This Saturday night, the sky was dark and the air was fresh, and my friends and I were ready to go out. Pockets full of beers, we were eagerly going down the city to the lake. Our plan was simple: satisfy our desire of drunkenness before trying to enter one of the many clubs around the city. Try, because when you are 15 years old, only a few security guards let you enter the sacred spot and enjoy the party. 15 years old and drunk and on a mission.
A few groups were already sitting on the big wooden platforms. Cans were open, and a spicy smell hovered in the air with joyful discussions covering the speaker’s music. We took seats on one of the giant banks and started the first step towards achieving our evening’s goal: drinking beer!
It took me a moment to notice the person seated two meters from me. They were probably not more than 30 years old, with jeans peppered with holes, a loose black pullover, legs crossed in a girlie way, short hair and a few piercings in both ears. I said hello and was surprised by the answer; the voice was particularly acute. We made eye contact and I discovered deep black eyes with a hint of sadness. A soft face sketched a smile showing perfect white teeth.
A friend of mine abruptly appeared and asked my neighbour’s name, but I didn’t hear their answer. A bit destabilized by the person once they answered, he stepped back and returned to the group. I didn’t get this chance. The discussion was politely initiated so I decided to offer one of my precious beers.
“I am from Brussels.”
I took a little sip. You often meet people from everywhere in my city, so this wasn’t surprising.
“Oh, nice! So you’re here for holiday?”
“Not exactly… I left Brussels because it is too hard to be homeless there.”
That wasn’t nice. I took a big gulp and started a new can. It would be impossible for me to guess I was speaking to someone homeless, and this wasn’t really part of my plan for the night.
“But I am surprised. The police here are rude to the homeless. I thought Swiss people would be nicer. They kicked me out of my place and I don’t know where I will sleep tonight.”
I felt cornered. How could I avoid this depressing conversation? My friends stayed a few meters behind and didn’t pay any attention to us. Too polite to join them, I simply stayed.
“I left my house when I was 16 because it was too difficult back home. I am a hermaphrodite. My parents immigrated from Morocco to Belgium a long time ago and I felt I needed to live somewhere else.”
I had to think twice.
I had difficulty understanding what the term “hermaphrodite“ meant and this information came so suddenly I couldn’t react. However, this person piqued my curiosity and the alcohol had already reached my head, so I continued to listen with more interest.
At the same time, I realized that I was talking to somebody who doesn’t have an exact sex identification… So what is on their passport? When and how can you discover that? And how does it… work? Can I ask how it looks? I asked myself a lot of questions but, of course, I didn’t dare to ask them aloud.
Nevertheless, I inquired about what this lifestyle meant in terms of experiences. Well-housed and surrounded by a family who loves me, I was amazed at stories of somebody living by themselves and stunned to hear how you can survive under a bridge, in a park or between two residential buildings instead of inside of them.
“Nytaï! We are going!”
The cans were empty and everybody was ready to take on the challenging part of the night. But I didn’t even feel the time passing.
Stumbling, I gave my new friend a bill.
“To get two hot pizzas, man.”
Man? Ok, nevermind… it was time to go.
I joined the group and we were on our way out when the future owner of two hot pizzas tapped my shoulder and gave me a little pack.
“Weed seeds, my friend. No, I insist. You should take it. Please take it, so you can grow your own plants. Have fun and thank you. Take care.”
I was really touched by this action. We hugged before I finally left.
I don’t remember what happened next. I don’t know if we entered a club, if we looked old enough to succeed in joining any party. However, I woke up with more than just weed-seeds and a good hangover. I was filled with an unusual feeling… like a sunbeam on a leaf, I was warmly hit by a new perspective on reality. It was like I discovered a new window in my house, letting in some fresh air, some light. I realized how life can be so different from the way I live it.
That night, I grew up a bit.
This is just one example of the important work produced by YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.