When we land in Lagos, it is early morning. Abdul and Raf have slept in the car. The traffic in Lagos is wild and impossible to predict, so they went to the airport already the night before. Before we leave, Robin and I smoke. In order for the parking attendant to leave us alone, Abdul has to slip him a bill.
Photographer Robin Hinsch and I conducted the research described here together in July 2019. Photographs by Hinsch accompany this text.
Abdul is big and lanky. His long arms swing like pendulums when he walks and his forearms circle like windmills in front of his body when he gestures. With his deep and singing voice he will, over the next few days, explain to us where exactly we are and what we see from the car window. Do you understand the environment?, he then asks us mischievously. It is a rhetorical question.
Rafil–who will be driving the car–is smaller and a bit slimmer. He smiles tenderly, even if Abdul shouts at him for getting lost in the vastness of the city traffic. Later, when we are in danger of getting lost in the maze of the markets, Rafil will sometimes take me by the hand. He then does not embrace it completely, but interlocks his and my hand finger by finger.
It feels good to have someone pick us up. As we ride through a hazy sunrise on the Third Mainland Bridge, that spans over the lagoon towards Lagos Island, I see the water-built huts of Makoko and Bariga, and wonder who they shelter. Through the windshield, in the far, I can perceive the skyscrapers of downtown and Eko Atlantic City in the background. The car we are driving in was transported from Hamburg to Nigeria on a container ship. And Abdul is Daniel's brother.
I know Daniel from the African Terminal. He was born and raised here in Lagos. In 2013, he came to Europe via the Mediterranean and landed on the island of Lampedusa. He has been living in Hamburg for several years, now but still has no permanent residency permit.
Daniel taught me how to pack containers, and how to make money in West Africa. Like many refugees in Germany, Daniel has no work permit. Therefore, he is forced to take illegal jobs, in restaurants or at the airport. His most important economic activity, though, is used goods. Daniel is a trader. He buys and looks for things that are not worth anything any more in Europe and ships them to Nigeria, because they can be repaired and resold here.
Daniel also shipped the car in which we are now driving through Lagos. It was bought in Eastern Europe, filled with all kinds of old goods and transported in a container from Hamburg to Lagos. Besides the car, the shipment also contained flat screens, used tires, electrical appliances, clothing, mattresses, dishes, and furniture. Since the 1980s, things that are declared waste in the West end up in Nigeria, where they are given a second life.
Like the steady flow of raw earths into our mobiles phones and thus into our lives, the flow of discarded goods connects Europe and Western Africa, without us necessarily being aware of it. Robin and I follow their movement in order to find out where they land and who they benefit.
If you want to know where old and new goods arrive in Nigeria, the best place to go to is Tin Can Island.
Tin Can Island
Tin Can Island is one of the two ports of Lagos which are located right next to each other. It is the largest port in Nigeria. The name of the island stems from the 19th century, when passing ships simply threw the mail, packaged in tin cans, into the water, where it was picked up by strong swimmers and brought ashore.
The drive to Tin Can Island is adventurous. While the port has been run by private operators since 2006, the only access and exit roads connecting the island to the mainland are in very poor condition. The result is large traffic jams, where trucks have to wait up to a month to unload their cargo at the container terminals and pick up new ones. In order to pass the waiting trucks, we have to repeatedly swerve onto the oncoming lane in breakneck maneuvers.
The journalist Paul Loomis writes, that the traffic jam around Tin Can Island may be considered the most serious logistic bottleneck of the entire African continent. The same fact is commented differently by Abdul. He says: All men in this country are comedians. That's the way it is.
On the broken access and exit roads, an informal economy flourishes. Truck drivers sleep under their vehicles. There are hairdressers, bistros and street vendors. Small gangs of criminals control the bridges and demand a small fee for passing them. Young men sell diesel or gasoline in plastic bottles so that the used cars, whose tanks have been emptied for the passage on a container ship, can be driven out of the port.
It is a lively scenery, verbal arguments occur again and again, but there is a lot of laughter. While we walk through the informal markets of Tin Can Island, Abdul and Rafil do not leave us alone even for a second. Obviously, we are foreigners who do not know their way around and need to be protected. Our knowledge about this place is only theoretical, it stems from literature:
The Hole of Onitsha
In his text The Hole of Onitsha from the volume The Shadow of the Sun Ryszard Kapuscinski describes a journey to the southwest of Nigeria. At some point, close to Onitsha, he and his driver are stuck in a traffic jam similar to the one we experienced in Tin Can Island. As he walks past the waiting cars to the front, he finds the reason for the enormous congestion. It is a big hole in the ground from which a truck is being freed with ropes and a lot of muscle power. Then the next truck drives up, falls into the hole, and has to be pulled out again by men and women from the nearby village. The action is repeated endlessly, so that there is no real progress. A small market has formed around this scenery. The pothole, the curse of the travelers to Onitsha, opens up a source of income for the local population. For a long time, therefore, they does not allow for the hole to be covered up.
It is not only trucks that jam in Lagos or Onitsha; large container ships also jam off the coast of Lagos because their clearance in the port takes is almost infinitely delayed.
The bad infrastructure, the hole in the road, produces an informal market. This, is the way things are run in Nigeria today, both locally and nationally. In many parts of the country there is no electricity and hardly any running water. In Lagos, too, electricity is repeatedly cut or rationed, and water supply is poor. People are forced to build private wells. Generators are used to produce electricity. In all of these cases, private businessmen earn a lot of money by selling devices that nobody would need if there was good infrastructure.
The unavailability of commons, and the lack of economic diversification, from which few, rich businessmen and politicians profit enourmuosly, can be described as a form of Manufactured Collapse'. However, where the political elite is often corrupt and informality rules, theft often becomes the rule, with catastrophic consequences. The entangled problems of a lack of infrastructure, privatization of resources, and the colonial history of Nigeria are most obvious, maybe, within the oil business.
For now, all that Robin and me notice is the stranded tankers which lie around in the harbour basin of Tin Can Island, apparently for no use.
Wracks, ghost ships, and the ‘point of no return’
The port of Tin Can Island is located west of Lagos Island–the historic, former colonial center of Lagos–on a side arm of the lagoon, which is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by offshore peninsulas and islands. Together with the journalist Nenna Obibuaku we drive into these side arms of the lagoon, past the harbor and towards Snake Island.
Together with journalist Nenna Obibuako, we also visit the town of Ijegun where a big oil explosion took place about two weeks before we arrived. The intersection where the accident occurred is now simply called Fire Junction by the local population.
If we were to continued going West along the side arms of the lagoon, after about 50 km we would arrive in the small village of Badagry. On Gberefu Island opposite the village, there is a stone monument and a small museum in remembrance of the trans-atlantic slave trade, in which millions of people were shipped from Western Africa to the Caribbean and to South and North America. Whoever passed this very place, the so-called 'point of no return', had to give up everything and was henceforth considered a mere commodity. The stone is a reminder that, for centuries, it was not primarily oil but human lives that were stolen in Nigeria.
Off Tin Can Island, Nnenna shows us the wrecks of small and medium-sized tankers that are lying all over the water. She assumes that stolen oil and diesel is temporarily stored on these ships, which are no longer roadworthy, and is distributed to surrounding filling stations at night. At Tawrka Beach, opposite the newly constructed Eko Atlantic City, we talk to men selling fish and roasted corn and who seem to know about the bunkering activities, but do not want to tell us more. From here, directly on the Atlantic coast, we also see the gigantic jam of container ships that is running all along the coast.
In the afternoon, a speedboat of the Nigerian Navy takes Robin and me to a smaller tanker just off Tawrka Bay, which has loaded crude oil, but cannot produce official papers for its cargo. The captain and some officers fled by swimming, when the Navy moored the boat. The first officer and the ship's papers are questioned ashore.
There are only a few machinists and the cook on board. Standing on the bow of the Navy boat, I ask the crew about their route. They claim to have been transferring their undocumented cargo from Cameroon in the east to Lomé, which lies west of Nigeria. The chief of the Navy ship and the assembled reporters of the Nigerian tax authorities laugh at their answer. No one believes them. Everybody assumes that the oil comes from the Niger Delta and was to be taken out of the country illegally.
The Niger Delta is a fertile biotope that consist of about 70,000 m² of mangrove swamps. All of Nigeria's oil reserves are located under the green, dense forest that spreads around the mangroves. It is estimated that there are still 35 million barrels of oil underneath the swamps. The oil in the delta was originally discovered by the British colonial power, which immediately wanted to secure the exploitation of the raw material. In 1938, the then state-owned British company ‘Shell D'Arcy’ was granted a monopoly for all exploitation activities. Since 1956, oil has been produced and exported industrially in the delta. The land on which the drilling takes place has often either been taken away from the local population or bought at ridiculous prices. Even after Nigeria's independence in 1960, the country is still dependent on Western companies for the extraction of this valuable resource. Today, in addition to Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total and Eni operate in the delta together with the Nigerian government.
The oil in the Niger Delta is extracted from about 5000 small, often unattended well heads. In order to bundle and then ship the raw material, more than 7000 km of pipes run through the delta. Many of these pipes are old and dilapidated. Therefore, oil is leaking out again and again on a large scale, thereby contaminating the mangroves. In the last 50 years, experts estimate, about 2 million tons of crude oil have entered the ecosystem. In 2011, the UN published a report on the pollution of Ogoniland–a heavily polluted section in the East of the delta. The report hold Western oil companies, above all Shell, responsible for the clean-up of the delta. Experts estimate that it will take at least 30 years to clean up the entire ecosystem.
Aa major oil catastrophe near the village of Bodo in the eastern part of the delta became famous in 2008 and 2009, when large quantities of crude oil leaked into the environment. This was the first time that a local community received substantial compensation. In an out-of-court settlement in The Hague, Shell has agreed to pay 55 million dollars to the people of Bodo and for clean-up works.
The near complete destruction of the environment has permanently ruined the livelihood of most of the people in the delta. They can neither fish nor farm anymore. There is no functioning infrastructure, no electricity, no running water, in some cases no schools and hospitals. Many young people in the delta are unemployed. This is one of the reasons why the entire Niger Delta is still marked by armed social and political conflicts. Since Nigeria's independence in 1960, local militia have repeatedly sought conflict with the central government and international oil producers. Their fight is about environmental justice, as much as it is about money and influence.
The largest city in the delta is Port Harcourt. Here, is where Robin and I fly to for five days, in order to learn more about the oil business and its social and environmental costs. At the airport, we are picked up by Fyneface.
Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface
Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface is an environmental activist and journalist. He is fighting for the clean-up of the delta and more social justice for the local population. In order to provide a framework for his activist work, he has founded his own NGO, which is primarily concerned with environmental issues and advocates for the future of the delta's youth. Fyneface wants to take up the heritage of Ken Saro Wiwa, a well-known Ogoni activist who was murdered in 1995 along with eight other activists by then military dictator Sani Abacha.
At the airport, Fyneface picks us up in a LEXUS SUV with darkened windows. As white people, in the Niger Delta, we are considered potential victims of a kidnapping. In the next few days Fyneface will only ever leave us alone at night, when we sleep in the hotel. Together with him we have developed a research plan, he takes care of the organization and of our security. We pay him to do so. We contact Fyneface because he works with people who are and were involved in the illegal refinery of oil. For years, he has organized the Niger Delta Ex-Artisanal Refiners' Forum.
During our research in the Niger Delta, we never get into a situation that feels dangerous from a subjective point of view. However, some (mainly white) employees of oil companies have been kidnapped in the delta. Therefore, special precautions are necessary. On trips outside the city of Port Harcourt, for example, we are accompanied by one or sometimes two mobile police officers. While we are structurally dependent on Fyneface, he presents himself as a prudent and experienced host.
In Nigeria, like in Mexico, oil is not only stolen, but also refined illegally. The small refineries, which, in the jargon of the delta, are called ‘artisanal refineries’, are one of the few flourishing business still. The artisanal refiners are well organized. Crude oil is tapped either at the ports of export or–more frequently–directly from the pipelines. It is then transported to remote locations in the delta in wooden boats and heated up in provisional steel boilers so that–by means of a simple process of distillation–the different components of the oil are separated from each other.
The activity of the illegal refinery is highly dangerous. The refiners work without protective cloths, and explosions occur time and again, in which people are injured or die. Nevertheless, many young people take jobs in the business. Profits can be made not only made be refining the oil, but also by transporting or selling the illegally refined product. Women are particularly involved in these parts of the business.
In order to visit an artisanal refinery, detailed security precautions are required. Youth gangs have to be bribed, transport has to be organized, and above all the local chiefs have to be informed about our research. Before we visit the refinery, we therefore pay a visit to Chief Damian Vidag-Kobani.
Damian Vidag-Kobani is an impressive figure–heavy, tall and serious. He wears a traditional Nigerian robe in blue colors. He is Chief of the Goi community, but we meet him in his exile in Bodo, from where we later want to venture into the mangrove forest. The room is not big, yet clean and tidy. There are some plastic chairs and a sofa, and glasses and a bottle of local gin is placed on the small table in front of the Chief's feet.
The Chief's look is inscrutable, almost repellent. According to tradition, he opens the bottle of gin and pours the first big sip into a glass. No one speaks. He rises, goes to the door of the small hut, carefully lets some drops drip from the glass onto the wooden door and the floor and mumbles words in the local Ogoni dialect. In fact, he has asked for a safe passage on the water for his white guests.
After he has spoken his blessings, his face brightens. One after the other, from the oldest to the youngest, we each drink a glass of whiskey which we brought with us as a gift. The Chief welcomes us with a sonorous voice that seems to come from the depth of his enormous belly. He agrees to our visit of the distillery. To ask for our safe passage, Chief Damian has spoken to his ancestors. Doing so is possible only with the locally brewed gin called Kai Kai. It is greenish and mixed with herbs of the delta.
Together with Fyneface, on the next day, we also visit a local gin distillery where Kai Kai is produced from palm wine. Fyneface tells us that the production of gin is considered a model for the illegal refinery of crude oil. Both operate on the same principle:
The liquid is heated in a boiler under which a fire is lit. Due to their specific condensation point, the noble and light components of the liquid evaporate first. Flowing through a pipe that leads through a basin filled with cold water, the gas condenses and becomes liquid again. Drop by drop, the separated components can then be collected at the end of a metal tube.
In the case of distillation of crude oil, diesel is collected first, then follows gasoline and finally kerosene. The particularly heavy components of crude oil, which resemble marine fuel and contain a lot of sulfur, are simply discharged into the surrounding waters. When we visit the artisanal refinery, it is abandoned. Work is only done at night. The ground is black from seeping residues and the boilers resemble monuments to the lack of climate justice and to centuries-old colonial injustice.
In the case of distillation of palm wine, the liquid obtained is distilled a second time, until it is completely transparent. It is collected in a small glass, and we are allowed to taste the still warm Kai Kai. It tastes of warmth and protection, of the security and trust, which we paid a lot of money for.
The people working in the illegal refineries constantly point out that they have no other way to survive. Above all, however, they point to the enormous injustices in the oil trade, and to the fact that in the Niger Delta oil is stolen not only for local needs, but on a much larger scale.
Publish What You Pump
Studies assume that in Nigeria about 100,000 barrels of crude oil disappear into the black market per day. Almost 30 percent of all refined oil products from Nigeria are smuggled abroad. But who profits from all of this stolen oil?
The activist Kentebe Ebiaridor of Environmental Right Action tells us that nobody knows exactly how much crude oil is really produced in Nigeria. No measurement of how much oil actually flows is taken, neither at the individual well heads nor at the ports of export, where the oil leaves the country for Rotterdam or the USA.
When the Norwegian ambassador recently proposed to equip the relevant plants with measuring devices, the government refused, says Kentebe. Like that, Western oil companies can obviously ship more oil than they officially state. At the moment, nobody can prove their act of theft. Publish What you Pump, therefore, is the name of the campaign that Kentebe helped to develop.
But it is not only Western oil companies that steal from the country and its people; powerful politicians and industrialists also try to enrich themselves. On a large scale, oil is reloaded onto smaller tankers at the ports of export in the Niger Delta, on Bonny Island or in Esclavos, who then try to leave the country secretly. For this reason, Nigerian politicians, together with the cooperating Western oil companies, are decline the call for transparent measurements. It is the local population that is repeatedly blamed for the delta's problems.
No Refinery Not Yet
There is no question that illegal refinery activities contribute to the ongoing pollution of the delta, because pipelines are repeatedly tapped and oil leaks into the mangrove swamp. Fyneface, among others, therefore repeatedly points out that illegal refinery activities will only stop when there is other perspectives for the delta's youth.
Although the Nigerian government attempts to diversify its economy in order to escape the notorious dependence on crude oil exports, these efforts are still in the early stages of development. Not only is there no significant industrial production in Nigeria, but there are no well-functioning oil refineries either.
The four existing Nigerian refineries operate far below their capacity. Therefore, refined products such as diesel, gasoline, kerosene for households or motor oil are imported on a large scale. This is expensive, yet a few Nigerian businessmen make enormous profits because they own monopolies on imports. Again, potential wealth is stolen from the people.
In the end, we all benefit from cheap crude oil from Nigeria. The social and environmental costs of extracting the raw material are externalized, and Western oil companies continue to refuse to take responsibility for their environmental crimes. Activists from the delta therefore demand that the oil should either remain completely underground or that the local population should legally be involved in the refinery process within so-called modular refinery programs. But as long as political elites profits from their cooperation with Western actors and the structural discrimination of their own population, little will change.
Nigeria, therefore, is an example of an economy which is heavily dependent on only one resource that is exploited by former colonial powers with the help of local elites. To assess, who is responsible for the ongoing destruction of multiple livelihoods, is a difficult question. But one thing is clear: It is the white man who initiated the environmental destruction in the delta and who continues to profit massively from it.
To look oneself in the eye
During our stay in the Niger Delta, we also visit a so-called gas flaring site in Ughelli, in the state of Bayelsa. Before the oil is pumped to the sea to be loaded onto tankers, the gas that is obtained as a by-product of the drilling operation must be separated from the crude oil. Because there are only minor penalties for burning the, while it is cost-intensive to process it otherwise, it is simply being burned. Studies say that almost half of the electricity demand of Western Africa could be covered, if the gas of the delta was not burned away. At the moment that is too expensive, oil companies simply want to get rid of the it in the cheapest possible way.
That is why they burn it. In the past, the countless flaring sites burned the gas into the sky. But as the people of the delta have repeatedly complained about the environmental effects of flaring, the flames are now directed parallel to the ground into the forest. One tries to hide them, thereby burning large circular clearings into the forest. Around the flames, men and women bake a kind of chips made of cassava flour on small bamboo mats. One of these women is Ese Awolowo. Her face is turned to me and her gaze faces me directly. Ese is wearing a nylon T-shirt on which a white man's face is printed at the back. The print seems meaningful to me: It is 400 years of colonial history and the ongoing exploitation of her living environment with the active help of Western companies that seem to haunt the young woman.
The wood merchants of Makoko
Not only oil is exported from the Niger Delta. Among other things, wood is also felled in the rich ecosystem. To reach the capital, tree trunks are tied together on the water to form large rafts of almost one hectare in size, and then pulled to Lagos by motorized wooden boats on a two-month journey through inland waters.
In Lagos, therefore, the wood does not arrive in the port of Tin Can Island, but via the inland waters of the lagoon. The largest timber traders and sawmills are located in Makoko, a community originally founded by refugees from Benin. Since they found no land to settle on in Lagos, they settled on wooden piles in the lagoon itself. Today, Makoko is the largest floating city in the world, says the Guardian.
Makoko grows into the lagoon ever faster. Parts of the community that once were on the water are now connected to the mainland. When you walk in these parts of the city, you get the impression that the ground beneath you is swinging and giving way. This is due to the material it was made of: sawdust and waste. New land is gradually being gained from the lagoon as an effect of the trade in timber–a business much less than the oil business.
In the future, will we all live either on artificial islands, on land reclamations made of garbage, or in floating houses? It almost seems as if the children of Makoko, whose swimming skills and balance abilities are far superior to ours, are practicing for a new millennium of floods. Those who do not deal in wood, but in greater values, do not live in Makoko. In Lagos, they live on another peninsula wrested from the water–in the pompous Eko Atlantic City. There, different safety measures are taken for the new millennium.
Eko Atlantic City
Eko Atlantic City is a gigantic land reclamation project South of the wealthy district of Victoria Island. Over a period of several years, a vast amount of sand was piled up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, on which three high-rise buildings now stand. The new district is built at a level several meters higher than the rest of Lagos. It is fully equipped, with its own power station, self-sufficient water supplies and the latest safety technology.
Eko Atlantic City is an island of the blessed, a paradise island built for the rich black and white businessmen. If one day the sea level continues to rise, the inhabitants of the skyscrapers located here will be able to look on the destruction for which they themselves are partly responsible. Around it, the city, built on swamps, will sink. Responsible for this urban mega-project are two brothers.
The Chagoury Brothers
The land reclamation project of Eko Atlantic City has been operated and driven by the Chargoury brothers since the early 2000s. The two Nigerian-Lebanese oligarchs were close confidants of the Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha, who brutally ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. In fact, they were responsible mostly for laundering the dictator's money made by stealing from its own people. Thus, when Abacha died, the Chagoury brothers sat on a mountain of money that they could not spend legally.
Eko Atlantic City is their successful attempt at laundering the former military dictator's the stolen assets from with the help of a large-scale infrastructure project. With their money, they pay for the gigantic land reclamation from sand collected and heaped up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, using the most modern technology. Technical advice comes from the Lebanese construction company Dar Al-Handasah, among others.
Common people do not benefit from the land thus gained from the sea. Instead, the US embassy will soon move to Eko Atlantic City. The decision was taken by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was massively criticized by the US media during the 2016 election campaign because the Chargoury brothers are known as her husband's patrons and financial supporters. Once again, the Western support for corrupt political structures in Nigeria becomes evident.
There is this UPS advertisement entitled 'I love Logistics'. The video shows parcels magically moving from place to place, carried effortlessly by different means of transport and happy UPS employees. In reference to the campaign, UPS's then head of marketing, Betty Wilson, claimed that logistics was an infinitely complex, fantastically smooth kind of choreography.
I have to think of this advertisement and its obvious contradictions as we sit on the plane back to Germany. As crude oil leaves Nigeria for the Northern hemisphere, every day, in unspecified quantities, it returns to the country in its processed form, as used goods, plastic chairs or car interiors, after it has passed through the entire chain of production and the life cycles of consumer goods.
Nothing in these cycles, in the processing and refining, refining and burning of oil, is smooth, nothing in is efficient. It leaks everywhere, people get sick, the mangrove forest is destroyed. It is these flows of goods and objects under the label of logistics that cement the inequality of worlds on our planet. Thinking about them produces vertigo and a weird form of sickness.
The choreography, presented as a miraculously smooth chain of transport by UPS, is rather characterized by brutality and violence. It is driven by oil, it is directed by a few powerful people, and it ultimately results in the neglect of populations. It was Busayo, among others, who repeatedly told us about the lack of infrastructure and political support his community is struggling with. On the plane, I also think of him, and the party in Bariga we shared, where the great logistics choreography was contrasted with a completely different kind of dance.
The day before our departure, Robin and I go Lagos Bariga with Abdul and Rafil. Bariga is one of the poorer parts of the city on the mainland. We want to visit Busayo. At the very beginning of our trip, when we were stuck in traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge right after our arrival, Robin and I could see these parts of town, its huts and inhabitants, from the car window. Evidently, we didn't understanding this environment in the least. Bariga is considered to be a dangerous area because of regular armed robberies. The state police itself has no access to the neighborhood. Nevertheless, there is an active art scene. Local choreographers from Bariga and around repeatedly organize so-called 'slum parties', where the local population comes together to celebrate.
One of them is Busayo. He has thin rastas and wears black horn-rimmed glasses. His house is located behind a small yard, where a plastic tent and several plastic tables and chairs have been set up for a children's birthday party. Behind the house there is a small electric well, powered by a generator. On the other side of the fence, there is a small pile of waste, the sewage is discharged into the lagoon along open channels.
When we return from our tour through Bariga, the party in the courtyard has turned into a small block party. The extended family and their friends sit around the tables drinking beer, the kids want handshakes and money. There is a DJ and a moderator that keep the summer party going.
Shortly after we have joined the party, the moderator asks me: Can you say something? As a guest from Germany, what would you like to tell us? I say that I am in Nigeria to know more about the situation of the people, to learn about their lives and how it is interwoven with my own life through trade. That is good, there is applause. But it is not enough. Just a few minutes later, the presenter comes back and asks me: Can you also do something for us? What can you do?
First I am perplexed, and do not know how to answer. I think for a tiny moment and, without knowing why, I say that I can dance. I am excited, but I know: Now you cannot go back. The DJ plays a track that I don't know. A hundred faces watch me as I try to imitate African dance steps that I learned from the children under the tent. The whole thing becomes a battle, I have to compete against different men and women from Bariga. Of course I don't have a chance. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that everyone is happy that I tried.
I feel sweaty but joyful. I get lost in the group, I drink beer, people congratulate me for taking part in the battle. Everything is entangled and sticky and very confusing. There are too many faces, too many people, too many colored clothes, too many voices. It is always loud, there is always traffic chaos, there is always talking and laughing. You see people fighting in the street, making jokes, and the men walk hand in hand.
I feel my own helplessness and inaptitude. I am happy that Rafil will later take me by the hand and cross his fingers with mine. I am grateful that Busayo has introduced us to his family. I am powerless, faced with my own entanglement in the choreography of logistics, and I am sad that I can do nothing for these women and men. But, for the moment, an encounter was forged, an encounter that, at once, is a wound.
Too many entanglements to record them all. Sometimes, I think of the chapters of these dossiers as small cards, such as the cards that Mark Lombardi would use to store his information, before drawing his gigantic maps of connections. They indicate a state of general mesh.