Occupation: water carrier, Jiyad
I remember the day this picture was taken so well. They plucked me out of the queues of the unemployed and took me into a room at the end of the long hall. A warden sat at the back behind a little wooden table. Chain-smoking through his impatience, he grunted at the second warden by the door to check me over. I let him prod and poke me, took my hat off as he inspected my hair, my teeth, my feet and asked me to hold a heavy bucket full of water and run around the room. I made sure I held myself as straight as possible, with the metal bar digging deep into my shoulders, till bidden to stop. Then I received the signed piece of paper that would define my destiny, and was marched through a second door. There, a man behind a large black box on stilts told me to stand on a cross, marked in chalk on the wooden floorboards, and not to move. After a countdown there was a flash of the brightest light I have ever seen, and so commenced my life as a jinn.
On my first day of work they gave me a card. I recognised the man on it as myself. I had heard of this alchemy, your soul captured, printed and stamped on card. This image, this magic key to admittance became my friend. It was my access to the other world. The tools of my own personal jinn. They say that everyone is assigned their own jinn – this card was and is still mine. With it I can enter a world entirely my own. I transform into a mere shadow, disappearing between the lines of black and white. They do not notice me except in certain doorways, in the access points where, without fail, they check these papers.
Before this, life was harder. Not only was I a shadow, but a shadow living in the dark quarters. The quarters where light came through gas lamps and we scavenged and made deals for our food. Now, with these papers, my shadow sees the light. As I scurry around corners, towards the open square, where light cuts the floor’s shadows as a sharp knife cuts card, dark on one side, the bright light of the desert on the other, a perfect diagonal drawn out from each building’s corner, the sharpest reserved for the black box in the centre, I am a dot that balances the two sides out. I can step out onto the light, or stay in the shade, where I barely stand out. In this way, I hover between two worlds, viewing some things of this other world, where I am unseen, and of which I must never speak.
100 objects found in Mecca
Stories to correspond with each artifact