The afternoon sun was boiling and almost everyone was stripped to their waist, bare backs soaked in sweat. The metallic click of iron and brass as the motor boys went through their work provided a kind of soothing music which, coupled with the hot sun sounded like a midday lullaby to lure an errant child to sleep.
Sleep was out of the question however. That Sango needed to come and collect his car today and there was still much work to do. ‘But how can one work under this raging sun?’ Achale wondered. Not too long ago, he looked around to be sure that he was at Bonaberi after asking himself time and again if the town suddenly sprout wings and flew closer to the sun. ‘Chai make place no ever hot so!’ He exclaimed.
Tiptoeing around the others, Achale made his way to his favourite spot; a place he accidentally discovered and which has since then served as a sanctuary. Lowering himself to the ground, the cool breeze was a welcome relieve from the blazing midday heat.
He was suddenly lost to the heat and sounds around him. Everything became a blur as his mind zeroed back to that long ago moment that seems to have happened a century ago but which actually was just a couple of years now.
He was his own manager and had several people under him. Nevertheless, hearing the stories of those who have traveled abroad, he felt he was in limbo while the real action happened abroad.
He sold his small but expanding business and went in search for the Patron as people referred to the guy. Funny thing was nobody knew his actual names. Patron was what everyone called him.
Money changed hands and Patron got to work. Within a month, all Achale’s documents were ready and he was about to soar the skies to the land of plenty; a land which he had been made to know flow with milk and honey.
Little did he know the excitement could become his worst nightmare.
Closing his eyes, he could well picture and smell the hot dogs and hamburgers he used to eat. Pictures of the pristine whiteness of the snow during the winter months, which usually made him shout in glee like a kid being offered its favourite toy.
All these swept past before a smiling Achale until the smile died when he reached the moment he was handcuffed and led away like a common thief.
As fate would have it, his visa had expired for a while and he was living undercover for almost a year when his luck ran out and was arrested and sent to jail, where he was stripped of all what he possessed and shipped back home like a common criminal, stripped of all dignity and pride.
The loud bang of metal penetrated his foggy brain and like a dose of cold water, he was brought back to the reality that was his now.
With a sigh Achale grudgingly walked back to join his colleagues, the memories neatly tucked away like a precious treasure chest, leaving a bitter-sweet taste and waiting to be dug up again during one of those boiling but gloomy days.
The tears flew and the frustrations mounted with no snowy weather to quench the heat, the iron bore the anger and frustration like it was responsible for his being stripped.
In wake of globalization and wars, a lot of people are leaving the place they call home to new places and new experiences. They are immigrants, expatriates, refugees, settlers. They leave home for different reasons. Maybe to look for better jobs or a better future; Maybe it is to look for safety as is the case of mostly the oppressed and war refugees; Maybe it is for family reasons or maybe it is just for the heck of it, searching for new adventures in the unknown. Whatever the reason for leaving home, the traveller expects a minimum of safety in that place which will be their future abode, be it temporal or forever. It is always a challenge when you leave the known to the unknown. You don’t know who your neighbours will be; In the case where it is a whole new country, you need to learn a new culture; you might need to learn a new language as well. As an immigrant, you must and need to adapt to your new habitat.
How easy is that?
You start looking for your own, your type, the person that looks just like you. An African migrating to Europe will look for the next African around him to bond with, a European migrating to Africa or Asia will look for his own, same with the Asian or the Arab. But when an African migrates to another African country, she/he doesn’t feel a stranger, they feel at home. Africans from different countries will call themselves brothers, sisters. A Swiss migrating to Sweden does not see him/herself as a foreigner. It is a common phenomenon. You feel safe with your own image and being in a foreign place, the thing closest to your image is the person who looks the most like you. Are these persons the safest amongst the lot? What about the person that do not look like you? Basically, the point I am trying to make here is, how safe are you among your own and among the “other” in a foreign land?
Following a number of recent criminal and barbaric atrocities to humankind, being a migrant myself, I have been asking questions. How safe am I in my new home? Who is my friend, who is my enemy, who got my back? Why the hate, why the anger, why the distrust? What is with mankind?
On the night of 04.04.2015 a fire break out in a planned refugee camp in Tröglitz, a city in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. According to investigation, it is a clear case of Arson. Following long weeks of xenophobic protest by the German far-right Nationalist party NPD against the accommodation of asylum seekers in the city, racism is the suspected motive for this crime. Former mayor of Tröglitz, Markus Nierth resigned his position earlier in March following extreme right-wing animosity. He was harassed and threatened by locals and right-wing extremists, especially after he supported the building of the refugee camp. The act of arson has been condemned by many key politicians; a number of them stressing that, Germany is open to foreigners and will always protect those who come to them for protection. In such a hostile environment as Tröglitz, how safe is home from home? How safe are you from the other?
What about your own?
Last week in Houston, Texas, Nigerian Osa Alohaneke (56), was accused of killing his Cameroonian born fiancée Evelyne Ebane Epiepang (52), stabbing her to death and severely wounding her sister. Your fiancé, your partner, the person you are to trust the most, is the one who becomes the enemy. Two people, so far away from home, such tragedy. How safe is home from home, how safe are you among your “own”?
Two days ago on 14.04.2015, in a school in Hamburg, Germany, a 17-year-old pupil stabs his 17-year-old schoolmate to death. Both of them refugees, both originally from Afghanistan. Motive of the crime is unknown, the effects of the crime barbaric and shocking nonetheless. And you ask yourself, who is your friend, who is your brother, how safe is home from home, how safe are you among your “own”?
Xenophobia in South Africa. Or Afro-phobia? At least five people have been killed and many foreign-owned shops looted in the city of Durban in the past few days. South Africans setting other Africans on fire, looting their shops, accusing them of taking their jobs. Accordingly, targeted are mostly Ethiopian and Somalian refugees and Zimbabweans. It is not so long ago that the rest of Africa opened their doors to South African refugees, in the wake of Apartheid. Have we forgotten so soon? Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini has been accused of instigating the violence, accusations he refuses. In constitutionallyspeaking.co.za the King is quoted to have said:
“[W]e talk of people [South Africans] who do not want to listen, who do not want to work, who are thieves, child rapists and house breakers…. When foreigners look at them, they will say let us exploit the nation of idiots. As I speak you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops, they dirty our streets. We cannot even recognize which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere. I know it is hard for other politicians to challenge this because they are after their votes. Please forgive me but this is my responsibility, I must talk, I cannot wait for five years to say this. As King of the Zulu Nation… I will not keep quiet when our country is led by people who have no opinion. It is time to say something. I ask our government to help us to fix our own problems, help us find our own solutions. We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries (loud cheers).”
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An African, migrating to another African country, thinking they are safe, thinking they are among their own. An Afghan befriending his fellow man far away from home, thinking he is safe, thinking he is among his own. A Syrian, running away from war, going to the “other,” seeking refuge, seeking security, seeking safety, thinking he is among friends, thinking he is protected.
And I ask again, why the hate, why the anger, why the distrust? What is with mankind? How safe is home from home? How safe am I among the other? How safe am I among my own?
Who is my Friend?
‘I am a king. I mean who sleeps in such comfortable surroundings? With servants on the go rushing to do their bidding? A King to be sure’.
Moh’Mandem had a smile on his face as he tossed this way and that on his bunk bed. The loud bang of the bell slowly penetrated his sleep fogged brain and brought him to the land of wakefulness. With a sigh, he dragged his leg off the bed, struggling to hang on to the last vestiges of what brought up the smile. Turning his head left and right, it downed on him that he had just experienced one of those fanciful dreams that momentarily takes his mind away from the reality that is his today.
Based on a true story, this is the fate of Nneka and others, who leave home for beyond, hoping for greener pastures. To some like her, the green comes with a price tag. Names and places were changed to protect the identity of the protagonists.
My name is Nneka and I am a prostitute. Don’t look at me with those eyes, don’t pity me, don’t feel sorry for me, don’t hate me. I have lived a hard life, thorns and rocks filled my path. You see, I was 20 when my parents managed to scratch the money to send me to Switzerland. My friend Amaka who was already in Zürich, made all the connections and arrangements with the guy who processed my migrating. Oh, how excited I was. Finally, I was going to Europe. My mother was a petty market trader and my dad was working as a driver to a very rich chief, a kind man. Yes, we were poor. Europe was something I could only dream of, never expecting to see it. So when Amaka wrote that she had arranged everything, that this guy was coming to see me for my passport and other documentation to travel to Switzerland, I couldn’t believe my luck. But there was a catch; I had to come up with the flight ticket myself. When I talked to mama and papa, they were devastated. Where were they going to come up with that kind of money. Papa talked to his boss and he promised to give us the ticket money, on condition that I paid back within six months of my stay in Europe. Done deal. Two months later, I was on the plane, heading to meet my best friend Amaka. She was the sister I never had. You see, I was the first of six children and the only girl. I had always been the one to look after my junior brothers when mama went to the market and papa to work. I started being a mother and father to them at the tender age of nine. I even had to stop regular school to attend evening school so that I could take care of my junior ones after my parents went to work. Coming to Europe was going to relieve our poverty. I was going to build my parents a house. I was going to expand mama’s business, possibly buy her a shop, so she can stop the back wrenching trade in dry fish and palm oil she was doing. As for papa, I was going to buy him his own car, and buses, so he can have them on the road and be his own boss. All my brothers would go to school without problem. I was going to lift up my family. All these plans and more I made in the air while crossing the Atlantic to Switzerland.
On today’s issue, we will talk about two vigorous Cameroonians, Louis Nforbelie Ngwa and Nicoline Neh Tamufor Epse Ngwa, who having partly lived, travelled and worked abroad, decided it was time to invest and give back to the community some of the knowledge and experiences gained in the foreign. Nicoline had the privilege of living abroad as a child and teenager, as her parents were diplomats. Louis, a university of Yaounde 1 graduate and a construction environmentalist, is currently working on the SCPX pipeline project in Azerbaijan. He has worked in several countries on various pipeline projects including the Chad Cameroon Pipleline project in 2001, BTC/SCP Pipeline project in Georgia, Sakhalin Pipeline project in Russia, WREP project in Azerbaijan, Ambatovy Slurry pipeline project in Madagascar and the PNG-LNG pipelines project in Papua New Guinea.