The Migrant's Tale

First-hand experience ... We think we know what we are experiencing, minute by minute, now - but how could we actually write it down and retain it? The moment we start doing so, our experience of our experience changes. This is why it's fascinating to observe the attempts of people who record extreme, disturbing experiences, beyond what we commonly know. When reading the text that forms the basis of this page, consider - when did the author actually write down what he describes? It was almost certainly much later ... so how confident can we be that what he writes reflect accurately what actually happened?

And once you've thought about that, it's also worth reflecting ... does it matter?

There's a curious story behind this page. One day, my wife, Julia, boarded the bus back home from the centre of town, and found herself sitting next to a tall, striking African - who began to talk to her, first of all in Spanish, and then, surprisingly, in pretty fluent English. He explained that he was an immigrant from the Gambia, surviving as best he could here in Catalonia, and would she like to buy his book? He dug a copy out of his rucksack, and she found 10 euros while he talked garrulously about how he was promoting a charity to help people back home in the Gambia. And then it was her stop, and she got off the bus, promising to talk more the next time ... but so far we haven't seen him again.

The book is called Journey of Misery, and it's by Kalilu Jammeh. The edition I have was published in 2011, by a Gambian firm Fulladu Publishers (email : fulladu@yahoo.com ).

You may also wish to look at his Facebook page which has some details about the NGO that he has set up. The link takes you to the English language version, although unfortunately most of the page is in Catalan or Spanish. However, you can explore and at least see some images.

The text

Kalilu made three attempts to reach Europe between 2002 and 2003. An effective summary of these journies can be seen by looking at this MAP available on the website ... although you really have to read the book to appreciate what an exhausting saga this all involved.

The extract comes from a point when he is retreating following the failure of his second attempt. It is salutary to look up Kidal and Gao on Google Maps - particularly Kidal which truly seems to be in the back of beyond! The loneliness and the aridity of the landscape is evident from the satellite images.

Reading in depth

The main purpose of reading this text is to share something of Kalilu's experience, to learn about the overall experience of migrants in the north of Africa, and to understand more widely the whole context of these tides of migration. Accordingly, the tasks provided in the worksheet focus on reading for precise details, and on reading for generalisation.

It is worth stressing that, while one can very often establish the precise details very definitely, it is good to be cautious about how one makes general assumptions from a text - particularly if there is no very clear evidence one way or the other.

The True/False + Justification mechanism is, I think, a very useful one. It requires that students commit themselves (the T/F element), but on the basis of solid evidence from the text. As used in English B Paper 1, the rule is that you have to get both the T/F and the Justification elements correct in order to earn the mark - absolutely right!

For ease of reference, here are the answers to the tasks. By all means argue with your students about whether they are the right or best answers !

Precise details 

Focusing on Kalilu's direct personal experience ...

Kalilu had tried to reach Europe directly from Kidal.

T / F (justification) ...... "many people who, just like me ... get to Europe " ll.3-4 .....

One of Kalilu's aims when he started the journey was to write a book about his experiences.

T / F (justification) ........." it was then that I started thinking ..." l.7 ........

He had been deported from Algeria for lacking the right documents.

T / F (justification) ......." obtain a Malian passport ... travel back to Algeria..." (ll.30-31) .............

Kalilu travels to Gao in order to find transport heading for Europe.

T / F (justification) ........No, he wants a passport - see ll.30-31 again ..........

A kocseur is the name given to someone in charge of travel arrangements.

T / F (justification) .......inference - see "sleep in the car park" (l.33) AND "provided me with a ticket" (l.47) ......

Kalilu carries on despite everything because of pressure from his family.

T / F (justification) ........ the family "were in complete ignorance of my whereabouts" (ll.37-38) .............

He carries on, in part, because he can't stand the idea of going home as a failure.

T / F (justification) ......... "before having to face possible humiliation " (l.45) ..........

Generalisations

From the passage in general, we learn that ...

... the only way to get to Europe is through Algeria

T / F (justification) ......."from there to Morocco" (l.31) ...........

... the routes of migrants take them through several different countries

T / F (justification) ........" Mali ... Algeria ... Morocco " (ll.30-31) ............

... migrants can become trapped during their journey

T / F (justification) ........."had to stay behind" (l.10) OR no opportunity to continue or go back" (ll.12-13) .........

... there are no organisations to help migrants

T / F (justification) ........."the Red Cross" (ll.22-24) .............

... ordinary people that migrants meet can be generous and helpful

T / F (justification) ..........."offered me to eat with his family" (ll.34-35) .............

... criminal organisations exploit migrants any way they can

T / F (justification) .........."traffickers tried to take advantage" (ll.27-29) ...............

... there are clear well-established routes for migrants

T / F (justification) ...............?? debateable - does "important centre" (l.16) translate into 'well-established' ? .....

... it is possible for migrants to earn money along the way

T / F (justification) ......... no clear evidence, but he needs "to contact my friend in Canada" (ll.19-20) .............

... migrants can only travel by avoiding, or getting around, official rules

T / F (justification) ............probably - "obtain a Malian passport" (l.30) ..........

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