5. Baye

Baye was the first sub-Saharan African migrant I met in Africa. Like I mentioned before, I met him through friends the previous year.

I was staying in my friends’ house amongst the tangled streets of the Medina. The place was made up of a lounge, bathroom, kitchen and bedroom, spacious enough for perhaps three or four people without too many problems and conflicts. It came basically furnished and European touches were made after, such as pictures and messages on the walls and piles of mess in every corner.

The friends that organised the place were musical anarchists and were looking to express the difficulties of migrant life through music. I was told of how they’d met Baye in the street, sparking a conversation about music and the difficulties of migration. One thing led to another and he became a regular visitor at the apartment.

He introduced himself as Baye but said that everyone calls him “Gambia”. The first impressions I got of him were pleasant but shy – he almost seemed uncomfortable, or perhaps intimidated by a European household, holding himself awkwardly and making small talk. I took a liking to him immediately.

Me: Would you like to tell me a little about yourself? Perhaps, where you come from and your life there.

Baye: Yeah… I’m from The Gambia. I’m living in Morocco, in Tangier today. I’m travelling from The Gambia, to Morocco… to get to Europe. But… I come to Morocco and I starve for four years now… Still struggling to be in Europe… to make my life better. But I have my people back home, that’s why I leave my country, to make life better…

Me: And what can you tell me about Gambia? What’s happening there?

Baye: Yeah, because of the dictating government and… Gambia been dictated for like… 20 years now, since ’94, until 2014. The same government, no changes. And it’s like… a lot of people are exiling out of the country. Because there is no opposition that can stand against the government so… the life is hard, you know… in Gambia. And the whole world knows what is happening in Gambia, but… no-one to give us help, they don’t even talk about it. But you know, the government is a big dictating government right now… yeah.

Me: Yeah, and what kind of problems and control on the people do you find in Gambia?

Baye: Yeah, the kinds of control they have on the people is like… you cannot complain and you cannot talk about the president like, the government is not doing right. So you have to obey everything like… even if it is hard, you have to say… you have to… take it like its OK. And people are afraid to speak, if you go to Gambia today, no-one would like… talk to you about the government.

Me: And the discrimination against the people?

Baye: Yeah?

Me: Well, say for example, I heard that the tourists that come to Gambia are “protected” from the locals. And the locals are treated as lesser people.

Baye: Yeah, away from the tourists, the local people are put away from the tourists. And they put soldiers on the seaside… to guide the tourists. And you know… (laughs) the locals can’t go there. Because if you guide the tourists, then they get the soldiers to torture your own people. Because of talking to the tourists or trying to make friends with them, you know, it’s crazy.

Me: Like segregation?

Baye: Yeah, segregation. Or maybe they don’t want the people to give the tourists the information, so that’s why they… you know, have segregation. Yeah, to keep them quiet. You know, you could be a political strategist but a lot of people would discover. You know, there should be no reason for the separation of the people, because the tourist went there to meet the local people. Talking to them and seeing how they are living in Gambia. Those things, so it’s hard yeah. The only place you can maybe meet tourists is the club.

Me: OK, so for you personally, what were your reasons for leaving? What was the final thing that made you decide that you wanted to leave Gambia?

Baye: I.. I leave Gambia a long time you know, 1994, the time my brother was working in the government… he was a spokesman, and… at the end of the day, he don’t want to work for the government because they are a dictating government and they are killing a lot of people everyday, many people. You know. Every time, people are dying. Soldiers, between them want to control but when it fail, they lock some people up and some they kill them.

And my brother, he don’t want to work in that kind of government. I was living with him before and he told me everything, he was going to leave and in the end he left, so I was there and I used to meet his colleagues and they used to always ask me “where is your brother?”, and they used to point me out and say “this is the brother of… this captain”.

So at the end of the day, I said to myself ‘I have to leave this country’. Because maybe one day they could put me in trouble, and I don’t want to be in trouble. This is the way you know, I exile, I try to exile from Gambia.

And one day I meet some friends, some African Americans, people travelling to trace the journey of the slave trade. Going through Senegal and Goree Island. From there we go to Mali and from there we go to Ivory Coast, Grand Bassam. Meeting Alpha Blondy… and have some conversation with him.

Me: Sorry, who’s that?

Baye: Alpha Blondy, he’s a musician in Ivory Coast and… he talk about many political problem in Africa. Yeah, he have a hotel in Grand Bassam, so it’s where we meet him. And from there we went to Ghana, and in Ghana we visit… this place called… Accra, it’s the capital of Ghana.

After Accra we went to Cape Coast. In Cape Coast there is a castle, the biggest castle in West Africa. Anywhere they catch an African, in those days, in the slave trade, they would take them from Gambia and those neighbouring countries, take them to Cape Coast Castle. And its where… they make the… big market.

Me: To make the trade…

Baye: Yeah.

Me:…And from there, they go to the Americas or…

Baye: Yeah, yeah other places…. so from Ghana, we travel around Ghana, we went Togo… Benin, and then to Nigeria. And from Nigeria, we went to… to South Africa.

And in South Africa we went to Cape Town and visit Robben Island, where the prison is, and where Nelson Mandela was staying. We stay on Robben Island for… three days and then we see the closing ceremony. And afterwards we spread, and that’s how I ended up staying in South Africa… for six years.

Me: Six years? Wow, so how did you survive in South Africa for six years?

Baye: Yeeeah, the life was tough, because there’s no work in South Africa and… you have to try to run the street you know, make the small business in the street, sometimes maybe a friend have some money and they buy some watch… to sell on the street.

That’s the way how we were surviving on the street. You know sometimes we sleep on the street, because I sleep in the street in Victoria for like three months. I was homeless, I was on the street, but at the end of the day, things change you know.

Me: Like everything.

Baye: Yeah, like everything. Yeah so from there, I flew to Thailand, to Bangkok. Because at that time, I was thinking we should go through Asia you know, China, Russia.

Me: So you were trying to get to Europe through that way, through Russia?

Baye: Yeah, yeah.

Me: Russia’s not an easy place. It’s a difficult place.

Baye: Yeah it’s a difficult place. I didn’t even reach this place, Russia. I got caught in China and I stay in.. I stay in the detention house for… for like one year, three months.

Me: Really?

Baye: Yeah, in Beijing, and from there, they send me back… to Gambia.

Me: Straight back eh?

Baye: Yeah straight back. And from Gambia, I go straight to Morocco in 2010.

Me: What can you tell me about Morocco?

Baye: Yeah the life… is so crazy in Morocco, no work. You always running on the street, trying to survive. And it’s like, some friends… sometimes friends help… sometimes just stay like that, without having anything. Sometimes we stay without having food. You know, we keep on struggling and make in the street because we are looking for something. You know, that’s why. It’s not like we like to live in this country. That’s why we are here now, we came to find our way, to somewhere else.

Me: And where is this somewhere else?

Baye: Yeah, I’m trying to get to Spain, to cross the Mediterranean sea. Yeah, to be in the other part of the world. Because now I am in Africa, in the continent of Africa and I am trying to be in the continent of Europe, because I haven’t visited Europe. But there’s a lot of things going on… now they stop the route for us. They stop us, they block us. They don’t want us to cross the border. So things are getting harder and harder

Me: And how do they do that, how do they stop you?

Baye: Because they put a lot of securities, police, soldiers around the seaside. And when you go to strike, sometimes you get stuck from the securities.

Me: How do you see Europe? What do expect when you start a new life in Europe?

Baye: Um… the kind of life I expect in Europe is like… for me, my dreams is to go see Europe, because what’s make me… struggle a lot is to get to Europe. Before I was having a dream to go to Europe and make fast money, going back to Africa and build houses for my family, have a nice car… you know, those things. But I was young.

The dream I have now for Europe, I don’t go to Europe for hustling money, but just to get some experience and see how the system is working in Europe. Because in Europe you have… it’s a matter of researching. Because it’s not like the Africans… because we need to research too just like all the other people are searching in this world.

But if they have this concept like we don’t have to search because if they see they’re blood brothers with the Africans, coming to Europe easily, maybe they think like they all have the same dream. Maybe they’re thinking they are going for money, that they don’t care… or maybe they go and they don’t come back, but its not like that.

Me: No it’s not like that.

Baye: No it’s not like that at all, we need to search too, because we are part of the world too.

Me: Yeah of course, and this is the problem with Europe.

Baye: Yeah, this is the problem with Europe. They say it’s a problem for them that the Africans are coming to Europe, you know. It’s a big problem because if you… if I, you know… people are telling me that Europeans are crying because Africans are coming… a lot and maybe they will go back.. To me its like they are racist!

Because they can be where ever they want to be, they can be in the world travelling because they have their passport. The system make people force themselves to be in Europe, but when I go through the normal procedure, they don’t give me visa, so I have to find another way.

Me: And how have you tried to cross to Europe?

Baye: I tried many times. Just two weeks ago I tried to strike, but we didn’t succeed… I tried many times… a lot.

Me: But it’s dangerous?

Baye: Yeah it’s dangerous! When you get to the sea, you get into the boat, you start paddling and your life is no more guaranteed. It’s in the hands of God… and you can die. When it’s your time to die then you’ll die, if you have to live then you’ll live. Its a sacrifice… just take your soul and… give to God to decide.

Me: …Wow man, that’s… but people do make it across, don’t they?

Baye: Yeah, yeah, people make it across, it does happen. People are crossing and people are dying. And people are staying too, everything is happening.

Me: So if you could see Morocco change, how would you like to see it change?

Baye: Well, it’s not easy to change because like… the laws are different. The laws they put onto us are different to the laws they put onto themselves. They follow us because they don’t want us to cross the border. And they been paid by the European Union, you know.

So, even if they wanted us to go… but money made them block us. If someone is living in your country, there is no reason to stop them. But with money, there is change. People think different with money. Maybe if I make it to Europe, they will stop me… but I am going! Why are you stopping me?

Me: So what you’re saying is that, Morocco is acting like border control for the EU?

Baye: Yeah, they act like border control. And the EU is like… no-one understands what the politics they are doing. Because they are the ones paying them and they’re the ones… they’re fighting for them, to makes things easy… in a diplomatic way. But last time I told the people, I said this thing will never finish until they stop paying them. When they stop paying them is the time this… this will finish

Me: Yeah, you think they will just… let go?

Baye: Yeah, it’s possible. And how much money they spend is a lot.

Me: I’ve been led to believe that’s its 1500 Euros…

Baye: Yeah, so people are suffering.

Me: But with that money, they’re not deporting people. What are they doing instead?

Baye: No, they don’t deport people. Now… for now, they are giving people a ‘Se jour’, they give them a ‘Se jour’.

Me: And a ‘Se jour’ is like a…

Baye: Like a residency. So everyone is going to register. So now there is no boumla, there is no police coming here to ask for passport. So everyone is waiting, we don’t know what’s gonna be the next step, you know.

Me: But with this residency, this ‘Se jour’, what kind of status do people have? Is it like the same as Moroccan?

Baye: That’s what they say, it’s like a Moroccan. You can work, you can open a bank account.

Me: And before, the control here was really bad, no? Here and Nador… and Oujda.

Baye: Yeah, here in Tangier, before, the control was very bad. And Nador, Oujda… even Oujda was not that bad, but Cassiago… you know. Because that side is forest, in Nador its forest. But here, people are not living in forest. People are in town, they came to people’s apartment before. But we are all waiting to see what’s gonna happen next.

Me: Yeah, it’s been a quiet period, hasn’t it?

Baye: Yeah, now people are just waiting. They are just taking the picture and they just say ‘go’ and ‘we’ll call you when we need you’. So people are saying they just want to know how many people are waiting. And Europa, the migrants. That’s why.

Me: But before, we were talking about deportation. Now obviously, there are people that want to go back to their own country but can’t. But in general, do you think that it’s a good thing that people don’t get deported back to their own country?

Baye: To not be deported back to their own country? I think… that they have to do it, because we still in Africa. And we don’t commit a crime, so we don’t get deported. The only thing is, we want to be in Europe.

If it was a criminal act then they can send you back to your country. Because it’s someone trying to make their life better and you take them back again. And you don’t know how you managed to make that money to reach this place, and you take him back without any… nothing, with nothing. You have to start again

Me: But they do very bad things to the people when they catch them?

Baye: Yeah, no it’s not good to deport like that. Because we don’t commit any crime, we are just trying to cross the border. But the Europeans pay them to stop that. They been paid for that. But this is Africa, maybe if you get to Europe… if they catch you in Europe, maybe they deport you.

Me: Yeah, I think they would, they would be following laws more, there’s less corruption.

Baye: Anyway… it’s complicated.

Me: OK. Well, if there’s any more you want to say about anything?

Baye: Yeah… it’s complicated… because of the border problem. Yeah… they should think that… we are in Africa, and we are all Africans… we should think of another way… another way to cross the border, because this way you will never stop the border. People will cross by anyhow. It’s closer, it’s not a far distance.

Me: Yeah… you can see it.

Baye: You can see it! And when you see what you are looking for, it’s not easy to stop you because you are like a hungry lion. You know, because you see what you are looking for, that’s it.

So they should open the borders, you know, and make people free in this world. But all the politicians… it’s all about Europe, the big problem is the EU, you know. Because they want to be the king, the controller, to control the whole world, you know. In their own way. Brainwashing people with their vanity. To fight against their own brothers and sisters. To make them stop looking for their opportunities, you know… because of money.


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An autobiographical novel documenting the struggles of Sub-saharan African migrants in the EU border town of Tangiers, Morocco. Content note for rape, trafficking, police violence, murder and racial abuse.

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