Barbara and Chaqir

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Photo credit: Richard Johnson

2,407 kmfrom home
"Being different is not something bad. It adds to the lives of people that you meet."
Barbara and Chaqir
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Chaqir: “I am from Rabat, Morocco. I was 11 years old when my parents decided to divorce. At the divorce tribunal, the judge gave custody of myself and my big brother to my father, who would not allow my mother to see us anymore. As a divorced woman of a military general, she had  trouble finding a new job and decided to join my aunt that was working in Italy.

My brother, who was sixteen at the time, had a fight with my father. He believed that it was all his fault our mother had not visited. So, we decided to follow my mother in Italy, although we didn’t really understand what we were doing or how to get there.

We were lucky enough to meet an Italian truck driver on the way, who noticed that my brother was wearing an original Naples soccer team jersey signed by Maradona, a present from our father. We traded the jersey to get on his truck across the border. He had his shirt and we were in Europe.

At first, my mother was veryupset about our decision to run away but eventually all that settled down.

Sometimes I cannot believe that I would have never got the chance to meet Barbara, my girlfriend, had I not left Morocco. In many ways, she had a very similar experience to my own and this makes us closer. My hope for the world is that different people with different experiences can move around and meet one another. No matter where you come from, everyone should be allowed to be with the person they love if that is what they want.”

Barbara: “My parents decided to leave Albania because there was a citizen’s rebellion that broke out. Life became very difficult to bear, so they fled and found the first ship to Italy.  It was about one year before I was born.

My family lived in an abandoned hostel, together with migrants of all kinds of nationalities, for the next fifteen years. As a kid, I did not think that it was strange. I did not feel uncomfortable or uneasy; it felt like a big family and I liked it.

But then when I went to school, I started to realize that my classmates had really different living conditions. I began to feel shy, like there was something missing from my life. When I started dating in high school, I noticed that guys wouldn’t call me back when they knew I had Albanian origins, so I would tell them I was from Greece or was half Italian. Things have gotten better with time. People tolerate mixed couples now, while a few years ago it was not accepted at all.

One time, while I was having a drink with a friend, Chaqir approached me speaking in English. We continued to chat in English but I had a feeling that he was from Italy! He thought I was a foreigner, and when I told him I was actually born in Italy he apologized in Italian and we started laughing. Soon after, we became friends and started dating.

Being different is not something bad. It adds to the lives of people that you meet.”


This story figures in McKinsey Global Institute's report “People on the move: Global migration’s impact and opportunity” . Find more portraits and stories on the online gallery.









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