Melilla: Europe in Africa

By Ella Daniels

Fetishization happens everywhere, but I can say that Cordoba was the first place I was asked if I was a prostitute because ‘I looked like one’.

Spain does not share a similar history with England. They didn’t have a ‘Windrush’, the immigrants here haven’t had the same amount of time to build up communities and movements in the way that we have in the UK. Over and above that, Spain and the Spanish are still dealing with, or refusing to deal with, their complicated history – see Franco. Things that are commonplace, normalised, accepted without question by the Spanish, at first angered and now bemuse me – Spanish sweets named ‘Conguitos’ (literally “small Congolese”), children in black face ready for Three Kings Day, even the language – I am the black ‘Negrita’ or the brown ‘Morena’.

Fetishization happens everywhere, but I can say that Cordoba was the first place I was asked if I was a prostitute because “I looked like one”. Following a heated exchange with two men who’d approached me reading on a park bench, a friend then explained, red-faced, that the brothels that line the Spanish highways largely employ women from North Africa, who find themselves in an unfriendly country without papers.

 

Cordoba was the first place where young children, my students, were initially afraid of me, because, as one mother explained “they have never seen a black woman before”. Although this is questionable, some of their reactions certainly seemed to bear truth – one little girl ran screaming and crying from the room. Later they were enamoured with me, stroking my skin. One girl asked me if I was made of chocolate. Another told me I was going to prison. When I asked why, I was told “because of the tattoos and brown”. In 2016.

 

With all these prior experiences, I was both curious and hostile to the thought of Melilla. I wanted to see this ridiculous wall for myself, to see this mix of cultures, to experience living so close to Morocco. I was excited at the thought of being on the African continent, albeit ‘still in Europe’.

 

One of the first things you see, on arrival in Melilla, is the last existing statue of Franco (that well-known fascist) in Spain. That sets the tone for the rest of the city. It is ugly. It is old, poorly maintained, neglected. It feels unloved because, by and large, it is. The streets, out of the centre, are dirty, dusty, litter-strewn.

Litter strewn landscape in Melilla

© Ella Daniels

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