Body, climate, Islam… young people express themselves

Here is a set of letters written by teenagers (1)

I don’t really know if what I’m about to write will be interesting to anyone, but it is something that is close to my heart and that I would like to share, perhaps with the aim of allowing some people to recognize each other, to feel less alone.

I was born into a very caring family, my parents always went out of their way for my sisters and me. When I was little, we didn’t have much money. My mother did several odd jobs and my father does not remember exactly if he worked.

I don’t have many positive memories of my parents and I sometimes blame myself for that because they did their best. My mother has been depressed since she was 13, I don’t think she has really come out of her depression yet. She has always been out of step with others. She had my older sister at 21 with a man I don’t know. Then she had me at 27, then my little sister, a year and a half later.

My father had a difficult childhood. He did not know his father and he left home at 16. He fell into drugs and scarification. My father has borderline disorder.

Now that I have set the stage, I would like to talk about the role I had in my family. When my sister was born, there was barely a year and a half between us, and I quickly became attached to her. The more we grew up, the more inseparable we became. However, we were complete opposites: my sister had a strong character and always had a lot of anger in her. She often threw tantrums. Me, I was more of a discreet, quiet little girl that no one cared about. I was often told I was too sensitive.

When I was 7, my parents divorced. Shortly before, my mother had changed jobs and therefore had to leave quite early and come home quite late. From there I became the responsible parent of my little sister. We had to wake up on our own and go to school. I was the tallest, so I had to feed my sister, check that the doors were closed, turn off the lights, etc. All these tasks did not bother me, I was the only one who could do it. But my sister started having more and more tantrums. She let loose on me. What were at the beginning small girl crises turned into beatings, into violence. I was far too small to handle a child.

But I didn’t want to make any trouble, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to bother them because they were tired. Eventually I got used to my sister’s outbursts and began to withdraw into myself. I was no longer sociable without making real friends. It was when I started high school that my life got complicated. I continued to take care of my sister without knowing who I was. I just wanted to be invisible.

My sister had a friend. They made fun of me, my looks, my clothes as they continued to throw tantrums. She could from one moment to the next completely change her face, get really angry, hit me and then forget.

I want to say to all the children who, like me, have had to take a place that is not theirs: you are legitimate. You have the right not to take on this parental responsibility, you have the right to say that you have too much to bear. You don’t have to be the parent, that’s not your role.

Susan, 16 years old

We are at the start of the holiday and in a few days we are going to Morocco.

To accompany me during this journey, I decided to buy a book that a friend told me about: Sufi my love, by Elif Shafak. I wanted to make this journey a spiritual journey. I was full of religious questions and I needed answers. I was born a Muslim, or more precisely, my close followers made this religion mine when I was born. I followed her as my family followed her.

As I got older, I became aware of something. Something related to the rules that I applied without really questioning them and I struggled with the thought. I had a hard time telling myself that this belief, the one that characterizes my life, was a bit like a biological trait that I inherited and over which I have no control. Hence the start of a question mark of what partially built me.

I wondered what my place really was in the birth of what had been my own spirituality.

It’s D-Day.

With the car unreasonably loaded, here we are on the roads that lead to the land of my ancestors. After a few hours, I open the book, I read the first page, and I am carried away. I read with passion the true story of Shams of Tabriz and Jalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî in 13th century Iran. One is a Sufi mystic, the other is a poet, ulema (meaning “religious man” in Arabic), writer and philosopher.

Their predestined meeting will disturb their beings. Surpassed by Sufism, they will live a strong and indescribable story of friendship and love.

When I closed the book, my questions found their answer: “I want to become a Sufi”. Sufism is a more spiritual branch of Islam.

His philosophy can be summed up in one word: love. The love that God has for us, the love that we have for God. The love that binds man to man, man to the world, man to humanity.

In this ideology, we must learn to relieve the weight of the rules, the weight of religious guilt, to question what is forbidden and/or allowed. Find real meaning in the principles we adopt and shed the image of a punishing god, the absolute master of our lives. All this to hatch a sincere and desired faith. Benevolence, warmth, gentleness emanate from this flow that I fell in love with. It fit who I was. This Islam is universal because through religion it makes the other exist regardless of their faith.

In their time, these people had a look that went beyond the sensual. Let’s learn from them. I will end this reading with one of the forty rules of love written by Shams of Tabriz:

“A life without love does not count, do not ask yourself what kind of love you will have to seek. Spiritual or material, divine or earthly.”

East or West, love has no label or definition. It is what it is, plain and simple. Love is brandy and a loved one is a firebrand. The universe spins differently when fire loves water.

Fati, 24 years old

After all, what is a body? For some people it is a work tool, for others a means of transport. Still others will tell you it is their soul home. But to me it is synonymous with pain.

My body hurts me, I hurt it and our relationship has always been conflicted. We often argue, but we agree on one thing: the outside world is more toxic than our relationship.

In reality, our life together was difficult because of the outside world. I liked when we played football together, when we climbed trees. Then it developed and I was told that I could no longer do what I loved because my body had chosen a different future.

That’s when we started not listening to each other. I let it waste away because I didn’t want to take care of it anymore. In revenge, he made me suffer while I was developing. Meanwhile, the rest of the world attacked us and pitted us against each other.

The more the years passed, the more I developed a hatred for my body. Then one day he gave up. This day made me realize that we need each other despite our differences. I couldn’t live without him and he was useless without me.

This episode made me realize that we were both suffering. Although cohabitation is complicated, we form a whole for two. We were insulted, hit, touched, just as we were cuddled, complimented and loved together.

I still don’t agree with him, what he is, what he does, but I understood that it was not his fault. Our relationship is not the most healthy and peaceful, but it is ours.

Alex, 16 years old

I let a void build
deep as a well without water.
In the center of the village, this sterile well,
deprived of its primary function, is easily noticed.
Long as days without bread, the animals’ necks bend
but the ground below does not reflect their smiling faces, their soft eyelashes.
“There’s nothing left here”, I want to tell them, but I’m too thirsty
Thirsty to find my friends, my family, a green planet.
On this dry land only desolation and distress sprout.
These two accomplices rubbed their hands when the last drop of the well was drunk.
Now they count the grains of sand like I counted my gold coins.
It is impossible for me to drink in the sun.
I dry up like a mummy in the caves of the desert.

Elise Zurstrassen

(1) The letters published on this page (except Elise Zurstrassen’s) were sent by Scan-R. Scan-R is an association that organizes writing workshops and supports young people aged 12 to 25 to help them express themselves in writing. The aim of this project is to give young people the opportunity to talk about issues where they are actors or witnesses. “Our idea, we can read on the association’s website, is that it is better to give the pen, the Bic, the pen, the pencil or even the keyboard to young people – and in particular to the most outcasts and outcasts – than to give pebbles. … When the pebble breaks, destroys, damages or hurts, writing and the process it takes make it possible to tell stories, to trust, to imagine and chart new paths that are not new dreams but a new reality.” Scan-R offers workshops for structures that bring young people together (youth centers, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, etc.). The workshops take place with a facilitator attached to a journalist. Info:

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