Hand poised above a world map, pen gliding along the path traveled, each person tells the story of his or her life, the journeys across seas and continents, by foot, train, car and boat.
In an airy lobby at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wide video screens reveal the stories of eight people, each of whom left home, travelling illegally, without papers, in search of a better life. We hear people tell their stories. We never see their faces. We don’t hear their names. Each video screen shows a map, with a hand, a pen, and the speaker’s words.
I move from bench to bench, watching each video screen, headphones on, listening to the odysseys from home, be it Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mogadishu, or Ramallah.
Each person calmly traces a journey, in black magic marker over a colorful map. The lines cut across countries and seas, sometimes backtracking, returning to stay at uncle’s home in Spain; caught again by the police in Istanbul.
A woman from Mogadishu details her travels from Ethiopia to Sudan to Libya to Italy, where she has learned the language and has a job. She dreams of living in Norway.
A man from Afghanistan recounts an exhausting five-year trek through ten countries.
A teenager from Bangladesh describes climbing mountains in Libya, getting a job with a local police chief and enduring a brutal voyage across the Mediterranean Sea in a plastic boat. He hopes to earn enough money in five years to return home. He says he will stay home forever.
Moroccan-French film maker Bouchra Khalili recorded the migrants’ stories at various transit hubs throughout Europe, the Middle East and north Africa from 2008 to 2011 for this Mapping Journey Project, on display until October 10.
No names, no faces, just lines on maps, outlining journeys, and lives.
Lines from a journey, quoted from the Mapping Journey Project…
“We trusted him and gave him our passports.
“He told us that if we wanted to go to Europe
Maybe we should try Spain.
He said he could help, but it would cost 1000 Euros
I called my mother, who sent me the money
After 6 months, the man told me that if I want to live well
And help my family, so I should go to Libya
And took the road from Niger to Libya
But it took me at least 6 or 7 months to reach Ghat in Libya
And even climbing mountains
I suffered a lot during this trip
Because it’s an impossible journey for a human being
If I had known before, I never would have done it
But thanks to God, who always helped me
And again, I was detained for three months
Afterwards, they asked me what I wanted to do.
I said: ‘I need a job’
They released me
The chief of police released me and gave me a job
I worked at his place
For about 11 months
Nearly a year
But I heard that people were leaving
They were going to Italy by boat
I inquired about how to go
Because I still wanted to go to Italy
It always has been my dream
I arrived in Libya, so close to Italy
I was ready to take the risk, for the last time
Because that’d what I wanted since I was a kid
But at this point, I did not think about those things
Because that’ from where the boats go
It cost 2500 Euros
Yes, 2500, and it was in June, if I remembered well
So I went away from here, to Italy (by boat)
But unfortunately, we headed towards the Atlantic
We took the wrong road
We stopped because the fuel was finished
Actually, we were dying. We were all crying
We were 24 people on a plastic boat
But fortunately, we saw a big ship
We did not know from which country was this boat.
They helped us. Actually they saved the lives of 24 people
So we changed the course
We landed on Lampedusa
I was sent to a community of minor migrants
Where they sent young people under the age of 18
They gave me to eat, drink, and some papers
They really helped me
They did everything
I started to go to school, to learn Italian
And I even found a I job
I worked as a barman
It went well. I even managed to help my family
And I spoke regularly with my mother on the phone
After 2 years and a half, when I’ve reached the age of majority, I left
I found a job in Rome
When I arrived in 2007
It was September I guess
Where I still work in a bar-restaurant.
It was in Sept I guess when I arrived in 2007.
Where I still work in a bar-restaurant
That’s my journey.
A five year journey.
Everything I did was to help my family.
And God help me, in 5 years, Inshallah, I would return to Bangladesh.
I would launch a small business
and I would stay there forever.”