BOUJLOUD بوجلود / MAN OF SKINS, by KENZA BERRADA
When I start working on this project, I'm not sure where I'm going. I only know that I mean consent, boundaries, women, bodies, marriage of minors, abuse. Everything is loose in my head. All these taboos that intersect. What upsets me above all is the idea that the body of a woman in Morocco is the subject of everyone. Within the family, in public space. The limits are not set. The others decide for her and this from a very young age. I lived until my 17 years in Morocco, little girl or young woman, I already feel that I am different from men. That my body is subjected to insistent looks, to wandering hands, to raw words. In different ways, in Morocco but not only, men allow themselves to enter my intimate space without my consent. The question of body boundaries is far from being an abstract question. It is written in our flesh.
At the start I want to adapt a long monologue of the piece Blackbird by David Harrower in Darija, Moroccan Arabic. I want to incorporate words from other victims of Moroccan women who have experienced the same type of stories. Those of sexual abuse that don't say their name. I send emails to my network in Morocco. I want to listen to grandmothers who were married when they were minors, underage girls who have just been married in urban and rural areas, stories of thirties having realized that they were not sexually consenting to certain acts or even stories of child sexual abuse. I’m interested in the early sexualization of girls in general. Some will tell me that the marriage of minors, still authorized in Morocco *, is not the same thing as a little girl abused at the age of 7 years or even that a story between a 14-year-old girl with a man of 50. I answer that the number of stories heard or read, the repercussions in adulthood are the same.
Habiba and Kenza, my two grandmothers, who are now deceased, were married at the age of 14. A husband from a good family from Fez was chosen for them. The first will have nine children whom she will raise practically alone and the second five, without counting on one side as on the other the miscarriages and early deaths. Both of them illiterate, they could not leave written traces of their experiences. When my maternal grandmother "Kenza" died, the name I inherited, I realized that I never asked her what it was like to have been married so young. I only remember these sentences that come back into my mother's mouth:
"It was like that back then." I also remember my grandma Kenza who told me how a lady in the hammam before marriage checked her eyes, her teeth, her hair, her breasts. As we would give a quality certificate for a beast. And I who didn't ask a question and who seemed to find that normal.
It starts when "it was like that at the time"? When does it end?
* In Morocco, we are talking about 70 children abused per day. Official figures not actual. Is a 40 year old man who marries a 13 year old girl a pedophile? Childhood politics is nonexistent. The number of marriages of minors doubled between 2004 and 2011, it went from 18,341 to 39,031. No less than 13,000 married minors were under the age of 16; 3,357 were under the age of 15 and 69 girls were allowed to marry before the age of 14.
Friends put me in contact with a woman who is my age, 34 years old. Houria (the first name has been changed). We speak by phone on an anonymous number because it is tapped. Its militant activity puts it in danger. She is homosexual and very active with populations in great precariousness who cannot assert their homosexuality to those around them. We meet in a cafe in Rabat. I ask him if I can save it. She accepts. His story strikes me down.
Then we meet again several times. At the beginning, Houria tells me a rather banal story. At 19, she fell in love with a 37-year-old man. Trivial in the sense that she realizes years later that the latter made her do sexual things that she did not want. During our last interview, she ends up telling me, "a detail" according to her. She was abused at the age of 7 by a lifeguard. "It has happened to so many people, I don't think it's important" and to finish by "I didn't think my story would interest anyone".
"I didn't think my story would interest anyone." This sentence repeats itself over and over in my head. Houria talks to me but I don't answer her anything or not much. I try to find the words to return to this confession by writing a play. I realize that I no longer want to adapt Blackbird to Arabic but write my own text. In French, the language with which I feel most at ease.
After 6 months, I present a first stage of work at the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca. I'm alone on the set, with a stereo on a desk. With the collaboration of a sound creator, Kinda Hassan, we edited the Houria interviews. I listen to her voice, I rewind, I stop the tape, and I answer her. On the front door is written "this is repetition, sexual abuse is repetition". I in turn record him a cassette to send him. Go back on his word in my own way. In front of me, fifty people. I feel the tension. At the end, a discussion is scheduled but people ask to go outside to get some air before starting. I understand that they are not indifferent to this story.
Then, after 2 months, during a festival in Marrakech, I offer a performance in the same form by adding even more corporality. I keep looking.
However, something is wrong. I can't find my place. I wonder about writing. What is the difference between what I offer and a podcast? Is the strength of registration not enough on its own? Do I want to be on stage as "Kenza Berrada" or as a character?
I decide to rewrite everything. These questions arise: who listens? How do I listen? How do I get a confession? How to respond? When to respond? What to answer? Who is interested? What memory does the body keep of these women who have been attacked for generations? How does the body react when it tells a truth? What bursts is he ready to live?
For now, everything is in fragments. Lots of materials. The testimonies, extracts from texts from Put the ax, slam western against incest by Patty O’green, poems that I write ... But I have no narration. Chloé Lavalette, young playwright and actress I know, enters the project and helps me to see more clearly.
Houria echoes my own intimate story. It echoes many other stories. Houria told me during our last interview that she would have liked to see her attacker again. That she thought about it several times without ever doing it. How could she? She was 7 years old and does not know his name or what has become of him. I’m making Houria’s story a fiction. I listened to the words of sexual abusers and I have my own experience. I want at the end of Houria to find her rapist.
I start by taking the voice and body of Houria. I'm no longer Kenza on set. I rewrite his word with other invented elements. I cut, I transform, I add. I write the text of his attacker. I begin to find a silhouette, a costume, a tone.
At the moment, I don't have a title. I only know that I wear the skins of others. How does the spirit of association work? A lava surge. It explodes in my face. "Boujloud (literally," the man with the skins ").