by Bunye Ngene
“But what other options are available to you when you’re stuck in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in a tiny dinghy other than to reflect on your life and how the decisions you made brought you there?”
The Bodies That Move tells the riveting story of a man who embarks on a journey in search of greener pastures.
Abandoned by his father as a child, Nosa is forced to bear the responsibility of caring for his mother and siblings. Seeing no future in Nigeria, he is persuaded by an old schoolmate to migrate to Europe. In order to achieve this, he employs the services of smugglers.
His journey takes him through many transit cities, safe houses and detention camps in Nigeria, Niger and war-torn Libya, and sees him cross the Sahara Desert. On his journey, he meets other travellers, each with unique stories. They are all united, however, by the desire for a better life in Europe.
The story begins with Nosa stranded in a dinghy on the Mediterranean sea, heading for Italy in search of a better life for himself (and his family back in Nigeria). Alongside him are equally desperate passengers, none more so than a young woman willing life into the body of her dead baby. Instantly, the reader is aware of the risks these people are taking and how fortunate we are to have not faced such a struggle.
Then, the story heads back in time to explain and illustrate why and how Nosa ended up in that boat.
Nosa is an excellent student, top of his class, destined for great things. But coming from a single-parent family with little in the way of money, he’s immediately at a disadvantage even when it comes to simply progressing through the interview stages for a job at the bank – where, incredulously, a fee is required to permit him through despite his outstanding resumé.
Nosa is obliged to contact the father who left him and his mother many years, and who is now a wealthy man, albeit one who has played no part in his son’s life since. Contact made, and money for the fee acquired, Nosa learns from a ‘friend’ he met at the bank that he wouldn’t get the job anyway since it would be awarded to some rich man’s son, regardless of merit.
And so the journey to Europe becomes a reality. Of course, it’s not as simple as boarding a flight. Nosa will pass through many places, including detention centres, as well as being “sold” to work as a gardener before he can even get close to the ocean. He’ll travel through his home country, onto war-torn Libya, and across the Sahara desert beforehand. He’ll meet people from across the continent, some who are rejected partway through the journey as their agent (smuggler) has not paid for the full trip. He’ll go hungry, get beaten, and robbed. He’ll see women led away to be raped, men kicked to death, people abandoned in the desert, left to die. And many a time he’ll wonder if it will be worth it. But there’s no turning back.
The Bodies That Move is a most moving story, encapsulating the perils and exploitation that refugees must encounter to find that so-called better life. I found it to be a compelling read, filled with every emotional circumstance possible: friendships are formed and lost, hopes are raised then dashed, but despite everything there is a determination that keeps Nosa and those like him going.
An important story given the headlines we’re used to seeing, and one that paints the true picture of the human cost of these journeys, and the extent of the exploitation of those who feel they have no choice but to leave everything and everyone they know for a chance at a better life.