Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween, My Way

I imagine that, since it's Halloween, you're celebrating being scared by zombies and vampires and ghosts and witches and all manner of whatever fantastical creatures. And then there's candy. But at the end of the day, you and whoever it is you're celebrating with are ultimately safe from harm. Candy and socializing and costumes and just all a bunch of fun.

I am not a horror writer. But allow me to attempt to scare you.

Imagine, if you will, being part of a group of 92 migrants attempting to escape Niger for a better life in Algeria. Life in Niger is wracked by poverty, famine, droughts, floods, and the little food that is grown can easily be taken by locust infestations. The annual per capita income sits at $360. That's $360 that you have to last you the entire year. The country, though it may be a democracy now, is frequently prone to being ruled by military regimes. Desperate, seeing no hope of even scratching out a simple survival, you, a resident of Zinder, near the southern border with Nigeria, pack up your loved ones, and make the decision to attempt to cross the Sahara Desert to reach something, anything, that isn't this. To do so, you entrust your lives to a group of traffickers. Whether they have your best interests in mind, you don't know. And you don't care.

However, during the trek, somewhere between Agadez and Arlit, in the northern half of the country, one truck in your caravan breaks down, unable to handle the rough terrain. And then disaster strikes: instead of attempting to fix the truck, your traffickers simply abandon you.

And there is where you are now stranded. You aren't quite alone, your loved ones are with you, but that only makes matters worse. Alone, it would only be you who is lost, desperate, starving and facing a trek, on foot, across the hellish, unforgiving, barren expanses of the Sahara Desert. But now, your entire family is facing it as well, right alongside you. You must now watch them slowly waste away as you search for some kind of sanctuary, shelter, water or food, or at least another vehicle to salvage for parts with which to repair the truck, and they must do the same with you.

No vampires. No werewolves. No zombies. The zombies are you. The hunger just as overwhelming. And there's nothing on which to feed.

Eventually, inevitably, members of the group begin to drop, unable to go on. With nobody able to carry themselves much less a corpse, there is nothing that can be done except to leave people where they fall. Some are at least fortunate enough to find a tree, so that they may die of thirst in the shade. Others are not so lucky. Some mothers choose to die alongside their children. Other children die alone. And eventually, in the pursuit of a well, you join them in death. Little by little, spot by spot, you and 91 other migrants who hoped to escape a hellish life in Niger instead perish within it in conditions even more hellish than before.

But even had you survived, as 40 members of the caravan managed to do, it would not have mattered. After reaching Arlit, 19 members of the group would continue to Algeria, but after reaching the town of Tamanrassett, they were promptly deported back to Niger, carrying the awful knowledge that the entire ordeal, the abandonment in time of need, the deaths, the misery, the starvation and thirst and exhaustion and loss of loved ones, was all, ultimately, for nothing.

And it all actually happened. Those are CNN, BBC and Guardian links sitting there. That's a trek being made with increasing frequency these days. Someone else may and probably will live out every bit of this scenario again before long.

Happy Halloween.

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