Mapping their journeys

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.”



Author: katehavelin

Whether I'm walking trails or exploring favorite places from my home in Saint Paul to New York, Paris, or Hong Kong, travel keeps me moving forward through life. I've written two trail guides for adults and sixteen nonfiction books for young people, along with dozens of magazine articles and essays.

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