Sven Jense

Route de la Espoir – becoming Africa
17 Mar. 2009

Sven Jense is a young film- and theatremaker who is now shooting a documentary in Mali.
Read his latest weblog, created on March 9th.
 
I try to imagine I am him.

Try to be him but can’t become him. We will never be the same.
It’s hot. Over 40‘˚C. But how will Dutch winters feel when you’re from Africa?
I am free. I can travel much further than most Africans ever will. How would it be if my passport wouldn’t be enough to enter another country?
I am rich. I eat, my children would go to school, would play and laugh. How would it be if my children were starving? If no future I could offer them?
I am homesick. Miss my loved ones, dream of them. How would it be to be away for years, returning just in summer, just knowing that the family will live?
I see beauty in the desert. For him the desert approaches and brings death, dust, doom.

I am happy. I meet happy people here. And desparate people. I like Djenne, as the tourists now are gone. The big mosque looks authentic without them. The people of Djenne are out of work. They have to wait nine months, before the next wave of tourists brings in money.

Tombouctou is nothing. For travellers it used to be everything. The last post before the dying desert, the first post of the living earth. Now, here too desperate tour guides drive small shops in order to survive. The coming of the Other, has always brought prosperity and fear. The Dutch, my forefathers, were the most cruel slave traders on the planet. But it’s not that simple. Many Africans too took generous advantage of this trade.

For too long Africa has been considered as a thing outside Us. Africans are black, different, can be traded and treated like just filthy animals. Africa is poor. Poverty is relative. When some other person dies while you prosper, you help. So we help Africa.
Wrong. You help another person. You don’t help ‘Africa’.

Who is Africa?
The Other is everywhere. There are countless tribes and families. Some co-exist. Some are enemies. Some are curious. Others are afraid.
I try to imagine I am Africa.

When is Africa? Fifty years ago a white man was unknown. Now We are ‘toubab’. And Africa get’s its water from the well using plastic containers. Kapuscinsky analyses how the plastic container has changes the social landscape of the continent. Women were to get the water in the morning, using heavy pots and canisters. Now the light plastic canisters are carried by the children. And many women have some extra time to feed their families – or just chit chat.

Africa is vibrant. It changes. People have been moving always. The desert grows and trees are being cut.
Economic growth is over ten percent. Some communities stay behind. Many corrupt rulers take the lot. But still things are changing. I make nightly telephone calls with my cellphone from the border area between Tombouktou and Mauritania. Mobile phones work as bank accounts to transfer money. To inform farmers about market prices. Information means more efficient trade.
Morocco has a peage. It is for free!
Mali has more peages. The roads are well maintained.
Mauritania has the Route de la Espoir. A large strip of asphalt connecting the inland city of Naema with the harbour of Nouakchott. For over two days we slowly travel from Mali back into Mauritania. There is no road. The pathway is bumpy. Our car is too low. But we are lucky. No breakdowns, not a flat tire. Enough meticulously slowly passing time to see nothing. This area, hinting at Sahara, has just enough for camels and some donkeys to survive.

As soon as you hit the road there are brick houses, fresh bread, electricity, boxes of milk cans coming from Holland, via –as stated on the boxes- the harbour of Nouakchott. A road means transport. Transport means trade. Trade means survival. For me trade means longer holidays. Why are European chickens dumped on West African markets? Why can’t African farmers sell in Europe for good prices? Why is American cotton subsidised up to the level that Malinese cotton farmers will never be able to compete?

Development aid is complex. Done moi une cadeau! It is the standard opening of many people on the streets. As soon as I enter Africa a man approaches. He asks for money to buy shoes. Do I help the man? Yes. But then his brother? Family? Can? Tribe? Country? Continent? The Netherlands helps the Mauritanian government with education. They buy Arab language books. Black Mauritanians protest fiercely. Why does Holland help the Arabs in the defeat of their culture?
Emergency aid is complex. The average price of one meal in a refugee camp is more than that in an expensive Paris restaurant. Why? The costs of transport, handling, personnel add up to giant sums. And then, when should dependency on emergency aid stop? It might be time to stop helping Africa. To realise that migrants send home far more in money and knowledge than all rich western countries donate.
It might be time to start talking with Africans, trading, seeing Africa as countless different people who are able to help themselves, finding partners in other human beings globally.

I still try it. Imagine I am Africa.
 
Sven Jense
 
check out Sven Jense´s weblog by clicking here

REplace is a 50 minute documentary in the making.

Replace is to be a documentary based on the reversed travel experiences of a Dutch Malinese. Starting from their stories we try to copy their travels in opposite direction, from Holland to Mali (Why Mali?). We move by the same means; by boat, by truck, on foot, etc. On the way we stop at critical passing-throughs and try to make contact to the traveling migrants. Their experiences, expectations and dreams of a better life are an ironic contrast to our Dutch passports and wallets. Our goal is to find a job in Mali. When we arrive we talk to potential migrants and ask them to help us find a job.

You hear the story of a Malinese Migrant in Holland. You see (point of view) the journey of the Dutch makers the other way round, to Mali. They try to follow the migrant’s route as accurate as possible. The audience sees through the makers’ eyes, the makers themselves are not to be seen, trying to make the audience identificate with the Malinese migrant. The beauty of the country, the promise of travelling to find a job and the unknown are continuously present.

First layer is the Malinese migrant’s story. Second is the perhaps absurd attempt to reverse it. The European dream and the Malinese dream are in strange contrast. The European dream and our dreams of Mali do contrast most because, ofcourse, our journey is far more easy. But the movie also reflects an often found dream-reversal: once in Europe, many migrants start dreaming of returning -loaded with fame and money- home. Lastly in Mali we will go and look for our hero’s family. We’ll ask how it is for them to stay behind, and we’ll ask them if perhaps they could find us a job.

REplace is produced by SeeS foundation.


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Sites bij deze column:
Replace / weblog Sven Jense from Mali
http://www.replace.to/


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