Elizabeth O. Onogwu
Department of English,
Benue State University, Makurdi
From early times, migration has been a prominent part of human life. Most of the migration in early times was over short distances largely because of lack of means of transportation and knowledge of distant places to migrate to. With modern means of transportation and knowledge of distant places, migration is often to distant places. Today, migration has become a common African experience with a lot of people trying to make their way from Africa to developed countries, particularly in Europe and America, in search of better living conditions. This paper examines how Kyuka Lilymjok explores the migration of Africans in A Journey of Hell to Heaven and The Deportee, showing how these migrations end in disappointment and disillusion for many.
Migration involves movement of people from one country or society to another. The major reason for migration is often to seek better living conditions in a country or place the migrant thinks is better than his at a particular time. Thus, a person might migrate to a different country as a refugee in times of war or for asylum due to persecution or simply because living conditions in his/her country are not good. This latter reason often accounts for the migration of several people from developing countries, particularly in Africa, to developed countries mainly in Europe.
There exists a body of works in literature known as migrant literature. This literature often looks at the stories of migrants and/or their migration. In some other cases, they are simply the stories told by migrants themselves. “Many African writers of the first generation, namely, Achebe, Soyinka, Ngugi, et cetera. experienced forced migration for survival. While in exile they continued producing literary works” (Kabore 1). Citing Harzoune, Kabore notes that following the steps of these early writers, contemporary African writers have taken deeper interest in addressing issues of migration in their fiction. Kabore continues that “A look at most literary productions, in the last fifteen years suffices to convince the doubtful mind of the recurrence of migration in African literature” (2). Examples of migration literature can be seen in such works as Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, Leila Aboulela’s The Translator, Manthia Diawara We Won’t Budge: An African Exile in the World, and Esi Edugyan’s The Second Life of Samuel Tyne. Two prominent examples seen in contemporary Nigerian writing is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Chris Abani’s Graceland. Kabore notes that:
the Sudanese Leila Aboulela’s The Translator (1999) narrates the story of a woman from Sudan living in Scotland. Diawara’s We Won’t Budge: An African Exile in the World (2003) presents how the assimilation process shapes the lives and dreams of immigrants in France and in the USA, setting the experiences of the migrants in both countries into comparison. Edugyan’s novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004), tells the story of a young man of astonishing promise, Samuel Tyne, who migrates from Ghana to Canada, determined to improve his life. Chris Abani’s GraceLand (2004) tells the story of Elvis, a teenager who endeavours to get out of poverty and violence in Lagos. (2)
It is into this tradition that Kyuka Lilymjok’s (erstwhile Adamu Kyuka Usman) novels, A Journey of Hell to Heaven and The Deportee fall. This chapter looks at how migration has been shown in these two novels. In achieving this, synopses of both novels are presented then followed by a thematic analyses hinged on migration as shown in the novels.
This chapter shall adopt a hybrid framework to discuss the two novels in question. The paper dwells on the situation oriented approach (push-pull hypotheses) of migration which is closely related to the neoclassical theory of migration. It does this against the background of post-colonialism which serves as a dominant framework for several writers in formerly colonised nations. The situation oriented approach was formulated by Lee for explaining the unpredictable nature of migrants. In his work, ‘Theory of Migration’, Lee notes push-pull factors as the dominant reasons for migration. The push factors are usually those situations in one’s country or society which are not pleasant; factors that drive one away; while the pull factors are those inviting factors which ‘pull’ them towards the emigration destination. Thus, migration is largely influenced by one’s place, personal reasons and living conditions, not ruling out economic factors.
Kyuka Lilymjok, a postcolonial writer, appears in a “situation that is between mimicry and mockery, where the menace of mimicry lies in its dualism in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse thereby disrupting its authority” (Rice and Waugh 1989:361) to be caught up in ambivalence. In one breath, Kyuka tries to portray Europe as the opposite of all that is wrong with Africa – the fashionable belief held by a vast majority of the once colonised “third world” nations or what Edward Said terms “the margins.” The margins that often fall off the book!
But Kyuka is also quick to point out that the expectations of many people from the margins who equate Europe with the celestial realm might be fraught with disappointment. Terry says in A Journey. of Hell to Heaven:
‘I think it is better to allow life roughen you up a bit. I think it is better to allow you go to Europe, if you can, so that you can appreciate Mali better. In your starry-eyed state, you can’t understand anything. It is good to allow you to be shaken up by hard life outside where you know (p.48).
For those unlucky to be deported to their country, the picture is reflected in yet another unpleasant colour. Morgan in Kyuka Lilymjok’s The Deportee faces the reality of life after being deported from Russia after thirty years of illegal stay. The hardship, lack of job, negative attitudes of his relations and his unceasing obsession with his lost glory sends him mad. His case clearly explains the calamity of a deportee in most cases.
Synopsis of A Journey of Hell to Heaven
A Journey of Hell to Heaven is the story of Diallo, a Malian obsessed with Europe and everything European. He sees Europe as a place without blemish where life is excellent with angels without demons.
He concludes that everything that is good in Mali is brought from Europe and that Europeans are better than Africans in all ramifications. Thinking this way he says:
Everything about Europe was cast in majestic colours of grandeur. Further exciting my imagination and cravings for Europe were white people in Mali said to be from the great continent. These people were clearly better than our people in clothes, skin, education and I thought even in language (p.1)
From the above, Diallo fits easily into those Selvon says believe the streets of London are paved with gold only to find they are paved with heartaches of disillusionment and frustration. Being so obsessed with Europe and dissatisfied with Mali, Diallo sets out to Europe through the Sahara Desert on a camel he steals from his father.
Diallo journeys through the Sahara Desert with little food and water for himself and the camel; with painful experiences as his only companions. The weather is horrendous. At night, it is extremely cold; during the day, the sun bakes his famished, sweltering self. He intends stealing his way into Europe through the Moroccan border with Spain.
After undergoing series of punishing rigors in the desert with the camel, the camel falls sick and dies on the twentieth day of his journey to the border. The death of the camel compounds Diallo’s predicament as he continues his journey in a twist of ambivalence. Fear grips his heart when he discovered four mummies covered with sand which he concludes must be corpses of Africans pursuing similar ambitions of going to Europe like him. To clear his doubt, he goes closer only to find out that they died violent deaths.
As he wobbles on in the desert without a sense of direction, he stumbles on a caravan of desert tourists. Seeking for help, he faces series of interrogations from the tourists, but they later agree to help him. In the company of the desert tourists, he finds himself in a desert village where he gathers that robbers cut open the stomachs of traders they suspect have swallowed money the robbers want to rob them of. The story fills him with horror but he has no option than press on with his journey.
Diallo’s hope of going to Europe without further hassles on his meeting the desert tourists soon hits a hard rock as a result of the death of the tourists’ leader, Terry, who has been of tremendous help to him. This makes him to break-off from the desert tourists.
With serendipity, he joins a group of illegal immigrants being led to Europe by a Coyote. He moves to sell the camel Terry bought for him to the coyote, but could not come to agreement with the coyote who under-prices the camel. The coyote angry he will not sell the camel to him at his under-price tells him he cannot be his coyote. He agrees but smartly trails the coyote and his group of illegal immigrant until they arrive Bunduga.
From Bunduga, he travels to the Moroccan border with Spain where he meets legions of illegal immigrants including Gizenga. Gizenga is a Congolese who has gone through so much hardship in the course of his own journey to the Moroccan border with Spain. When Gizenga wonders why he is fleeing Mali which he thinks is not as bad as Congo, Diallo replies:
“Is there any African country that is OK my brother? …the continent is sick with bad leadership. The motley crowd at this border tells the story of Africa’s sickness” (p.72).
Speaking in an aside, perhaps it is not only the continent that is sick as Diallo puts it; those who flee it the way Diallo fled it are also sick. Fleeing sickness, they carry sickness with them.
The risky adventure of migration is usually undertaken because of the spread of single stories that cast Europe in heavenly colors, while dyeing Africa in hellish colors; that robes and crown Europe in kingly regalias while draping Africa in rags.
On his sixth day at the border amidst ugly experiences, the duo – Diallo and Gizenga, and others move in a great surge and overwhelm the border guards to scale the border fence between Morocco and Spain. Diallo having arrived Spain meets disappointment as the mirage he saw in Africa, like the morning mist, is licked by the sun of reality; as the enchanting blue mountains of Europe turn black to blend with him.
In most cases those who migrate illegally do so because of lack of opportunities in their nations. If they are able to make it to the dream country and find opportunities in such countries, they will most likely discover that such opportunities are not necessarily meant for them. Like in their home countries, they find they cannot have a fair crack of the whip in their dream countries. They are caught in a dilemma: The dilemma of remaining in their home country without hope or going abroad with no certainty of realizing their dreams. This was what Morgan and the taxi driver lamented in The Deportee: ‘Black man don suffer,’ he continued after a moment of silence. ‘No good job for him in the white man’s country because of racial discrimination …’
‘And no good job for him in his own country because of corruption,’ the taxi driver completed for him. (p.12)
As immigrants are caught in a dilemma, their home country is also caught in a dilemma. Most people that migrate illegally are idle, unskilful people with potentials of creating social and security problems for their state of origin. If they are restrained from migrating, they may do violence to the home country within. If they are allowed to migrate, they will do violence to the image of the home state abroad. The nation they are migrating to is also caught in an economic and moral dilemma of keeping them or deporting them – caught in a moral dilemma if regard is had to the fact that a good portion of the wealth in the developed nation immigrants are fleeing to comes from the poor home countries of the immigrants, mostly through free trade, foreign investment and so-called aids.
From the foregoing often on the issue of illegal migration, it is not only the individual illegal immigrant that is caught in a dilemma, his state of origin, his state of destination are also caught in a dilemma. Thus we have here a triple dilemma which is gradually settling into a triple heritage of the world. The best solution to this triple dilemma and triple heritage is for nation states particularly in Africa to be well governed so that commonwealths are generated to create comfortable living conditions that will discourage people from migration.
Synopsis of The Deportee
Kyuka Lilymjok’s The Deportee tells the story of Morgan, who is deported from Russia for illegal immigration. At 21, thirty years ago, Morgan travels with his boss to Russia for an international conference in one of Moscow’s universities. Waiting for his boss, he surveys the streets of Moscow and falls in love with the city. He decides to stay behind in Moscow. When his boss is through with the conference, he is nowhere to be found. His boss returns to Nigeria after a fruitless search of him.
Penniless but happy he is breathing the same air with the Russians and walking on their beautiful streets, at night Morgan takes shelter at a gas station behind a container that screens him from view. On the fourth day, he secures a job as a cleaner in a restaurant.
After four years of working with the restaurant, he secures another job as a security guard with a very handsome pay. In his new job, he works marvellously well so as to be promoted to the supervision cadre as promised, but he falls out of luck with his superior officers. He is denied promotion and he jettisons the work for another.
Subsequently, he loses his job and cannot secure another. Life goes biting hard. He is thrown out of his apartment as unpaid rent mounts. Jobless and homeless, he keeps roaming from one place to another and from one friend’s house to another. Later he gets his most paying job since he landed Russia. The job is in a coal mining company in southwestern Russia. After working with the mining company, for eleven years, he is arrested by the police as an illegal immigrant and deported to Nigeria.
In Nigeria, he stays in Lagos with his uncle, Roland, a dismissed banker. In Lagos, he begins a fruitless search for a job returning home every day frustrated. One day after a long walk amidst stress and hunger, he returns home, eats and goes to sit by the beach which is a stone throw from his house. At the beach, he reflects on how he cheated on his Russian girlfriend, Alisa with Edelina and how Alisa reported him to the Russian immigration authorities which eventually led to his deportation.
Nine months after arriving from Russia, Morgan returns home from his job hunt, to find his uncle, Roland in severe stomach pain. He gives up the ghost before Morgan could do anything.
Following his uncle’s death, Morgan’s aunt offers to accommodate him. She drains him of whatever little money he has and pushes him out of her house. He goes to stay in the Church where he worships, but is later ejected. Thrown out of the church, a philanthropist, Segun, offers him his garage where he stays and disappears after seven months only to be found mad.
Migration in A Journey of Hell to Heaven and The Deportee
Migration has remained one of the striking news headlines for many decades. Over the years, records have shown that after colonization, the movement of people from one country or continent to another has consistently been on the upswing. This migration, which is mostly fuelled by the search for greener pastures or better life, has remained relatively high as people often migrate from poor countries to richer ones. Millions of migrants live in Europe and America with the number increasing every year (Choe, ‘Backgrounder’). According to Hein de Haas, the director of the International migration Institute at the University of Oxford, public discourse on African migration to Europe portrays the phenomenon as an “exodus” largely composed of irregular migrants, driven by conflict and poverty (‘African Immigration to Europe’).
In the main, people migrate from poorer to richer countries mostly in search of better life. The popular belief is that life is better in the developed countries. This belief is mostly fostered by stories told about foreign countries immigrants target which contrast the experience in the countries of origin of the immigrants.
The thrust in A Journey of Hell to Heaven and The Deportee focuses on what informs people’s burning obsession for foreign countries, leading into illegal immigration. One of such factors has been identified as stemming from the famous ‘colonized and colonizer’ discourse; the ‘superior-inferior’ images of the former colonies and their colonial masters where the former is portrayed as hell, while the later heaven and better in all ramifications.
As people become filled with illusions about their dreamland; as they get obsessed with it, they set out for it often in a reckless way. As despair presses on them in their homelands where everything looks gloomy, hope beckons to them from the Blue Mountains yond yonder. Along the way, reality often sets in even before they arrive at destination.
Stories that incite Africans against Africa and excite them into migrating to Europe or America often ignore the beauty of Africa, its natural resources, its values and culture. The stories glorifying Europe and America in most cases are incomplete; Diallo’s mindset shows this. He says: “these people were clearly better than our people in clothes, skin, education and I thought even in language” (1). This kind of mindset has long blinded many Africans and shut their minds against the fact that good things too exist in Africa. The reason for this unfortunate outcome is that most information presented in public spheres is presented by Eurocentric scholars and ex-colonial exploiters who have no interest in making a case for Africa. And Diallo wonders: “So, we also have something someone from Europe can desire?” (p.3). Despite been told by his father that Mali has something Europe desires, Mali for him remains hell while Europe heaven (a mindset he had acquired through stories he has grown to hear and believe. Despite the fact that the beauty of the heaven of Europe is created with wealth from the hell of Africa, Diallo pines for Europe. And this is Africa’s serious problem: being thoroughly brainwashed to despise itself; being thoroughly domesticated to forget it is the cousin of the wolf.
Pierre gets money from Africa to buy his beautiful car Diallo’s father tells him. Unfortunately, not even the ironical portrayal in this case is strong enough to quench Diallo’s resentment of Mali and obsession with Europe (p.4). He is the proverbial dog far gone to hear the whistle of the hunter.
The blindness Diallo suffers is the same blindness that informs Morgan’s obsession for Moscow and Russia in general: “He had also heard there were many jobs in Russia. In Russia, one worked where he wanted; left when he wanted, and was paid a fat salary. In Nigeria, there were no jobs most of the time and most of the places where there were, the salaries were a joke” (3-4). With this in mind, Morgan could not miss an opportunity of vanishing into the crowd of Moscow.
Diallo insists he must go to Europe to find work and have a good life. “Yes, life in Mali is hell; I have been told life in Europe is heaven” (40). This absurdity is further expressed at page 47 of A Journey of Hell to Heaven where Diallo explains, “There is this guy from my village who is in Europe. He said jobs are everywhere in Europe calling people to come and do them for good pay, but most people are not interested. He said once I am around Europe, a job will welcome me; a job will sort of seduce me.” (p.47)
Illegal Immigration and Deportation
For the purpose of legal or formal movement from one country or continent to another, one is required to obtain a valid visa and duly signed relevant documents. According to Julia Choe, the European Union does not have a common immigration policy regarding nationals of third countries. These differences in immigration policy, therefore further complicates the requirements and processes of migrating officially to Europe from Africa. This accompanied by the cost of official migration remains some of the fundamental challenges that mostly confront people intending to migrate from Africa to Europe or other continents as the case may be.
Since most African immigrants often hold firmly to the notion that nothing good will come to them in their countries of origin and that their destiny and breakthrough lie ahead of them in Europe, they are mostly desperate and ready to do anything possible to get there, hence the alternative of illegal immigration.
Kyuka’s story of illegal immigration as recorded in A Journey of Hell to Heaven is a total reflection of the above circumstance. Since Diallo can’t find a proper way of heading to Europe, he like many other persons resorts to an extremely dangerous and illegal alternative of crossing over to his supposed heaven. Diallo’s journey laden with hardship (hunger, thirst, heat, armed robbers, long trek amongst others), is a suicide mission he embarks on but is lucky suicide does not turn up for the mission. He narrates “I came by three mummies half-buried by the sand of the desert” (32). These three mummies he finds may be corpses of illegal immigrants like him that dared the desert. If they were, they were not lucky like him. Suicide turned up for their appointment. Suicide not only turned up for the appointment, it turned up violently: “…it was not difficult telling the people now reduced to mummies had died violently” (35).
The UN Refugee agency in 2016 noted in its report that:
More than 200,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in the first six months of this year… Some 2,510 lives have been lost so far compared to 1,825 in the same period last year, making this a particularly deadly year….While nearly two-thirds have reached Europe traveling from Turkey to Greece; the UNHCR says the North Africa-Italy route is dramatically more dangerous. It says the vast majority—more than 2,100 people—have died along this route this year. (Mediterranean Crossing…)
Though one may be quick to blame illegal immigrants for illegal migration, the fact remains that conditions of living in the developed countries they migrate to are far better than conditions back home. For the most part, conditions back home are bad because of capital flight from developing nations to developed nations. Through free trade, foreingn investments and loans developed nations give to developing nations, money keeps flying from developing nations to developed nations. Illegal immigrants from poor developing nations are merely fleeing (flying) to developed nations to join the money that flew from their nations to the countries they are fleeing to. Kyuka Lilymjok’s A Journey of Hell to Heaven, and The Deportee bear this out.
Turning Point for Immigrants
Some people who immigrate settle down in the countries they have immigrated to and do fairly well there. Fortunate immigrants like these are however very few. Another group of immigrants gets caught in a twilight-zone where they are stalked by reality and fantasy. Reality will be shouting at them that they are not making headway in life while fantasy will be whispering into their ears that they are a success. Majority immigrants however get disillusioned and seek to return home. For some yet, though they will like to return home, shame will not let them. Experience has shown that those who cannot return home because of the shame of coming back without anything tangible to cope with the negative attitudes of relatives go through life in a foreign land unhappy and depressed. This is no doubt the situation of Tallo in Spain as narrated in A Journey of Hell to Heaven. He stays in Spain for ten years because of the shame of going back home empty handed. In his response as to why he has not gone back home, he laments: “You keep thinking things will improve until you are forced to accept they won’t. When this realization comes, it is usually too late to go back home.” (84). After thirty years of labour in Russia, Morgan arrives Nigeria with nothing but a briefcase; “he had in his right hand a briefcase which was as brief as his body frame and indeed the clothes he wore” (1).
When leaving Russia he has decided to stay in Lagos because his uncle Roland lives there. Now in Lagos, the city gives him another reason he will live there: ‘‘As the various touts competed for passengers, three passengers came into the park. They all happened to be going to Oshodi. Two touts rushed at them in a flurry. They went with the tout first to reach them. The other tout swore at the one who got the passengers. ‘Your papa!’ he howled.
‘Your mama!’ the other tout hollered back. With the new three passengers he had gotten, his bus was full and moved off with a loud screech on the eroded surface of the park. As the bus moved off, the tout who was beaten to the passengers struck its behind with a small stick he was holding.
‘You hit the buttocks of your mother,’ the tout in the moving bus spat at him.
The tout who was insulted laughed and went back to look for passengers for his bus.
Morgan watching and listening to all these laughed in spite of his fatigue. The touts were clearly beyond the shame and anger of insults.
To Morgan’s right, a man was urinating under a tree in the full gaze of people in the park.
‘Lagos na wa,’ someone said on seeing what the man was doing.
‘Lagos takes away shame,’ said another person.
‘Lagos takes away shame or shameless people come to Lagos,’ said yet another person.
‘Lagos has no shame,’ the commentary drifted and floated through the park with litters that also drifted and floated through it.
‘It is people that come to Lagos that have no shame. All the shameless people in the world come to Lagos. What can Lagos do?’
‘I repeat Lagos has no shame.’
‘I also repeat it is people that come to Lagos that have no shame.’ (p.52-53 A Journey of Hell to Heaven).
Since Lagos has no shame, he is going to live out the shame of his life in Lagos. In the end, even the shamelessness of Lagos proves too thin to cope with the shame of his life. He needs madness in addition to the shamelessness of Lagos. He goes mad.
Diallo seems made of sterner stuff. When Tallo confesses he can’t go back home because of shame, Diallo says, there is no shame than that of ending up a second class being in a foreign land (p.85 The Deportee) His move for return is contained in his concluding statement: How can the heir of Sundiata and Askia the Great end up this way?” (85) He suddenly realises he is an heir to a throne. Diallo’s experience brings to relevance the judgement of Terry, the tourists’ leader who helped him achieve his dream of going to Europe.
Those who immigrate illegally sometime get caught and are deported for illegal migration. The case of Morgan in The Deportee bears this out. Deported, some deportees get absorbed into their home communities; others do not. Again Morgan’s case bears this out. Morgan would rather a second opportunity to go back to Russia. Perhaps this not forthcoming, he goes mad.
The economic highlands of Europe are always beckoning to people in the the economic lowlands of Africa in a miraging and witchery manner. As Kyuka Lilymjok puts it in his seminal novel The Mad Professor of Zwigwi, through Philjez the major character in the novel: Beauty is a faraway thing. It is a hazy or misty thing that distance produces (p.618). So the faraway mountains are blue and the pasture on the other side of the river is always greener.
This essay shows that the heavenly experience illegal immigrants flee to in Europe often end up in a hellish experience in the middle of the heaven they flee to – their hamburger so to say turning to ashes in their mouths. Fleeing knocking into the middle of next week in their home countries, they find themselves in the middle passage taking them to hell. The experience of Diallo in A Journey of Hell to Heaven and Morgan in The Deportee bear this out.
Most migrants migrating to Europe think it is Eldorado or Tom Tidler’s Ground. This is the thinking of several African youths who do everything possible to flee their countries which they consider hell to developed nations which they consider heaven. This often ends in disillusionment either in the course of the journey or upon arrival at destination. This provides the themes of A Journey of Hell to Heaven and The Deportee.
Kyuka Lilymjok’s A Journey of Hell to Heaven and The Deportee highlight many of the ills and misconceptions immigrants nurse while migrating. When illusions explode on arrival of an immigrant in his dream country, recovering himself from error is not always easy. If he is an illegal immigrant and is caught and deported, sorting himself out back home is also often not easy.
Chinua Achebe’s call for African writers to tell their own stories instead of leaving such stories to be told by writers from elsewhere is perhaps the call Kyuka Lilymjok answers by writing A Journey of Hell to Heaven, and The Deportee. It is the same call Samuel Selvon, Diawara, V. S Naipaul and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have also answered in their works debunking the symbolic “heaven” that life in Europe has come to assume.
To make their own land green pastures, A Journey of Hell to Heaven, and The Deportee subtly invites people to water their own land instead of fleeing to foreign lands to court ruin. It is along this path that there is water.
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