• The Sub-Saharan Sisyphus
All of them were born and raised in War – in an endless war. In Sudan and Somalia wars have been ceaseless for the most part of the last five decades but nowadays the mainstream media have lost interest and no longer focusing into these conflicts and the underlying human plight. The Somalis and the Sudanese are being, almost, forgotten. Nevertheless their flow is constant; tens of thousands are taking the roads ‘less travelled’, through smuggler’s routes trying to reach their ‘Promised Land’.
When I met them in an abandoned textiles factory in the Greek harbor of Patra, trying to find the way and the means to cross Adriatic sea into Italy, were they are establishing communities within a vast de-industrialized area, the myth of Sisyphus sprang to mind:
"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back on its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. What is it about your life that resembles Sisyphus' plight? What is your relationship to your rock? “The lucidity that was to constitute Sisyphus' torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” (Camus, A.)
Scorn serves well these most desperate of refugees: all of them had been smuggled either in boats from Djibouti to Yemen, or smuggled in trucks through Egypt, as part of wider trafficking operations involving several countries that apparently traffics tens of thousands of people from the Horn of Africa to Arabian nations each year, heading into European Union.
All of them they had already carried their ‘rock’ to the top of the ‘mountain’, and all of them watched their ‘rock’ rush down in few moments toward lower world whence they will have to push it up again toward the summit. They are going back down to the plain; when a smuggler betrayed them in false promises, where corrupted police seized their few dollars and belongings or simply beating them – “In Turkey, they were keep slapping me repeatedly across my face. The blows turned from slaps into punches. This lasted until felt semi-conscious on the ground at the policeman’s feet.” Corruption is endemic and the human trafficking trade lucrative.
Their scorn of the gods, their hatred of death, and their passion for life won them that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. For they need to show scorn towards the unfathomable risks of a journey, within Europe, mostly travelled on the underside of trucks - a practice they call , under a generic term,‘dingling.’ They also need scorn towards that imaginary stone, the stone they keep pushing only to see it roll back down again. Upon arrival in Greece, their mythologized conception of Europe crumbles: they realize their journey is far from over, that they are at the mountain’s foot again. It is likely that in Italy they will be turned right back and another ‘dingling’ opportunity will need to be found.
Every day they don’t make the crossing to Italy, they return to the derelict factory. A search for a day’s work is futile in Greece, a country grappling with its worst economic crisis in living memory. Though in transit, they all live in a special limbo condition, by rolling their rock – a sub part of the total journey. Although they though that this ‘transit condition’ will last no more than few days, most of them found themselves blocked, trapped within the factory for months, some they have concluded their year inside this community; entrapments and circumstances.
Soon, they fall into routines and rituals that establish a semblance of community: their dinner of shared scavenged bread is eaten with reverence; their cultural differences – tribal hostiles and ethics appear in front of them as they must cohabit in this vast neglected area. New forms of social organization, coalition and practices that prevent ‘internal conflicts’ have been established, with seniority to prevail among people no older than, at max, thirty years of life.
Then, using leftover charcoal from their cooking/heating fire, they leave messages on the grubby walls just the moment before leaving the factory for another effort to cross the Adriatic restarts; Poetry, slogans, reflections interspersed with symbols and drawings, as well as social media and email accounts, tell the narrative of despair and hope – the rolling of their ‘rock’.
All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
• Part of my research post-doc studies “Beyond Dichotomies: Reassembling Global Challenges
through the Local”, focusing on the notions of Memory and Trauma.