Monday, July 4, 2011
Surprising Europe - Review and Interview
Film Review & Interview
Surprising Europe: The life and times of Ssuuna Golooba, directed by Rogier Kappers and produced by Jongens van de Wit, the Netherlands -- 70 mn documentary and 9-part TV series, 2011. http://www.surprisingeurope.com/
The history of humanity is also the story about migration. In the final analysis, we are all migrants. Central to my Yoruba people's philosophy on human migration are two of their proverbs. One is Omi ni eniyan; the second, Ibi ti aye ba gbeni de, la npe layede.
The first means that human beings are like water that flows wherever it can find its level. The second one means that it is where destination leads us that we call home.
It is probably the knowledge of these proverbs that informed many Africans to migrate to Europe to seek the proverbial green pasture. The natural instinct of every animal is to look for wherever the grass is greener. Europe, in recent history, emptied as much as a third of her population to other climes when the going got tough. It therefore remains incomprehensible to many African immigrants in Europe, why the continent that has benefited so much from migration, remains the most hostile to them.
Several thousand Africans have moved and settled in Europe. Some of them managed to build lives that are far better than what they left behind. But for the majority of these migrants, it has been tales of harrowing disappointments. For many of these profoundly disappointed Africans it is always a case of: "Had I known?"
Many of them had well-paying jobs in their countries with middle-class lifestyles and expectations. But human ambitions being what they are, they wanted more.
Images from Western media like BBC World and CNN are beamed into their living rooms, with commentators constantly harping on "rich" Western countries with out-of-this-world GNP, GDP, and other statistics that paint pictures of a paradisiacal West. The same media portrays Africa as a hopeless, war-torn, famine-overwhelmed, dictators-ridden continent that is forever begging to feed its lazy citizens.
Hollywood also lends hand with movies that show the bold and the beautiful who, with no apparent means of livelihood, tool around town in kilometer-long limousines, wining and dining the whole day with no apparent care in the world. Images are shown of people putting plastic cards into walls from which money gushes out. Ah, white people are magicians!
There are also the new missionaries on the block, those kind-hearted NGO folks who drive around in big 4-wheel-drive jeeps, hold endless conferences, and talk themselves silly on how to end poverty in Africa.
African immigrants who come on holidays and start spending money like it's going out of fashion also do not help matters.
These are the images Africans are bombarded with and who does not like better things? Determined to get his share of the wealth of Europe, the African quits his job, and sells whatever properties he had accumulated over his toiling years. Some sell the family jewels, houses, and even the farm. Occasionally, loans are contracted to embark on the journey to a supposed El Dorado.
Arriving in Europe, the immigrant is thrown into a severe culture shock from which he hardly ever recovers. The illusion that Europeans are nice and welcoming is the first to go.
In many parts of Africa, especially in the villages, total strangers are mostly welcome with huge smiles and a desire to help. The immigrant's first contact with Europe is with stony-faced immigration officers with the countenance of a wolfhound and the friendliness of a Gestapo. The confounded immigrant wonders what has happened to all those Europeans he saw in Africa with smiles pasted on their faces, as they trample around the continent looking for places to develop.
When he's finally admitted into the country after a bruising encounter at the port of entry, the senses of the poor immigrant are further assaulted when he finds out that he needed more than his expensive visa to even begin to settle down.
First, the small question of accommodation needs to be settled, and it becomes a major production when he's asked to produce a residence permit without which he cannot get legal accommodation. Our bewildered immigrant, who had a spacious apartment in his native land, is forced to make do with sleeping in other people's corridor.