In my bay window is a beautiful portrait from my father, Ali Boufadiss. Dressed in a bunch of dark curls, he looks at the world with an open mind. ‘Come on’, he seems to want to say with bravado. My father radiates hope and courage. The stamp runs through the photo ‘Consulate of Morocco’which gives the photo a arty effect. The stamp also reveals the origin of the photo: it is the passport photo with which my father came to the Netherlands in 1979.
I therefore understand that several people give me the docuseries My father the fortune seeker recommended. For this series, host Nadia Moussaïd traveled with her father Alice van Schiedam to Fez, in Morocco: the reverse route of her father’s journey to the Netherlands. Which he made in the same period as my father.
But despite the raving reviews and all the recommendations, I couldn’t bring myself to watch. My father passed away in November 2021, and the raw sadness has just faded into the background a little bit. I didn’t feel like scratching open that fresh crust.
But as it goes with scabs: it itches and so you scratch. I was done with my ostrich act and decided to start on the first episode. Immediately my tears were high: the story of Nadia Moussaïd and her father could almost apply to my family. My father traveled – when he was formally 18, but probably only 16 – from a small village in Morocco to Paris.
And after a few years, Ali Boufadiss happened to visit Groningen, where he met my mother in a restaurant. She had a part-time job there and studied French. In general Moroccans speak French well, so they got to talking and the rest is history†
I like to tell that romantic meeting story. But apart from that, my father’s early years in Europe are a mystery to me. When I was growing up, those French years were already two decades behind him. He barely talked about it and I’ve never seen any pictures.
I do know that that time left deep marks on my father. And after seeing the documentary, I understood better why; barely grown immigrants like my father traveled to Europe. Still completely wet behind the ears. Looking for a better life. Not only for themselves, but also for their families. Far too young they were sent out to earn a living for their families left behind.
At a young age, my father was financially responsible for his parents and eight siblings. And that the transition from a small village in Morocco to Paris is a huge one shock was, my father told me. Just try to build a life while you are low-skilled, have no job and don’t know anyone. Many immigrants were also illegal and therefore had to be constantly on the lookout.
During a train journey, Alice Moussaïd still feels that unrest: the constant fear of being discovered and deported. And although my father was fortunately not illegal, he received anything but a warm welcome in France. He spent his first months in special barracks for guest workers. An unsafe situation for a boy who is formally 18, but actually only 16 years old.
Painfully, many immigrants in France today still have the same experience. This produces depressing images, such as those of the young immigrant Brahim. Like my father, he came to Europe full of dreams and guts. So determined to build a better life that he made the perilous journey from Algeria to Europe in a rickety boat.
A few years later, he is disillusioned to say the least. He is illegal for eternity, he is never allowed to work and he is forced to sleep in a tent on the street. Nadia Moussaïd becomes emotional during the meeting: Brahim leads an undignified existence. In the documentary it is aptly described: these boys come with a dream, only to have to live forever as a shadow.
Immigrants in the Netherlands are almost always negatively in the news. They are often seen as ballast, while everyone dreams of a better life, right? We are only lucky that we were born in the Netherlands, so try to put yourself in the shoes of young immigrants and the challenges they face.
While watching the documentary, I shed a lot of tears. The emotional bond between father and daughter Moussaïd bursts from the picture. And because I can travel with them, my father’s early European life suddenly becomes visible. Thanks to the guts of boys like my father, we as the next generations get the chance to have a wonderful existence. But these so-called fortune seekers have paid a high price for this, and it can’t hurt to think about it a little more often.
If I do forget, I take a look at the portrait in the bay window.