Friday, February 20, 2009

Mike squared

Fan Milk is a Danish company that employs thousands of men and boys, on commission, to distribute their delicious ice milk and frozen yogurt products on the streets of Lagos and other West African cities.

I don't know if it's the heat or the fact that I am not getting much protein in my diet, but I am completely addicted to the Fan man and his frozen yogurt. I devour four or five of them (at 40 cents a pop) on the average day. All in the name of academic research, of course!

Today I met Michael (left) and Mike, two Fan men from Ghana. They left Ghana because the currency there is weaker and they are able to make a little more money in Nigeria. With no family here and few friends, they pay 75 cents a night to stay in a nearby hotel room. They suffer discrimination from Nigerians, many of whom resent the influx of foreigners here. But they have no plans to stick around Lagos -- the Mikes are on their way to Europe !

In three months, Mike will have saved enough of his yogurt commissions to try crossing the Sahara overland to Libya (Michael came a little later and needs more time). This is no easy trip -- many people get robbed in the desert and then, unable to buy water or pay for transport, die of thirst.

But if you get to Libya, you can get a job in construction that will pay in dollars, which you will need to pay the smuggler to get you, by boat, into Spain or Italy. That is the most dangerous leg. Boats capsize all the time. Nineteen African migrants died just this week trying to get to the Canary Islands.

"Wait," I said. "Even if you get to Italy, you are not going to have any work papers?" "No," Mike admitted.

"So you won't be able to get a good job?" "No."

"And you don't speak any Italian?" "No."

They recognized the problem. But they both knew people who had made it to Europe, to eventually marry European women and get their legal status. One guy worked in a morgue in Italy but when he came back to Ghana for a visit, he acted like a king. That's all they can hope for.

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