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Diaspo #140 : From Figuig to Paris, the incredible journey of «Papy Chocolat»

This Figuig-native was born with special gifts : being an excellent storyteller with an excellent memory. To remember and honor his incredible journey we are telling the story of «Papy Chocolat».

Jelloul Khiati in his house in France. / Ph. Khadija Khiati
Estimated read time: 3'

This is the story of Jelloul Khiati, or «Papy Chocolat» as his grandchildren like to call him, in reference to the treats he brought with him every time he would visit. Chocolate was his favorite thing to gift as he never had it growing up.

Indeed, «Papy Chocolat» was born in Figuig, a town in eastern Morocco, in 1935. During that period, life in his region was full of restrictions. Despite the famine that struck Morocco between 1940 and 1947, the youngest of his five siblings was a happy little bundle of joy.

In his small town, he went to school long enough to know how to read and write French. «As far as we remember, he always knew how to speak, read and write in French, without an accent and in a very good style», his daughter Rachida recalls. His mastery of the French language eventually took him to Paris, where he settled down on his own in 1957.

In France, the young man debuted his career in the automotive industry, which at the time was in need of workers. He first worked for Simca then Renault, but he preferred the streets of Paris to its factories. This is how he became a delivery driver for a laundry service in the city's 12th arrondissement, a cluster of tranquil residential neighborhoods in Paris. Doing this job for several years allowed him to memorize every corner of the French capital.

Taxi driver

In 1974, Jelloul benefited from a family reunion policy to bring his wife, Fatna, and their three children to Paris. They lived together in the 13th arrondissement of the same city. In 1980, when two other members were added to the family, the man who knew Paris like the back of his hand got a taxi driver’s license.

«He was quite proud of it, because at the time, you had to learn and memorize every street of Paris, every great monument and the start and end of every single boulevard».

Rachida Khiati

With a taxi license he was proudly slipping in his pocket, he worked for a taxi company, but very quickly, he bought his own taxi license with his savings, to try his luck being his own boss.

The taxi driver who came from Figuig continued to roam the streets of Paris until the early 2000s when he retired. It was a deserved retirement for Jelloul who worked for most of his life and never even had a sick leave.

«My father was always a hardworker. He didn't want to owe anyone anything. And at the same time, he didn't want his children to miss anything».

Rachida Khiati

Retirement was an opportunity for the aging former taxi driver to spend more time in his native country. He traveled every now and then to stay in his hometown. The lifestyle was a new chapter in his life and his wife's.

But this lifestyle was struck by its first warnings in 2013. Khiati suffered a stroke that year that caused a panic within the family. Fortunately, the strong man survived it. But in 2016, things took a different turn with Jelloul was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He underwent surgery in Paris, followed by a heavy and long treatment.

Back to Figuig for the last time

By the end of February 2020, after undergoing chemotherapy, and noticing that Jelloul was doing better, his oncologist authorized him to go to Morocco for a few days to refresh his mind and regain strength, before starting a new series for his treatment, scheduled for March. The idea of seeing Figuig again brightened his eyes. And indeed, his stay in his hometown brought the old man much needed fresh and nostalgic air.

But on March 20, Morocco declared a state of health emergency and the return flight of the Khiati couple, scheduled for March 22 with Moroccan airline RAM, was canceled. Thus started a long nightmare for the entire Khiati family.

The children contacted the French consular authorities in Morocco for emergency repatriation on the few flights planned for this purpose. They sent a certificate given by his oncologist in Paris, specifying his state of health and justifying the medical emergency. «You should know that the chemotherapy protocol followed by my father does not exist in Morocco», Rachida Khiati said. The French consulate in Oujda acknowledged the health emergency and put Jelloul Khiati on the priority list.

A life depending on a list

The hope of an immediate repatriation was unravelling day after day. Daily reminders were unanswered, until the day he was told that flights were only reserved for French nationals as Morocco did not allow dual nationals and Moroccans residing in France to be on them. This blow had probably contributed to the progressive deterioration of his health condition.

«On April 9, 2020, my father, who had hoped to return to his family and above all to resume his treatment, left us. Rest in peace».

Rachida Khiati

«Papy Chocolat» left his children and grandchildren. He also left his wife in mourning, Fatna, alone in Morocco, also confined far from her family. The novel coronavirus has brought its share of tragedies, but the confinement and the decisions of the State did not leave some families unscathed. The death of Jelloul Khiati should remind us that behind political decisions, there are lives that depend on only one flight, a name on a boarding list. In this case, it was the life of the 85-year-old taxi driver.

All those who knew him will keep in their memory the image of a pious and generous man, with a sparkling look of joy and good humor. An unlikely scenario and a worldwide tragedy: Jelloul, with his beautiful pen, would never have imagined it nor written about it, using his immense imagination. He had just predicted that he would be, like his ancestors, buried in his native land, Figuig. Rest in peace, «Papy Chocolat».

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