The return journey from China goes through Dakar airport. Some Gambians stay on in Dakar to try to make a living and postpone the embarrassment of returning from China empty-handed.
If you say you have travelled, people will start talking, talking talking. ‘Why did you come back?’ There are people who take a loan to go to China. When they return, they stay in Dakar until they can go out [abroad] again. There was a guy I met in Dakar who was paid to do work in the Gambia that he had not finished. He ran away with the pay, therefore he could not return to the Gambia. He is still in Senegal.
After having exhausted one’s funds in China, getting back to the Gambia from Dakar can be a problem. One imprisoned man hoped that his friends in China would help him get enough money to travel from Dakar to his home in Gambia and give small handouts to his relatives.
It was not my intention to come home empty-handed. When I was in prison preparing to go home, I called my friends in Guangzhou to give me at least 100 USD. They were afraid to pick up the phone. They were afriad that i would lead the police to them. When I came to Dakar, I didn’t have money for my onward travel to the Gambia. People said I should go to the churches and mosques in Dakar to ask for it. That would have been a new experiencef ro me! It would be the first time to beg for charity. I was afraid the news would travel back home that I had returned from abroad and had been begging! […] I brought some papers from Guangzhou for a man. He invited me to stay at his house and call my family. I stayed for two nights I washed my clothes and prepared. […] I travelled from Dakar to Banjul with the money my family sent. By then it had ran out. I was in Banjul with my luggage and had no way to get home to my town. I was thinking, thinking, going around Banjul looking for people. I was so frustrated. So hungry. I had just arrived, and I didn’t want to tell my story to people. […] Here, people are frustrating each other. They say: ‘Look at this foolish man, he has just spent his money in vain. He left empty, he came back empty!’ I avoid crowds now. They will say: ‘See that foolish man!’ Some people are celebrating my failure. It’s jealousy. They want you to stay poor […] They rejoice when you come back empty.
When returning to the Gambia, the relief of being in safe and familiar surroundings are mixed with awareness of being regarded as a failure for not having made it abroad.
I stayed with my family for some time when I came home. One reason was that I wanted to see them. Another reason was that I needed peace of mind. People have so many questions when you come from abroad. I did not need that kind of stress. […] Many people I won’t even tell i travelled to China. If you tell them you travelled, they think you came back with money. When you return, you become the [person who is] most talked about. They think you can solve their problem because you have money. If I tell one of my boys ‘Can you credit me 25 Dalasis?’, they laugh. They think I am joking. Whilst I am serious. […] If you have never traveled and have never experienced, you think you are better than anyone else.
The ‘boys’ Abu refers to, are people who used to depend on him for jobs and small hand-outs. Abu spent all his savings and sold his productive asset – a taxi – to go to China. The failed migration project represents a great loss of status. Abu has not only lost money and the ability to help others, he has also lost credibility: people would believe either that he has made money that he is not willing to share it or that he is uncapable of profiting from opportunities abroad.
Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport, Dakar
A married man with children avoided telling his neighbors that he travelled. He returned from China before his visa expired, and was able to spend some of the money he had brought with him on gifts for his family.
I went to Dashatou [electronics market in Guangzhou] and bought two phones. I bought clothes for my children and other family members. I came back with boxes, like a business man! […] I spent a lot of money. But I have a lot of experience there. It was a good move for me.
Some are unable to keep the journey to Chine secret:
I didn’t hide it from my family, and they told other who asked them about. If anyone ask, I tell them I was in China. I tell them ‘China is mafan [Chinese for trouble,]’ Some people ask me about china, and I educate them. China is bad. Business is okay in China, but hustling is bad. […] Yesterday, people said ‘You are a coward for going home from China!’ people say: ‘You are afraid’. They can ruin your reputation and ruin your life. You come back with stress, and people put more stress upon you. What people think about being in China is that you are sitting around because you are too lazy to find a job. […] I went to the visa dealer and told him everything abotu what China is like. He stopped selling visas to China.
Well aware of the stigma failing to make money abroad, family members in Gambia encourage migrants in China to stay on longer to try to succeed:
My mum did not agree at first with me coming back. We discussed and discussed. She finally understood and said: ‘You are welcome back home’. Thank God the people that I live with and my family understand why I needed to come back.
Unlike many others, Omar could eventually return to his family without facing blame.
When the men were able to return to the same employers and businesses they had before leaving, they experienced the same frustrations that inspired them to leave for China in the first place. Market conditions were difficult. The man who ran this shoe shop picked up the business when he returned from China, but eventually gave up and reached Europe through “the backway”.