Monday, May 29, 2006

A Landfall in Barbados

The 20ft. launch drifted for a long time.
Aimlessly, yes, but not without a destination, for the pull of those currents was strong.

It started from Praia, Cape Verde, bound for the Canary Islands.
There were about fifty people aboard, mostly from Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau.
They had paid for their passage.
Probably they had been hoping to find work so that they could send money back to those they loved.
For a little while the launch had run under its own power.
For a little while after that, it had been towed by another boat.
But then a decision was evidently reached and it was cut to drift. (Possibly because of a storm? Possibly because the whole thing had just become an inconvenient and costly nuisance? Who knows.) The evidence for that ‘evidently’ is a towing cable cut by a machete.

One can imagine the sound as the launch suddenly loses momentum, hunkers down in the water.
Have you ever been on a boat when the engine cuts out suddenly?
Yes? Then – if you screen the engine thrum from your memory – you know what that part felt like. You need not imagine.
At that time, it is possible that everyone on board was still alive.
One can imagine the sound of realisation.

By the end of January, no-one on board remained alive.
In late April it was sighted by a fishing boat in Barbados.
In late May, it hit the U.K. news.

Many of those who died are still to be identified. One, who left behind a note, was named Diaw Sounkar Diemi. Another, with family in Portugal, was named Bouba Cisse.

These fifty lives are only a small fraction of the thousand or so lives that have been lost so far on this particular clandestine migration route. They are an even smaller fraction – vanishingly small – of the 200 million of us who are first-generation emigrants, who do not live in the nation state where we happened, by random chance, to be born. And in terms of what we might consider the greater diaspora – that loose network of ancestors, descendants, friends, family, and acquaintances? Well that diaspora may even comprise the majority of the world’s population, in which case these fifty lives are a miniscule, insignificant fraction indeed.

But still far too large. Still far too many. Because their lives mattered every bit as much to them and those who knew them, as yours or mine to us and those who know us.

Open the borders.
The world was never meant to be a prison.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

May God accept the martyrdom of each one.

5/29/2006 11:22 pm  
Blogger dove said...


5/30/2006 10:00 am  
Blogger Nanette said...

Yes, what Ductape said. And I second (or third) this:

Open the borders.
The world was never meant to be a prison.

OT: dove, will you email me when you get a chance? I don't have your address. poco too, if she peeks in.

nanette at humanbeams dot com

5/30/2006 7:50 pm  
Blogger dove said...

Hi Nanette,

Just to let you know I dropped you a line

5/30/2006 8:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From poco:

The borders are only open for capital to zip through this computer to that computer, erasing all boundaries and divisions, in search for that momentary extra interest that will make the corporate chiefs that much richer.

And yes, of course, all borders are open for the US Army as it zips through this nation to the next spreading misery and destruction where-ever it goes.

For labor, or ordinary humanity, to utilize this open borders policy--that must not be tolerated--else how will the corporate warlords make their billions? In their view the world was meant to be a prison. Else why would we have Haliburton building detention centres for immigrants?

OT--Nanette, I dropped you a line too. And sorry for the momentary silence--end of semester madness--imminent visit of parents (aka massive housecleaning projects) and of course, its all dove's fault. I managed to lay my grubby hands on a copy of Delany's Tales of Neveryon and I am absolutely enthralled. Thank you so much for recommending him so vociferously.

5/30/2006 11:56 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

poco, if you are from South Asia you should know that there is absolutely no amount of cleaning you can do that will raise the level of your living space to anything above "unspeakably filthy" in the eyes of your parents, and you would have better spent the time drinking beer with your friends and encouraging them to just leave the bottles anywhere.


5/31/2006 3:58 am  
Blogger dove said...

Good to see you poco -- yes -- that interesting asymmetry between labour and capital.

I went looking for The Shadow Lines this weekend, but no luck so far. I have a couple more bookshops to try though. I'm really glad you're enthralled with Delany! I'll gladly take the blame for that ;) Good luck with the visit.

5/31/2006 7:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From poco:

Well, I've spent the whole day chuckling ruefully at DTF's comments.They do capture the spirit of the interaction. But alas, I do have to do what I have to do and hide evidences of various bad habits and debaucheries....

Best of luck, dove, in finding SL soon.

6/01/2006 12:56 am  
Blogger dove said...

Good luck poco with the parental unit visit. For what it's worth, I think there may not be so much difference between South Asian and Antipodean parents on the emergency house-cleaning and general hiding of debauchery front. (Though to be fair, she says, looking around the state of her house which could politely be described as 'dishevelled.' -- they're probably not inaccurate, in my case, at least)

6/01/2006 8:33 pm  
Anonymous supersoling said...

I've heard this story played out many times in South Florida as Haitians desperately climbed onto overloaded, leaky, and unseaworthy boats. Some though could afford to scrape up enough money to pay someone, like the Spaniard in this story, to take them to America. Often those captains were Americans. These stories were common. One day however, my Mother got a call from the local authorities because they needed extra divers (my Mother is a well known dive instructor in her local area) to search for bodies just off the beach of the town we lived in. It was reported by a couple of survivors that they were brought within a hundred or so yards of the beach by the person they payed, and that they were then ordered into the water at gunpoint. I don't remember the reason why, but I think it may have been that the captain was worried about being caught. I did not know that the majority of Haitians don't know how to swim. It seemed odd to me. Somewhere in there is a much deeper story. But tragically, most on board drowned. Men, women, and children. A football field's distance from safety, after a journey of hundreds of miles in the open ocean.
My Mother did find a boy, dead, and submerged in the water. She never talked much about it to me. I was about 14 at the time. But I did hear her crying later that night. I've often wondered what it must have been like for her to come upon this boys body, drifting below the water.

The sad truth is that even had they made it safely to shore, they would have not found an easy life in Florida. Haitians were, and are, treated like dirt there. While Cubans are given special preference because our government still carries it's cold war grudge against Castro, therefore making Cuban immigrants political asylum seekers, while Haitians are merely starving, economic refugees, and unwanted, legally, or culturally.

6/05/2006 2:37 am  
Blogger dove said...


This is a very powerful comment -thank you for bringing it here. I have a favour to ask: would you also consider telling this story as a diary? I think it needs a wider audience than it will get here.

I think the issues that you gesture towards around the differences that place of origin and status makes to one's treatment are also hugely important. Beyond a certain threshold of deprivation, economic migrants, like asylum seekers are also fleeing for their lives --or at least they are fleeing for the chance at a longer life.

6/05/2006 11:22 pm  
Anonymous supersoling said...

I guess I could give it a go. But I'd like to take a few days to think about how to present it. Because it is a powerful statement about the inequities faced by immigrants who are seen as lower "others". i still stand by my belief that i'm not the best writer around, and I often think my thoughts are disjointed and so it comes out that way in print. I'd also like to look for some powerful images to. i thought about trying to find the story I conveyed in archives somewhere, but sadly I can't remember the date and my Mother and I are no longer close.

I understand that you no longer wish to participate at BMT but would you mind if in the diary I write I could link back to your words here, because you are a very powerful writer. If not, I completely understand.

Thank you for this suggestion Dove

6/06/2006 10:37 pm  
Blogger dove said...

Good -- I'm glad you're going to write on this. The issues of inequality among different groups of migrants and refugees are hugely thorny -- there's a whole kind of hierarchy of foreignness that plays out, in the U.S., and also over here in the U.K. At one end you have people like me -- privileged migrants who have the option of 'passing' if we learn the accent and make certain (im)moral choices, and at the other people who are destitute, in hiding for their lives, bereft in just about every sense imaginable.

Anyway, I'm digressing.
I think you underestimate your ability as a writer -- for what it's worth, I think what you wrote here is powerful, not least because it is very straightforward and direct. You're welcome to link back here -- I don't mind in the least.

6/07/2006 12:36 am  
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