With his book “Yemma, still life of a Moroccan mother”, Mohammed Benzakour shares his personal story about his illiterate mother and the failing healthcare system. Yemma is a picture of the love between a mother and her son, as well as an urgent warning about the future challenges regarding the first-generation non-Western migrants and unequipped medical institutions. 

As long as your healthy, you’ve got everything”, my mother always says when I complain about (what she defines as) trivial things. But what if your health all of the sudden changes for the worst? And what if the healthcare system isn’t prepared for patients with a non-Western background like my mom’s?

The mother of Mohammed Benzakour ends up in a hospital after having a stroke. Mohammed never leaves her side during the process. As she slowly loses her ability to speak, a crucial part of her enchanting personality disappears as well. The colorful memories of his independent yemma (“mother” in Tamazight), are a big contrast with his mute mother.

Taylorized health-care

Although he often seems on the brink of giving up, he never stops discovering new creative ways to communicate with his mother. Mohammad seeks help from a drawing-therapist, smuggles traditional culinary Moroccan food into the hospital, and even tries some Chinese medical quackery.

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will go to the mountain, as the saying goes.

But instead of encouragement for his attempts, Benzakour only encounters suspicion and even resistance from the medical staff.

This is no surprise if we look at the national trend in the health-care industry. With the shift towards an impersonal Taylorized system where efficiency and mass-production are the norms, hospitals are not equipped for the care of first-generation non-Western immigrants.

Medical oblivion
Benzakour does a little bit of research and finds out that unlike other countries, not one medical institution in the Netherlands has modified methods or specific treatment for the illiterate, non-Dutch speaking patients. Illiterate patients with a different cultural background seem to have a bigger risk of falling into the Medical Oblivion.

This was my personal wake-up call. Benzakour’s mother is lucky enough she has a son who could guide her through the whole process. But how about the other thousands of yemma’s who are facing the same problems? Not every child is caring by nature. Not to speak of our individualistic culture which is slowly being internalized by the next generations?

Life or death
Yemma is not a “feel-good” story at all; tissues are very much needed. But if you’re looking for an honest and real story about a Moroccan illiterate mother and her struggles, this is a must-read. Sure you could read a boring book about how the health-system is failing and how expensive it will be in the future. You could also listen to the promises of politicians about a more humane medical care. Or you could just read Yemma and actually feel how it is to be completely misunderstood when it’s a matter of life or death.

Benzakour cleverly unveils the major flaws in both health-care and migration policy by painting a beautiful picture of the unconditional love between a mother and son. He never gives up hope, but at the same time her situation is just getting worse. The only thing that Mohammad can do in order not to lose his yemma, is to draw her a still-life. The book Yemma is the best picture he could possibly make.

This review is written by Bored to Death book blog contributor Ikram Taouanza. You can find more of here writing on her own blog http://pursuitofsabr.wordpress.com.

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