Fictionalising the problem of illegal migration

A review of Salawu Olajide’s book, Preface For Leaving Homeland, by Olamide Eniola

PREFACE For Leaving Homeland, a 22-page anthology containing 16 poems by Salawu Olajide, depicts the physical, political and psychological state of Africans who are forced to leave their homeland or those who are rendered migrants within their own borders.

As a title in New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita) and independent text, the anthology conveys the poet’s concerns over Africans who have for several years sought asylum in Europe, while covertly persuading such minds bent on going on errands to return home to stay.

Apart from the poet’s apt usage of pertinent literary devices that drive home the content of the work, another striking feature of the anthology is the aesthetics and the spiritual symbolism of the cover page design. As a prototype of irregular migrants, the complexion of the person on the cover page is difficult to ascertain. Dressed in many colours, the person appears to be praying about his/her confusion of identity and illusion signified by the misty cloud in the background. An avid reader starts getting the crux of the anthology, the psychological torment of irregular migrants, right from its cover page.

Vacancy for an asylum seeker, the first poem in the collection, addresses the employment travail of irregular migrants abroad. Set in a seeming interview scenario, the poem suggests that these asylum job seekers, in most cases, are denied their dream job; with the consequence that they end up doing worse work they leave behind in their home countries.

In Goodbye to Lampedusa, the poet explores how migration turns migrants into merchandise, as most of them end up being sold until they work for their freedom. By alluding to Lampedusa, a locale on the route of Africans assaying to reach Europe, the poet shows the locale as departure point where traffickers do not tell their victims the precarious nature of their journey.

Dear Lampedusa, which despite its rendition with an anticipatory tone of an irregular migrant who promises never to follow Mediterranean route to reach Europe, but follow due immigration procedures, still recounts, with nostalgia, white bone of memories at your seabed of those black slaves who died in the ocean during trans-Atlantic slave trade.

However, in Hakim Bello Writes Letter Home, the poet subtly disabuses the mind of an aspiring irregular migrant by pitching side-by-side the difference between what people at home imagine the experience of migrants to be and what the experience actually is. While people imagine that migrants live a life of comfort abroad, the poet persona, Hakim, confesses the opposite.

While personification is deployed in Dune to recall the harrowing Saharan desert experience of migrants, a real migrant’s life-threatening ordeal on the sea is recounted in Lampedusa, through the Eyes of Fanus. Although the poet observes that the dune might remind the irregular migrant of their mother’s face “calling for your body to return home,” Fanus’ experience offers no such hope as “the metallic hope cracks at the bottom and gives you out to the sea in the dead of the night…”

The tragedy of irregular migrants is recounted in Retrieval. True to its title, it talks about how migrants die on the sea, how their bodies are collected by divers and how they are buried unceremoniously.

And because what greets you when you get home chronicles the dissonance and absentmindedness that attends to people who leave home for a long time and return to be ostracised, the poet, in Prayer for an asylum seeker, renders a spiritual evocation for migrants who tread precarious road to reach Europe.

Desperate fetish means taken by migrants to migrate is explored in Kanako, a mystical power in Yoruba belief that helps reduce the length of a road. In a comic manner, the poet explores how migrants take advantage of the Yoruba magic to shorten their long desert journey.

The psychological impact of migrant’s absence on the families they leave behind is highlighted in After you left, just as Observatory Notes for Refugee Looking for Love is a reflection on male immigrants who marry European ladies in order to get necessary papers to stay abroad. With those white ladies unable to give the needed love, the men still reminisce about their wives at home.

Notes to the Eritrean boy who may never see his father again discusses the plight of children whose fathers are taken away from them. As a result of this migration-induced separation, the poem shows that such children can be foisted into making adult decisions.

The last poem in the anthology, Last night in Barkin Ladi, which one would expect to be a further deterrent to both assaying and die-in-the-wood immigrants, rather reveals why irregular immigration would persist. The poem shows how unrest within one’s border can make one to embark on a precarious travel, as the potential migrant demands, “Tell me travellers, where it is not burning in this country.”

Salau Olajide, a graduate of English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, is an award-winning poet, with his literary instinct and works increasingly gaining global presence.