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Fiction with Faustine: A Journey Into The World Of Moroccan Soccer: Part 8 - Washington Huskies

Fiction with Faustine: A Journey Into The World Of Moroccan Soccer: Part 8

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 Junior Faustine Dufka of the women's soccer team recently wrote this fictional soccer story for one of her classes. She has decided to share her piece with Husky Nation by releasing two parts a week. Read part eight, the final part below. 

***

 

Hassan carried on with his story: "Larbi did not take well the way he was treated upon his return to Morocco. He was asked to coach the Moroccan National team at the Pan-Arabic games, but then was released shortly after leading the squad to a gold medal, without any explanation from the F?©d?©ration Royale Marocaine du Football (FRMF). The F?©d?©ration barely acknowledged his help at the time, then proceeded to completely erasing his existence from memory. Larbi had also written the FRMF multiple times, offering to help in the World Cup campaign and in the Cup of African Nations being hosted in Morocco in 1988; he never received any response. The actions of the FRMF and of other actors on the international football stage were quite despicable. It was as if the world of football had forgotten about him as quickly as they had coerced him into playing abroad and then traded him between clubs. Like a pawn in a game of chess, Larbi was tossed around between countries, used, taken advantage of, and then disposed of. It is no wonder why he lived the last ten years of his life in solitude and suffering.

"During these past ten years, Larbi stopped writing as frequently as he used to. From the tone of his letters, I could sense his growing desperation. The last time I heard from him was almost two years ago, in March of 1990. I kept writing to him on a regular basis, hoping it would make him feel a bit less alone. I am much too old to take the train now, as is my wife, so we had no way of visiting him. Here is the last letter I ever received from him."

 

***

 

By Sunday afternoon, Souad's fear had not dissipated. She had been living on edge for the past few days, reacting to every comment or gesture her parents made, as if expecting the worst. Had they found out about her clandestine activities on Friday afternoon? She was not handling the tension well, and her brothers had teased her about the anxious expression that had been permanently engraved on her face since Friday night, like a henna tattoo tracing the coiled lines of worry around her eyes.

As usual, that evening, she brought her father tea after the family meal. He was watching a Champions League game: the best of the best facing off to win the European title.

As she was about to leave, Souad's father gently touched her shoulder. She almost jumped, spilling the teapot, this time accidentally. Mustapha nodded his head in the direction of the empty seat to his left. Souad followed his eyes from the empty seat to the television and back to her baffled self.

"Souad, why don't we watch the game together tonight?"

She stared in wonder at the tenderness and complicity she could read in her father's gaze, slowly grasping the meaning of this invitation.

 

***

 

As the train left the Rabat station, I pulled the two letters Hassan had given me out of my backpack. The first was dated from 1938, when Ben Barek had initially arrived in France:

 

Marseille, France. June 29th, 1938

My Dear Hassan,

Here I am, finally, on the shores of France. The trip was long and I was stirring with excitement and apprehension for the entire journey.  Alone, on the deck of the ship, I watched the Moroccan coastline become a small speck on the horizon. I hope I have made the right decision to leave my beloved country, but my ambition is too great to pass up this chance.

The coach, Jozsef Eisenhoffer, and the president, M. Blanc, of the Olympique de Marseille club were at the port to welcome me as I disembarked. I'm glad they were there to greet me, for I felt lost, disoriented, uneasy--the only black man in a grinding mass of white people. Men were carrying huge boxes off the boat, there were bags everywhere. Seagulls swarmed above our heads as people bumped into one another, mothers firmly gripping their babies in their arms.  You could hear whistles and horns all around, voices yelling and shrieking in a language I barely understand. I clutched my suitcase frightfully.

Their shiny black car was waiting for me. They drove me around town, giving me a tour of the city.  We walked down the Promenade de la Corniche, alongside the beach.  I saw families having picnics on the sand. It seemed strange, surreal--only something white people do. The air here is crisp, but the waves are the same. The same salty ocean water, crashing against the shore. It reminds me of home.

Although everyone has made me feel at home so far, my loyalty will always be to Morocco, my home and motherland.

                        I hope this letter finds you well. Please send my regards to your mother.

Truly,

Your best friend Larbi

 

The 2nd was the last letter Hassan received from Larbi, less than two years before his suicide:

 

Casablanca. March 16th 1990

Dearest Hassan,

The good news is bittersweet, as always. Last month I should have been awarded the order of merit by the African Confederation of Football in Algiers at the 32nd anniversary of the National Liberation Front team, yet the FRMF prevented me from accepting the award because I was not present at the ceremony, which of course they only informed me of after the fact. The F?©d?©ration has also completely excluded me from any involvement in Morocco's two successive World Cup campaigns. The first Afro-Arab man to play football internationally, left out from the attempt to bring Moroccan soccer to the world stage...It seems that it has been decided for me, without my accord, that I should no longer be allowed to be Moroccan. This thought pains me more than anything else in the world.

What have I ever done to deserve this treatment? It is excruciatingly unjust and saddens me deeply. Although I lived abroad for ten years, I returned to my beloved country on a regular basis, and have always been loyal to my people. My unswerving faithfulness to football and to Morocco has been reciprocated by a faithful repudiation of my role in the emergence of Afro-Arab football. All I want is to be able to return the favors and opportunities I was once given as a young athlete. I want to contribute to the development of Moroccan football and to the advancement of the country of Morocco in general, yet I feel helpless. My hope that things will change becomes dimmer every day.

I have never searched for fame or recognition; you know that as well as I do. But my identity as a Moroccan is something I cannot bear to lose. There is a lump in my throat that is growing and growing every minute, Hassan. And it will proceed to choke me entirely, you will see... Thank you for always listening. If there is one person in this world that understands, I know it is you.

Yours truly,

Larbi

 

As I watched the burnt, arid landscape fly past me, I imagined what Larbi Ben Barek had meant by the phrase "buried alive". This man had arrived in France with noble ambitions to bring honor to his country worldwide, like a child strives to make a mother proud. Only ten years later, he had returned to his country of origin, which had not only forgotten about him, but chosen to outright ignore his existence and everything he had done for Morocco. Helpless in the face of manipulative and condescending colonial powers, Ben Barek endured much abuse and suffering in his attempt to bring respect to his beloved country. By means of these struggles, he played an important, yet unrecognized, role in the fight for independence. A tragic destiny for such a noble hero.

As I was deep in thought, the conductor came down the aisle with his ticket-punching device. Thankfully I had remembered to validate mine before I boarded the train.

"Name and ticket please," he grumbled rudely, as if the ridiculous uniform and black cap he wore entitled him to disrespectful behavior.

"Mustapha Zehria," I said as I handed him my ticket.

Although the rest of the world already had, I would never forget about the fatality that befell such a brave and inspiring Moroccan.

 

***

 

Through the open door, you could catch a glimpse of the last few rays of sunlight reflect off the shiny leather, illuminating the child's beautiful face.

Souad Zehria could see her husband Tarik and her two-year-old son Larbi play outside, savoring the warm, golden aura of Moroccan sunsets. She had named her son Larbi at the request of her father, whom they all now lovingly called P?©p?© Mustapha.

She was strangely at ease. These moments filled her with a sensation of delight, of pure contentment, as she watched her two favorite people enjoy such a simple pleasure--kicking a ball around in the dirt. Souad chuckled as her son tripped over the ball, which was disproportionately big for his size. Unsure of his footing, Larbi had not yet fully mastered the agility of the football star he was named after.

 

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