Mariam is a little worried: “If you not understanding what I’m saying, you have to question me, okay! ” […]




Born in Mali, daughter of a Peul mother and Soninke father, granddaughter of a Touareg, Mariam arrived in Paris in 1981. “I married very very young, already before arriving here. And the year that I married, I lost my mother. She does not want me married. But it’s the father who decides and it’s not the mother. ” […]


After 5 years in France, Mariam heard about the La Clairière social center for the first time.


“I’m crying all day, I wanted to meet someone like my mother … A lady explained to me one day, at the park. I was with my daughter. She said to me, ‘Not crying’. I said, ‘There is no family, no mother, no aunt, nothing at all.’


She said to me: ‘Wait, there is the social center, it will help you speak a little French, and all that.’ She accompanied me there. The first day already, they are in love with me, they introduced me to everyone! There, they teach us to speak, write and read. And the accounts too.


I have never been to school. In Mali, we are in a small village – well now it’s big. Parents, they do not want girls to go to school. Afterwards, boys too, it’s not all boys. There, the boys who go to school are the people who can afford it. […]


La Clairière, the social center, they gave me everything, everything. They did everything for me and my daughter. This is my second family.


I had never even seen the sea! I’m too afraid ! With La Clairière, they brought us with my daughter. I said, ‘There is water that is alive. It breathes! Oh no I do not stay here, I want to leave, I want to go home!’ (Laughs). They said, ‘Mariam, that’s the water. It’s normal.’ I said, ‘Yes, but I do not know how it moves like that.’ […]


I discovered a lot of things through them. I do not forget. Never. […]


I said I wanted to become a professional facilitator. Even if I can not read and write. Well, I can read a little. I read anyway, you see. When I read something that I do not understand, I ask, ‘What does that mean?’ But writing by hand is hard. I can copy but I can not write with my own hands.


This year, the director of my training, when I applied, we are 32 people. […] In the end, it’s me. I said, ‘I’m here because the I like the work when I went to play with the kids, the kids they like me but I’ve never been to school.’”


And Mariam laughs at the memory of this great moment: “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve never been to school! I speak French very badly. Yes, I know what to do. I know how to take care of children. I have been with children for a long time.’ I explained everything. I said, ‘In Africa, we grew up to take care of children. 8 years old, a child is on our back. Well, I like to work with kids.’ After I finish, I say: ‘I housekeeper, I do not graduate.’


After when we finish, everyone has got up to applaud. The director cried, he said, ‘I never heard that, I never saw a person who will come to say, I have never been to school, I speak very bad French. I never saw that!’ He said to me, ‘It’s the what you want that counts. Because African women hide their value. They do not want to show their wishes.’


I said: ‘Because of that, I have never been to school, I speak very badly, I learned French badly, I am ashamed to speak in front of people, I am ashamed to work in front of people.’ […]


I talked about what I want to do with a teaching degree. The director at the Clairière said, ‘Okay, I’ll pay for it.’ […]


Here. I succeeded. That’s it, I graduated. This year ! I’m happy ! Oh yes. I’m no slouch! I want to move! Never too late !”




English translation by Kenson Toussaint, Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts USA

March 2017

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