Migrating to Spain ... on the 'D-Day' package
For both the desperate and the more affluent, the thought of a better future in Europe has permeated Senegalese society.
You're young, you're Senegalese, you see no future at home so you want to break into Fortress Europe to have a chance at a better life? Why not consider the "D-Day package," suggests one tongue-in-cheek website. The virtual travel agent may be joking. But the reality is not far behind.
For thousands of West African migrants packed into flotillas of flimsy fishing boats, the landing is not Omaha Beach, Normandy, but the concrete tourist resorts of the Canary Islands.
The flood shows no sign of slowing. About 3,000 illegal immigrants landed in the last week alone. On a visit to Senegal on Tuesday, Spanish officials declared that Spain could not absorb any more migrants and called for a crackdown on the networks ferrying people across the Atlantic.
So far this year, 24,000 have made the perilous journey and lived to tell the tale. That's five times the total for the whole of last year. But sometimes it is not statistics that speak loudest. The exodus has reached the point where it is permeating every facet of Senegalese society.
In a country where hip-hop artists can help win elections, it is perhaps no surprise that migration has found its way to the rapper's mike. "Sunugaal," which means "our boat" in the local Wolof language, was a summer hit where DJ Awadi rails against the conditions that have sent Senegalese fleeing to Spain's shores.
And with no equivalent of television satire such as Saturday Night Live or Jon Stewart, the birth of a travel website like the one advertising the "D-Day package" shows how everyday the problem has become.
Other satirical packages offered tips on winning one's case in Europe. They include 'In the Backyard': "If you're homosexual, all you need to do is create a gay association, something which is banned in Senegal. Then you can ask France for asylum, arguing that you face imprisonment if you stay at home," the website advises.
Marrying a middle-aged European woman is another option it touts.
But the D-Day voyage is the one it recommends for young Senegalese men. "You don't have to be a military strategist," the virtual agent says. "But it's imperative to wear a life jacket... and under no circumstances take your passport with you."
It may be done in a humorous fashion but the information on the site (www.senegalaisement.com/senegal/venir_en_france.php) is spot on. And while there are no contact numbers or recommended organizations, it is easy for any would-be migrant to tap into the informal network of fixers and boatmen leaving regularly from Senegal's beaches.
Most locals know someone who has tried and succeeded – or failed. Even foreigners living here have firsthand experience of the escalating phenomenon. The engineer who recently came to repair my Internet connection spent most of his time staring at a map of Africa on the wall and tracing the route across the Atlantic to Spain.
But perhaps what really rammed it home was a single phone call. It came a couple of months ago. The voice was that of a Senegalese friend, but it was a Spanish number blinking on the screen. Then the penny dropped. The guy who'd patiently tried to teach me the djembe drums was calling to say he'd smuggled himself into Europe.
My first reaction was relief that at least he'd made it. After all, the motto in the local Wolof language for the perilous journey is "Barca mba Barzakh," Barcelona or the afterlife. But the fact that this friend, who we'll call Amadou, had felt he had no choice but to risk the 1,000 mile nightmarish journey angered me.
It's not as if he was unemployed or unskilled. He'd recently tried out for the national rowing team and was working in the tourist industry, earning an above-average 130,000 CFA ($250) a month. It was a relatively good wage on paper, but not when it had to cover the needs of his mother, his siblings, his wife and young children – 11 people in all. "I saw no future ahead of me in Senegal. I couldn't just sit around, waiting," Amadou told me down the crackly telephone line.
So he crammed himself into a traditional fishing boat with 72 other people and set out for Tenerife. Like thousands before them, Amadou and his fellow passengers were tossed around in a ferocious storm, vomiting, getting sores on their skin and finally running out of food and water. But they made it onto Spanish soil and, as the website advises, they carried no papers giving clues to their identity.
"When the police asked where I was from, I said Ivory Coast because of the war on there. I thought it might boost my chances of staying," Amadou recalls.
After more than a month in detention centers, he has now moved into a suburb of Madrid dubbed "Room here" by its many Senegalese inhabitants.
Since then he's picked up odd jobs as a deliveryman or laborer. "I'm not working every day, but I can still afford to send money home."
But Amadou is adamant he will eventually return to Senegal. Once he has earned the money to "build myself a house, I'll be off," he says. "The Spanish never believe me when I tell them I'm 37; they all say I look a lot younger. For me, that's proof that the Senegalese way of life is better."