2000, when he was 21, he went to Paris – ‘on a tourist visa’ – then to Italy. ‘Because I could live there easily, without problems.’ He explains how Italy uses illegal immigrants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to get more money from the European Union. Next stop was Amsterdam, thanks to his Italian residence permit, which allows him to travel freely throughout Europe.
I ask him about the Moroccan kids in Amsterdam, who have a bad reputation.
‘You know what causes that? Lack of communication. These kids speak Dutch, live in a Dutch society, but they return home to parents who barely speak a single word of Dutch. Especially the mothers: they stay at home all day and when they go to the supermarket they choose the checkout linewith a Moroccan cashier. The Dutch government should educate them, force them to go to school, so they’re able to communicate.’
‘But don’t they think the Koran doesn’t allow them to talk to strangers?’
No, the Koran is about freedom. The thing is, most Moroccans in the Benelux are from the Rif, the mountains…’ Maybe he feels he has to defend his fellow believers, because he says, a bit louder: ‘I am a Muslim, but I’m not a criminal, I have never stolen anything, I never will. I will work for food or starve from hunger. There’s no other choice for me.’
From time to time, not too often, a customer enters the shop. Some look and leave, others start asking questions, mostly in Arabic, while Rachid remains seated on his box.
‘Now you’re in Europe. What did you expect to find here?’
‘I had seen Europe on TV. That’s when it started, when they offered all these foreign TV stations: Italian, French. We saw paradise, in a material sense: here everybody has a nice car, nice apartment, a pretty wife. And freedom.’
‘Was the image correct, did it match reality?’
‘Yes, for some, for those who went to school and got an education.’ ‘And for you?’
‘‘I’m still working on it.’ He grabs his CV again. ‘One day, they’ll call me.’ He gestures towards the shop and says: ‘ Here I’m not in place. It really stresses me. To survive I even have to work black now.’
‘Is that so bad?’
‘Yes, because it comes down to stealing…’
‘Now that you live here, what do you think of the European Union?’
It’s a good thing for the poor countries, like Portugal, Spain and Italy: they gain from it. Countries like yours, no.’
‘Do you think Europeans are the same?’
‘No, the people from Amsterdam are the best. Italians are racists. The Flemishaccept me, like the Dutch. If you work, and you stick to the rules, they’re fine with you, otherwise: please leave. In Wallonia people don’t trust us. In the trams people guard their bags – and that hurts.
He’s a proud man, Rachid.
‘You see, I know I’m an immigrant, I know I’m not at home. But we are here. It’s reality and there’s not a lot you can do about it. So allow us to be useful, to contribute to this society!’
If you have a job for Rachid and you would like to see his CV, let me know. He’s a nice, honest man. And Microsoft-certified!