8/13/2019

African migrants in Europe trade one hardship for another

"“There are secrets each of us has to keep,” he said.

Youssouf waved a hand at their surroundings: the battered couch; the weedy broken concrete outside; the cemetery up the street, where a half acre beside the graves now holds so many chabolas that when people in Lepe say el cementerio, they usually mean the migrants’ slum. “All of this,” Youssouf said. “None of us are going to tell our families about it. All of this is a secret.”

I’m fine. Things are good here. Make sure Ma doesn’t worry. How much human migration over the centuries has been propelled partly by protective shading of the truth? And how much more efficient, here in the 21st century, to dispatch the reassuring report via mobile phone? A few years ago World Bank economists figured out that the world’s poorest households were likelier to have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Inside Lepe’s chabolas, the furnishings are scraps and discards, but nearly everybody has a phone. Some of the phones have cameras, and attractive backdrops are abundant for the selfie sent home: a stranger’s parked convertible, a bar’s television, the kitchen of an acquaintance who’s managed to rent an indoor room in town."