Why you should care
Because Aylan Kurdi has too much company.
Mamadou Kante is one of the lucky ones: Though he didn’t make it to Europe on his boat trip from the Western coast of Africa, nor did he die. In November, 2012, Kante paid a Senegalese boat captain 1,000 euros and set off with 80 others in a sea crossing from Mauritania to Spain.
The trip was supposed to take five days. The boat never made it. Malian by origin, Kante, 26, had been working as a cook in a private kitchen in Mauritania tosave money for his trip. “My dream was always to come to France,” he says. With help from Attention Chantier, a Paris-based cultural organization that aims to break down socio-economic barriers, Kante made “Tounkaranke,” a two-and-a-half minute cut-out animation film about his harrowing sea voyage. Kante made two versions of the film–one in French, theother in Soninke. This summer, the French version debuted at the 7th annual Festival de Cinéma des Foyers, a film festival that takes place in different foyers, communal residences for migrant workers, in and around Paris.
Kante and fellow passengers took turns on teams of five to bail water of the boat with plastic cups.
Outside of the film, Kante doesn’t like to talk much about his experience. “Thinking about it brings me back to that place, and that’s why I often refuse to talk about it,” he says. The film tells his story in detail, describing how the mass of boat passengers huddled in raincoats against the autumn chill and water that seemed to come from everywhere, both sea and sky. Every day, there was a strict food allotment for each passenger: three packets of biscuits and a bottle of water. The boat was overcrowded and leaked. Kante and fellow passengers took turns on teams of five to bail water of the boat with plastic cups.
Three days into what was supposed to have been a five-day voyage, everything changed. It was night and raining when a big wave hit the boat and swept away a man standing near Kante. “I was totally shocked. I looked for him and couldn’t find him,” Kante remembers. “We heard him cry twice (from the water), but there was nothing we could do.” After the loss of the passenger, the captain turned back. Mauritanian authorities eventually intercepted the boat, sending most of its passengers back to their countries of origin. Kante, thanks to help from his former employer, managed to stay in Mauritania. One year later, with help and money from his father, who lives in France, Kante secured a visa to legally come to France.
September will mark Kante’s two-year anniversary in his new country. “Even once you’re in France, it’s not easy,” he says. Kante lives in a foyer in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, where he pays 70 euros a month to share a small room with six others. He makes money doing scaffolding work. Kante’s film ends with a warning: “I made this journey, but I don’t advise it,” he says. “Life is precious, be careful.”