Diary of a Back Way Boy

Letter to Cousin X

By Vincent Ogo

July 16, 2021

Dear, can you believe this? I am sending this email from a cyber café located in a back alley in a city somewhere in Babylon. I know you are happy and excited, knowing I finally made it to Europe. But don’t start rejoicing yet. Believe everything I am saying. They say to get to Babylon these days is almost as difficult as getting to heaven; I dare add that it is almost as difficult to survive here as it is in hell.

To begin with, if you want to get a feel of how cold it is here, go to that Fula shop opposite our compound and poke your hand into the deep freezer inside. I never knew it was possible for people to live in a place colder than freezers. ‘Shiver my timbers!’ Boy, forgive me for uttering that obscenity associated with sea lords inside ships flaunting the Jolly Roger all over the seven seas in the days of yore! I now understand why many of these white people enjoy baking themselves in the sun when they come to Africa.

Other Africans who have stayed here for quite some while tell me February is not the best time to enter Europe. Fancy that! As if any desperate African cares about the month he or she enters Europe. I remember how desperate I was to make it to this land of my dreams. I remember how I used to run almost crazy whenever any of my childhood friends or ex-classmates resident in Babylon come visiting, cruising around in flashy cars, European wives by their sides.

I was so crazy I even envied their braided Rasta hairs and the earrings they wore, even though they cut the image of those Masai cattlemen of East Africa! Not to mention that some of the women they bring home as wives are older than Yai Adama, our grandmum (Never quote me on that, dear).

Anyway, back to the present. How did I manage to make it? Just tell those who matter to put this in the record books: “The journey Africans make through the back way to Babylon obey the laws of natural selection to the letter.” Don’t laugh. This is no laughing matter, my brother. While many young Africans are called by the spirit of migration, only a few are chosen to make it to Babylon. You remember the first attempt I made through the sea by way of Mauritania? I told you about a 100 of us (men, women and children) sailed off in a wooden, wave-harassed and salt-eroded wooden boat from a point between Mauritania and Western Sahara.

And what happened? We were taunted by the mighty and merciless Atlantic winds, which tossed our boat about, making it look as if we were going to many places. But we eventually arrived at nowhere. You remember I told you how all the children and women and many of the men inside the boat died? When a fishing trawler eventually spotted our luckless boat, how many of us were still alive? Just 13! Lucky me.

I won’t repeat how hunger gnawed our insides. I need not repeat how we were forced to drink the filthy seawater. And then we saw that infernal bird -the albatross, circling us like death’s angel! You could imagine how we felt when we were rescued by the trawler, whose captain told us we were nearer to West Africa than to Europe. The winds had played foul with our hopes. Anyway, the captain of the trawler was kind enough to deposit us somewhere on the Senegalese coast.

Hmmm…that’s an old story. After that Atlantic fiasco, I came back home, but like many young men in Africa, I was infected by the Babylon-mania virus. Dear, you know I spent a fortune on that failed Atlantic trip. You know very well that how I struggled hard so to raise the money. You remember how I hustled everywhere one could hustle in the Smiling Coast, and pestered every tourist I come across within and without the sacred Tourism Development Area.

You remember how tourists-hassling got me into trouble on many occasions, especially that day I got arrested by anti-bumsting soldiers, who shaved off the cherished Rasta hair I was cultivating and was so proud of, leaving me with a shiny head that made me look like an inmate of a Nazi concentration camp. You remember how I worked as an “aperentice” in a gelegele bus by day and as a security guard in a pure water factory by night. On top of all these, I had to sell my share of our family land to raise enough money!

As I said earlier, we’ve all been infected by the Babylonmania virus. What else could I have done next after that failed trip but to try and raise money and have another go at making it to the ‘promised land’, after all I’m hustler-born and hustler-bred. The downfall of a man is never the end of his life, they say.

Many of our fellows in Europe did not make it at their first try. Didn’t you hear the story of a certain Rasta man who is now resident in Babylon? His nickname was “never say die”. In fact, that fellow’s name qualifies to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the most hardened hustler who ever lived on the face of Africa. In his first attempt at making it to Babylon, he sailed from an obscure coastal fishing village in Senegal in a wooden boat (like I did) and the rickety vessel was already within sight of the Canary Islands when they were intercepted by Spanish coastguards and shipped back to Africa.

In his second attempt, he traveled up to Morocco via the Sahara Desert, but was arrested along with others as they boarded a boat to cross the Mediterranean. In his third attempt “never say die” went up to Somalia (never mind the war there, the love of Babylon makes many African boys to venture into places where even the Devil himself fears to tread). At the Somali coast, our man got into a boat bound for Yemen.

His plan was to enter Europe by ‘land-navigating’ the Middle East. However, as they got close to the Yemeni coast, all the passengers were forced, at gunpoint, to jump into the sea by the people-smugglers. Our friend managed to swim to safety, though many others perished. (Trust a matured hustler with foresight; he took pains to master the art of swimming before he embarked on that particular journey). 

“Never say die” next turned his attention to East Africa where he was talked into believing that one can get a boat from Tanzania to Australia. Hmm…what the lust for Babylon could make people believe! He entered the Australian-bound boat but the  sea-suffering vessel ended up at the Island of Zanzibar!

The fellow crawled his way to Cameroun, and after hustling at one of the ports there for six months, stowed away in a Portugal-registered ship. He was discovered while the ship was already in the high seas, and must still be thanking his stars he wasn’t tossed overboard by the Filipino sailors (some say he is catty, and has nine lives). The ship docked briefly in Guinea Bissau, and he was graciously thrown out there.

(To be continued)

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