This riveting book chronicles the lives of a group of fishermen from Ghana who took the long and dangerous journey to Southern Italy in search of work in a cutthroat underground economy. A story that illuminates the nature of high-risk migration around the world, Darkness before Daybreak reveals the challenges and experiences of these international migrants who, like countless others, are often in the news but are rarely understood. Hans Lucht tells how these men live on the fringes of society in Naples, what the often deadly journey across the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea involved, and what their lives in the fishing village of Senya Beraku—where there are no more fish—were like. Asking how these men find meaning in their experiences, Lucht addresses broader existential questions surrounding the lives of economic refugees and their death-defying struggle for a life worth living. He also considers the ramifications of the many deaths that occur in the desert and the sea for those who are left behind.
Darkness before Daybreak African Migrants Living on the Margins in Southern Italy Today
The municipality of Castelvolturno, north of Naples, is a rather bleak and rundown cluster of high-rises, petrol stations, a couple of gated communities set back from the road, small shops, communication centers (where one can use a phone, make photocopies, and browse the Internet), and African supermarkets stretched out along the expressway to Rome. Off the expressway, along the waterfront, lies a string of modest holiday resorts. Standing in stark contrast to the expensive and famous resorts to the south of Naples, toward Sorrento and the Amalfi coast, these are deserted for most of the year except for two busy months in the summer when Neapolitans come to escape the unbearable heat of the city. Unlike the ever busy road to Rome, the back streets of the summerhouse areas and the commercial beaches are usually empty except for packs of wild dogs and occasional West African walkers or cyclists. Sometimes vendors drive slowly down the byroads in small three-wheeled vans with a loudspeaker on the roof advertising chickens, momentarily disturbing the strange silence of the neighborhood. But now some Italians are renting these summerhouses out to immigrants, and some of the formerly closed shops in the area are reopening as Internet cafΘs or African evangelical churches, and on Sundays the beach strip is bustling with music and chanting and Africans strolling up and down the street in their best Sunday clothes.
This development, however, has not been without problems. West African immigrants are regularly subject to flagrant racism in stores, at their workplaces, in buses, and elsewhere, and racially motivated attacks are not uncommon. Many report having things thrown at them, such as hot coffee, stones, and eggs as they walk along the expressway in Castelvolturno, and some have been attacked by passersby for no obvious reason other than their being black. John, for instance, was waiting at the bus stop when a man passing by on a motorcycle kicked him so violently in the knee that he was barely able to make his way back to his room. And Jonathan was on the bus when a couple of Italian kids sitting behind him set his shirt on fire. Such stories are plentiful in Castelvolturno. In the summer of 2008, the violent state of affairs reached a new high when the Naples Mafia, the Camorra, shot dead six young men from West Africa (three from Ghana, two from Liberia, and one from Togo) in a tailor's shop, allegedly in a turf war over drugs. The incident sparked race riots in the streets of Castelvolturno; cars were overturned and windows smashed as the West African migrants took to the streets, calling for justice and an end to racism. The Berlusconi government responded by deploying four hundred extra policemen and five hundred troops into the streets.
Given these recent experiences, the West African community regards white people-many of whom come to look for prostitutes or drugs or even to rob the immigrants of mobile phones and cash-with an understandably high level of suspicion. Moreover, the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is reinforced by the scarcity of jobs and a high rate of unemployment among the immigrants. Everybody is trying to find work, and many have little or no money for food and electricity. In December 2005, when I left Naples, most of my informants were suffering badly from the cold because their Neapolitan landlords turn off the power supply during the coldest time of the year, based apparently on the assumption that their West African tenants would build up enormous electricity bills they would never be able to settle. As a consequence, when I visited informants after work in the winter, many were already lying in bed with their jackets and hats on.
Of course, it's not all misery. Some immigrants, as shown in detail later, are nevertheless making a life for themselves, getting ahead little by little. They have secured semiregular work with semiregular wages, and they are putting up houses in Ghana, taking care of their families. One evening as we rode the bus home after interviewing one of these fortunate West African migrants, a man who worked the night shift in a plastics factory, Sammy said, "That's the dream all we guys have."
Farther up the expressway, near a cheese factory, lies Pescopagano, or just Pesco, another modest holiday resort. Between Pesco and the expressway lies a farming area where, according to Sammy, mostly Albanians work the fields. Walking home in the evening along the dirt road from the expressway to Sammy's house, one could sometimes glimpse their faces in the flames of a bonfire. Usually, though, we avoided that dirt road in the evening because of the risk of getting robbed and even knocked about. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, paydays for the day laborers, criminals would park their cars in the dark at the roadside and wait for the immigrants to come home from work. At the end of this long, dangerous road, with farmland on both sides and no place to hide, stood what looked like a tollgate, separating the farmland from the summerhouse area: reaching that tollgate meant safety. Many of my informants reported being chased toward the tollgate, some making it, others having to give up their wages and mobile phones. Samuel, for instance, had his new mobile phone stolen only weeks after I left. This stretch of dirt road in general was something of a challenge for my project. Whenever we had informants over for interviews in the evenings, it was better for them to leave early. Walking them back to the bus stop, we would, at Sammy's suggestion, carry empty bottles to protect ourselves in case of robbery, our informants hiding their money in their socks, like the seasoned travelers they were.
Clearly, the neighborhood was a bit rough, and when my family arrived a month after I did, we decided to move to an apartment in the center of Naples. Although that decision meant a lot of traveling time, at best one hour in each direction, it also provided a valuable insight into one of the key problems of illegal immigrant life: the difficult and tedious nature of moving anywhere in Naples when relying on public transportation, especially when going to the city to look for work. This theme, explored in chapter 3, was an important reminder of how time and power are closely connected (Bourdieu 2000: 223), and how wasting time-or rather, having one's time wasted-is a central experience for the West African immigrants in Naples.
There is a telling story about the expressway to Rome that every West African immigrant in Castelvolturno appeared to know. In biblical times, when Paul the Apostle came from the Holy Land to preach the gospel, the local Neapolitans captured him and he was beaten and dragged on horseback along the Via Domitiana to Rome, where he was finally executed. In the course of this ordeal St. Paul cursed the road to Rome, declaring that since his blood had been shed on the Via Domitiana, the road should continue to demand blood forever more. And so it does, in a literal as well as symbolic sense. Literally speaking, the road was often the scene of traffic accidents. People on their way to Rome, driving too fast or unable to see because of a lack of adequate streetlights, would hit a pedestrian crossing the street or, more often, a stray dog. (During my stay in Naples work began on installing speed bumps in the most populated areas of Castelvolturno.) Many times, waiting for the bus in the darkness before sunrise, we would see the corpse of a freshly killed dog being torn apart by speeding cars until it ended up in the ditch, and for weeks afterward the foul smell of its swollen carcass would remind everybody of the danger of getting knocked down on the accursed road. "The street is crying for blood tonight," Sammy would sometimes say when we crossed the expressway in the night and cars came uncomfortably close. "You know, in Senya," he once added jokingly, "it would be pacified. They would get a fowl and slaughter it and give the blood to the road." He was referring to the traditional Guan way of dealing with such a powerful interlocutor: presenting it with a symbolic gift in order to draw the object of fear and desire into a relationship of exchange, thus experientially creating obligations and expectations as opposed to a regime of arbitrariness (Lucht 2003: 43-64). In a broader existential understanding, the expressway continually demanded blood in the way that it every so often appeared to constitute a veritable negative zone. Accidents, violence, degradation, and prostitution at times seemed to conform to a one-way street of taking-yet, simultaneously, the dreaded road connected the West African community of Castelvolturno with the city of Naples and the possibilities of growth.
There were several spots from which life on the Via Domitiana could be observed. One of them was the outside terrace of the Scalzone Hotel, only a few meters from the road itself; in fact, the tables were about half a meter below the surface of the street, making the presence of the road particularly strong when cars, their drivers ignoring the newly constructed speed bump, hit it with a loud thump and set sparks flying out from under the car body. Inside, a hotel coffee bar was frequented mostly by drivers stopping at the petrol station that was an extension of the hotel. But West Africans living across the muddy river that ran by the northern walls of the Scalzone also frequented the coffee bar, mostly to buy phone cards and cigarettes. Two dogs, seemingly oblivious of the busy road five meters away, guarded this petrol station as if it was a farmhouse. The animals had a peculiar temperament: whenever a normal-looking automobile pulled in, they would wag their tails and lay down their ears as if their master was coming home, whereas if a strange-looking vehicle such as a dune buggy or tractor pulled in, they would rush toward it and bark fiercely before crawling back into the shade of a parked car. Sometimes horses were exercised in the shallow river that separated the hotel from the migrant high-rises. Their trainers ran them up against the stream, foam coming out of the sides of the their mouths. "It's to make their legs strong for the races," Maurizio, the waiter at the nearby pizza restaurant, explained one evening, as Samuel and I were dining there. As an observation point, the hotel terrace and the coffee bar worked out well; here I would usually meet with Sammy in the evening before going to the West African high-rises.
Another point of participant observation along the expressway was a communication center where a key informant, Junior Teacher, worked as a desk clerk. I had met him during my first fieldwork in Ghana, where he was teaching mathematics and English in the public school. Now he worked fourteen hours every day of the week at the communication center. Usually he would sit outside on the porch in the shade as people entered and left the center and watch the traffic go by.
I moved into Sammy's room in a summerhouse in Pescopagano in September 2005. Sammy gave me his bed and insisted on sleeping on the floor himself. The house was a small white bungalow with a front porch facing the road. The porch offered a view to the north and of the adjacent residential area, which was separated from our house by a stretch of wasteland overgrown with long grass and giant cacti. In the middle of this no-man's-land stood the ruins of a house where stray dogs usually roamed about. The locals used to burn rubbish in this apparently abandoned plot of land.
Across the whole farmland area, the vague roar of the expressway could always be heard. In the distance stood the hills of Mondragone, which appeared to change color every day. One day the hills would be light blue; another day, fog-bound and white; on a clear day they would shine brightly like an oil painting and allow one to study every detail. At such times, on the very tops of the hills it was possible to discern the ruins of a castle or a monastery. The stretch of road that connected the summerhouse area to the expressway was low and swampy, which accounted for the swarms of mosquitoes that would chase us off the porch when darkness fell. The municipality would dispatch small vans with insecticide pumps to take care of the problem, but the spraying seemed to have only minimal effect. The swampy area, and especially the small lakes strewn between the coastline and the expressway, was an attraction to local hunters, who would come by early in the morning, their shots ringing out and echoing against the mountains.
Sammy lived under the roof of a Nigerian landlady, Madam Hope, who was taking care of the house for the Neapolitan owner, a man we saw only when it was time to collect the rent. Apparently he had given possession of the house to Madam Hope for a certain undisclosed price, and she then recruited the West African tenants. Hope had been caught on a railway station in Milan with a quantity of cocaine and was serving four years' house arrest for drug trafficking, which meant she was always home and had to run whatever business she was conducting from the house, except for the two hours a week she was allowed to go and do the shopping. An energetic and outspoken woman, Hope became a valued source of information during my fieldwork. In particular, her criticisms of Italian society seemed to speak to many concerns shared by the West African immigrants, though some of them were a little one-sided and fell under the category of "ethno-Occidentalism" (Carrier 1992: 198; for a discussion of Senegalese street-sellers' essentialized views of Italian society, see Riccio 2002). I clearly remember Madam Hope giving her views of some of the important themes of immigrant life on the very night of my arrival, among many other times during my stay.
Madam Hope: Why do these Italians say we're dirty? We wash two times a day. That's even more than they do. We can't wash off this color. The Father in Heaven gave us this color and he has a plan with that-a plan we can't know anything about. They say we're hungry-but that's not the truth. We have food in Africa, but we don't have any money. Our leaders are corrupt, Hansen. They take everything for themselves; what should we do? Even people who graduate from university drive taxis. Unless you have money or know somebody, you can't do anything. Home is home. Do you think we would be here if we had money? No, home is home. There you don't worry about documents. And if somebody came to my home, to meet my parents, they would be entertained like a prince. Over here we're treated like animals.
Madam Hope had three areas of business. First, there were the tenants. Second, she ran something like a bar, selling beer and sweet, fruity wine from the refrigerator in the kitchen. In the evening, when people came home from work, both her tenants-the ones upstairs, like Sammy and me, and the people crammed together in the small rooms in the basement-as well as other West Africans living in the nearby summerhouses, would come by the house to sit on the porch and have a beer or just hang out. This was an ideal opportunity for meeting people and arranging interviews. For a small consideration, Madam Hope also cooked for Sammy and me. In her third business, Madam Hope basically was a part-time prostitute; when her two regular Italian customers came by, her boyfriend, Martin, a young man from Senya Beraku, would give up the bedroom. One of the customers was a burly but mild-mannered baker named Pasquale who came by very early in the morning, presumably when he got off work, and usually stayed the whole day. He always brought fresh bread, which I greatly appreciated. Sammy, like most other Ghanaians, did not fancy the famous Italian bread tradition at all: "It's too chewy, it'll scratch your mouth and before you know it, your gums are bleeding." Hope and Pasquale argued like a married couple, she usually confronting him with the mistreatment that Africans were receiving in Naples, and the baker sighing, shrugging his shoulders, and going out on the balcony to smoke a cigarette with a dreamy expression on his face. (Madam Hope allowed no smoking in the house.) Pasquale was always available for conversation, though his heavy Neapolitan dialect was difficult to comprehend, and sometimes Sammy or Hope would have to translate. One day, when he woke up from his morning nap on the couch, he came to the porch and told me he had found a job for me down at the harbor. He leaned his elbows on the railings. Since I was so interested in all things concerning the sea-apparently the conclusion he had drawn from the explanation of my project I had given him in poor Italian-he had inquired with some friends who were always looking for a pair of hands in the fishing business. But it was "a job with documents," he added cunningly, watching my reaction out of the corner of his eye.
Although Pasquale was generally unmoved by Hope's continuous rants against the Neapolitans, one theme she would embark upon almost always made him lose his temper. Whenever they watched biblical movies-the dramatic reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for instance-as they frequently did, Hope would take the opportunity to make one of her recurring accusations against the Neapolitans, if not all Italians: they had abandoned God. Considering that Christ's crucifixion (right there on the television screen) had saved humankind from its sins, such a betrayal appeared thoroughly ungrateful, and Pasquale wouldn't hear of it. He would get up from the sofa, find his cigarettes, and go to the porch. That was rubbish, he said, shaking his head in disgust. "How come, then," Hope would quickly respond, "the Italian churches are all empty on Sundays?"
Hope's other customer was a very old and practically blind man. His son, who led him by the arm all the way into the bedroom, drove him to the house. A long time before, the man had employed Madam Hope as a housemaid, and they had kept in touch since. Sometimes I would talk to his son, who waited in the kitchen with a beer while the father was in the bedroom with Hope, but they never stayed long.
My fieldwork in Naples focused on a group of twenty to twenty-five young men from Senya Beraku. Later, the group was expanded to include young Ghanaian men from the town of Winneba with whom the fishermen of Senya Beraku had close contact and often shared rooms or apartments. Also a Guan fishing community, Winneba is close to and considerably larger than Senya Beraku. The two towns are the only Guan settlements on the coast of Ghana's Central Region, a stretch of coast today inhabited mostly by the Fante people, who belong to the Akan tribe (Buah 1998: 14; Lucht 2003: 10). The testimonies of the Winneba informants were even more relevant because most of them had also arrived as captains on the human smugglers' boats from Libya.
To be precise, when I say "fishermen," I mean only that every Senya person I talked to, except for two, has fishing experience and has at some point worked in the fishing business, regardless of his educational background. For instance, some of those I interviewed had completed high school-including my main informant Sammy-but before, during, and after their studies had helped friends or family in handling a canoe. After completion of high school it is not uncommon for a young man to help out a fishing crew as a clerk, settling the petrol and other bills and handling the business's paperwork. Sammy's step-father, a big-time fisherman in Senya Beraku, disciplined Sammy by allowing him fish in his soup only if he worked in the canoes when he was not attending school. Although Sammy hated his step-father at the time for that display of authority, and he was teased at school because of it, today he thinks differently about the situation: "It seems the old man unknowingly gave me a chance to go to Europe." But in general, growing up in a Guan coastal community means participating, on some level, in the village's main industry. Traveling on the sea, or commanding a boat across the Mediterranean Sea, for that matter, is therefore considered a risky but not outrageous idea.
The Guan informants in Naples were all men between twenty and forty years of age (except for Senior Teacher, the eldest Senya person in Naples, who headed the Senya Youth Club, established by the young men of the village to deal with the challenges and uncertainties of illegal immigrant life). During my stay in Italy, I met only one young woman from Senya Beraku. That was during a field trip to Udine in the north, where I attended the funeral of Sammy's best friend, Yakubu, who died suddenly after what appeared to be a brain hemorrhage (the diagnosis was never clear to his friends who visited him in the hospital). This woman had traveled to Italy by plane and had overstayed her tourist visa, a costly method of immigration and, as such, not easily pursued by the Senya Beraku would-be migrants. Incidentally, when I returned to the village and asked young women why they did not emigrate, they said the answer was obvious considering the well-known hardships in the desert; it was generally acknowledged that women are raped going through the desert.
Thus I gathered material in Italy solely through interviews of young men, whereas in Ghana, the data come from interviews with both men and women, young and old. There are of course a large number of young West African women in Naples, including Castelvolturno, where I stayed for some time. The ones I managed to talk to, coming and going between Sammy's house and the expressway, came from Nigeria. Sadly, they were all employed in prostitution, some of them pressured into it. Standing along the expressway all day long, every day of the week, they were not easy for me to approach, since I was a white male whom they naturally took for a potential customer and had every reason to be suspicious about-abuse and violence were not unusual. During my stay in Naples I came briefly to know three young Nigerian girls who worked on the dirt road leading to Sammy's house. Sammy used to take pity on them and bring them water on hot days. When they met my wife and daughter, however, the tension between us appeared to subside a little, as if they appreciated this glimpse of ordinary family life, and henceforth we would talk whenever we would meet, in the bus or on the street, though it was mostly small talk. If their situation is anything like that of the Nigerian prostitutes in Palermo, who live tragic and degraded lives on the bottom of the commercial sex industry, and who are trafficked and endure long-term exploitation "by means of intimidation, violence, and debt peonage" (Cole Booth 2006: 107), then collecting the testimonies of West African women in Naples appears to be a matter of great urgency-though that task is beyond the scope of this book.
How to approach the Guan immigrants was a major consideration from the beginning. Having actively taken part in the smuggling as captains on the boats from Libya, the young men risked expulsion if they were exposed, and they might choose not to talk, even though promised anonymity. Surprisingly, most decided to give interviews. Some needed a little time to think about it, and three of the young men refused to talk to me at all, but in general I was welcomed by almost every potential informant we approached. And most often they took time, carefully and in detail, to share their experiences of the journey and their lives in Naples, expressing hope that if the truth was brought to the fore, something would be done. Eventually, Samuel suggested that we present informants with phone cards in gratitude for their participation in the fieldwork. That solution worked out wonderfully; the phone card had value because it could be used to call home for up to forty-five minutes. And the price was suitable; the small shops in the marketplace would even give discounts for purchases of larger quantities (as low as 4 Euros apiece). "I'll be coming around to get my hands on a phone card one of these days," potential informants would joke with us, after news of gifts got around (informants I had already talked to would come around "to collect their share").
The fact that I had lived in their village in Ghana and knew a few phrases of their language also helped. The main reason for my success in collecting empirical data, however, was the fact that Samuel not only agreed to work for me again but also vouched for me and never gave up calling, locating, and persuading possible informants. This book is thus in many ways the product of my close relationship with Samuel. In fact, as I look back at the time we have spent together, the places our acquaintance and inquiries have taken us, the ethnographic fieldwork appears indistinguishable from the fabric of our own personal lives. Indeed, any account of the way ethnographic inquiry is conducted should simultaneously be an account of the social involvement of the researcher in the field. As William F. Whyte put it more forthrightly, "The researcher, like his informants, is a social animal" and any "real explanation ... of how the research was done necessarily involves a rather personal account of how the researcher lived during the period of study" (1964: 3-4). Becoming involved, as opposed to maintaining a "convenient scholarly fiction" of detachment between informant and researcher (Ellen Hicks 1984: 209), is not unwanted: in fact, anthropologists seek these "long-term unquantifiable relationships" with the people they study. Indeed, the anthropologist wants to be involved and "violate the canons of positivist research" in order to collect "accurate data" (Bourgois 1995: 11). Ideas, Whyte argued, "grow up in part out of immersion in the data and the whole process of living" and in part as a "logical product growing out of the careful weighing of evidence" (1964: 3-4).
The fieldwork, conducted in two sites (Castelvolturno and Senya Beraku), exemplifies the methodological framework of "multi-sited" fieldwork (Marcus 1995), with its encouragement to "follow the people." But, as mentioned in the preface, some caution is required with regard to the Marxist notion of an integrated "world system," with its modern imagery of a globe interconnected through relationships of exploitation. Such an approach does not fully address the conditions of life in a modern West African village unless it simultaneously demonstrates sensitivity toward the local sense of exclusion from the "world system," or, as Marcus argues, unless it produces ethnographies "both in and out of the world system" (1995: 95). As discussed in the following chapters, whereas some people might oppose globalization on personal, political, or religious grounds, such opposition cannot be taken as the norm when just as many people struggle, even putting their lives at risk, to belong in some way or another to the so-called global world (see Cohen 2006: 6).
So any multi-sited ethnography of the "world system" that recognizes, if only half-heartedly, an intensified degree of global interconnection, or globalization, must also recognize the fact "that while the world may be full of complex mobility and interconnection, there are also quite a number of people and places whose experience is marginal to or excluded from these movements and links ... and this, too, is the world of globalization" (Inda Rosaldo 2003: 4). On a more practical level, however, fieldwork conducted among highly mobile youth in a fragmented urban setting like Naples is less a study of abstract global structures than an application of an "extended case method" or "situational analysis," with its focus on the particularity of human existence, social processes, variations, exceptions, and accidents or, more specifically, on "the actions of individuals as individuals, as personalities, and not just as occupants of particular statuses" (van Velsen 1967: 143). In this way the contours of possible global structures might become visible by exploring the life-worlds of the West African informants, not the other way around. Indeed, as Marcus (1995) maintains, a strategy or design of multi-sited research acknowledges the macro level and the narratives of the globalized world, but does "not rely on them for the contextual architecture framing a set of subjects" (96).
Following the lead of existential anthropology, the empirical focus here is the "critical events" that highlight the question of being as "a dynamic relationship between circumstances over which we have little control ... and our capacity to live those circumstances in a variety of ways" (Jackson 2005: xi; see also Das 1995: 6). Or, in Arthur Kleinman's words, the focus here is "the always unequal struggle between where the world is taking us and where we aspire to go" (Kleinman 2006: 17). Thus, in examining the plight of the West African immigrants in their effort to secure a desired life, I explore the unceasing struggle of human existence, "struggle for being against nothingness-for whatever will make life worth living, rather than hopeless, profitless, and pointless" (Jackson 2005: x). Kleinman frames this effort as the human need to live a "moral life"-not moral in an ethical sense, but a life in which "what really matters," such as "status, jobs, money, family ties, sexual intimacy, sense of order and self-control, health, life itself, and also religious commitments, political arrangements, and all sorts of culturally and personally specific agendas" are fiercely struggled for. And the struggle is always on unequal terms, entailing a "powerful, enervating anxiety created by the limits of our control over our small worlds and even our inner selves" (Kleinman 2006: 5-6). Consequently, the theoretical direction outlined here echoes one of the main themes of existential phenomenology: to explore being not as a contemplative effort, but as a question of action and constraints on action. As Sartre put it, "To be is to act, and to cease to act is to cease to be" (Sartre 2005: 498; see also Merleau-Ponty 1976: 137).
Acknowledging pragmatism, however, existential anthropology emphasizes the inadequacy of human action and control and, consequently, not only the variety of strategies one pursues to act on the world but also the concessions one has to make in the process (Jackson 2007: 127; Kleinman 2006: 9; see also Biehl et al. 2007: 15). Thus, I probe the life-worlds of the new immigrants in Naples, that is, the lived province of reality that they take for granted, that they engage as human organisms, and in which, existentially, they come "up against obstacles that can be surmounted as well as barriers that are insurmountable" (Schutz Luckmann 1973: 3). This may not succeed as the ideal migrant study, if that is understood as research on three fronts, granting equal attention to the immigrant life-world, the receiving community, and the institutions of the receiving context (Riccio 2002: 177). Nevertheless, important economic and political characteristics of the Italian receiving context will also be discussed in connection with the informants' migration and the social and existential themes they appear to articulate. Employing "critical phenomenology" (Desjarlais 1997: 24), the book explores subjective experiences as informed by socioeconomic and political forces that entail a variety of lives, experiences, and strategies.
In the 1990s, the anthropological study of migration came to focus on transnationalism, and the migrant was transformed into the transmigrant (Glick-Schiller et al. 1995). Anthropologists sought to dissolve obsolete concepts and capture the characteristics of mobility in a globalized world where people move across national borders and create new hybrid identities, making use of new technologies of communication and transportation such as jet planes, mobile phones, and the Internet. These transmigrants are thus agents of change in both their new countries and their countries of origin. However, for at least two reasons, the concepts of transnationalism and the transmigrant appear less relevant in the context of the undocumented Guan immigrants in Naples. First, concerning agency and mobility, the Guan immigrants often appear less as agents of change and travel, working both sides of the border, than as stuck in a negative zone, recognized neither legally nor socially. They seem more concerned with gaining a foothold in Naples and securing "little immediate futures" (Fawzi Mellah, cited in Albahari 2006: 13) centered on the most basic necessities than with becoming "incorporated in the economy and political institutions, localities and patterns of life of the country in which they reside," or with striving to "maintain connections, build institutions, conduct transactions and influence local and national events in the countries from which they emigrated" (Glick-Schiller et al. 1995: 48). Moreover, the supposed counterhegemonic influence of transnationalism and the consequent demise of the nation-state (Kearney 1996: 8, 183) are difficult to identify in the context of illegal immigration to Italy. That is to say, national borders, rather than being contested and transgressed, are being reified in the form of lethal traps from which migrants barely escape alive (cf. Friedman 1999a), as I discuss in part 2. Those who do survive exist in the shadow of the nation-state without legal or political protection but still subject to state power in its most devastating form.
Although one might argue that migrant life in Naples is just a painful prelude to better times ahead, this painful prelude becomes for many the permanent state of affairs. That is to say, for most young Guan migrants in Naples, the day-to-day struggle for work, food, and housing eventually consumes so much of their time that they are forced to postpone their original plans. In this respect, the Guan migrants in Naples are less settled and economically stable than their predominantly Ashanti countrymen in Emilia Romagna (Riccio 2008: 226), not to mention the Senegalese who arrived much earlier and have formed strong, formal social networks and institutions across Italy. (See, for instance, Riccio's work on Senegalese links to their homeland and Sufi brotherhoods, how these links shape everyday lives, and the morphology of their social institutions [Riccio 2001, 2002; Grillo and Riccio 2004].) Perhaps anthropologists have been generally too optimistic regarding the power of human agency in the so-called global world. Arjun Appadurai, for instance, partly in response to criticism of his much quoted book, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996), now admits to having painted "too rosy a picture of globalization of the early 1990s and as [having been] insufficiently attentive to the darker sides of globalization, such as violence, exclusion, and growing inequality" (Appadurai 2006: ix). In Fear of Small Numbers (2006) he proposes "to seek ways to make globalization work for those who need it the most and enjoy it the least, the poor, the dispossessed, the weak, and the marginal populations of the world" (x).
This brings me to the second, empirical and methodological reason for not embracing the concept of the transmigrant. I have used the concept of illegal immigrant throughout the book (rather than transmigrant, or "undocumented" or "irregular immigrant," as suggested by the UN General Assembly to avoid unnecessary stigmatization), because illegal immigrant is an empirical category used by the Italian authorities, in public discourse, and by the migrants themselves. It's a legal and discursive category of exclusion, which the migrants are confronted with everywhere they turn (and often regardless of de jure status) and which makes an important difference in an Italian context and in the lives of the immigrants (M.Hansen 2007: 1). The Italian word for illegal immigrant, clandestino (clandestine person or someone displaying somewhat criminal or occult behavior), stands in opposition to immigrato (immigrant), which has positive connotations. Especially in the south, most people have themselves, or have relatives who have, traveled abroad to live and work in another country. Most of these are positive stories, some even romantic, about taking on the world and making something good out of a difficult situation. In contrast, the illegal immigrant earns none of this praise but is regarded, rather, as a pariah. (For a discussion of the use of clandestino and immigrato and the surrounding discursive praxis, see M.Hansen 2007: 70-73.) The point is that migrant life in Naples and the discursive terms framing it may be less about flow and hybridity than about states and categorizations. In this sense, the empirical and methodological considerations combine with the analytical aim of showing the double nature of globalization in creating both connectedness and disconnectedness at the same time. With regard to African experiences of the globalized world, James Ferguson has recently called "for a new framing of discussions of the global: centered less on transnational flows and images of unfettered connection than on the social relations that selectively constitute global society; the statuses and ranks that it comprises; and the relations, rights, and obligations that characterize it" (Ferguson 2006: 23; my italics).
Praying for Rain
Senior Teacher was the head of the Senya Youth Club, established by the young men of the village to deal with the challenges of illegal immigrant life. At an early stage in the fieldwork, Samuel and I went to meet him, partly to show respect to the eldest person in the Senya community, partly as a research strategy ("to keep people from getting strange ideas about the work," as Sammy expressed it), and partly because of Teacher's experience in having stayed the longest time in Naples. A brief description of his life's circumstances reveals the critical themes of migrant life on the margins of Italian society, themes I pursue in this and the following two chapters: illegal entry into Italy, the underground labor market and the migrant workforce, and everyday migrant life in Italy.
Senior Teacher worked as a night watchman at a used-car dealership in the center of Naples; he lived in a small shed at the back of the parking lot. When Sammy and I came to the dealership one Saturday morning, he was sitting in a big wire-fenced shelter in the middle of the lot surrounded by cars, eating lunch with a cousin who was visiting from Austria. Sammy rang the buzzer on the gate at the road, and Teacher stood up from the worn-out sofa inside the shelter and walked slowly to the gate, a bundle of keys in one hand. As he came closer, he recognized Samuel and quickened his pace. He invited us to sit down with him, casually covering with a T-shirt a half bottle of gin in an armchair. His cousin didn't say much. He had already finished eating and was sprawled on the sofa reading a copy of Watchtower with an apathetic frown. Teacher had once taught mathematics and English in Ghana but had given it up "in search of greener pastures." He traveled to Italy on a tourist visa and decided to overstay. By now he had been with the Neapolitan used-car dealership for fifteen years and was content with the job. He was awaiting his Italian passport: when it arrived, he would decide what to do-whether to stay in Naples or move on. "When you get old," Teacher explained, "you always like to be with your family."
Teacher's job was to guard the cars at night. During the week, he got off at 8:30 in the morning, then went to a nearby pizza place, where he sat and watched the traffic in order "not to be bothered" by his bosses. He reported back to the dealership at 1:00 and resumed watching the cars during the day staff's afternoon break. As a senior Senya person in Naples in terms of both age and experience, Senior Teacher had followed the arrival of his fellow Senya immigrants closely.
Senior Teacher: When I came to Naples, there were only two Senya people in all of Italy. Today, there's so many. That's good. It's an adventure-you seek your fortune. In Naples, you can get an odd job without documents, and a cheap place to live. And if you're hungry, you can go to the Catholic shelter and get free food and clothes. You can't prevent them from coming, mind you. It's a matter of risk and reward, of loss and gain. It's not easy staying in Africa, trying to make ends meet, trying to have three meals a day. Then, one day, one boy decides to travel to Europe and another one follows him. And soon enough, if you stay behind, people will say, "Are you crazy? Why don't you go too?"
We discussed his job for a while, and Teacher mentioned again that he had to "dodge" the owners of the car lot so they could not pile extra work on him. A short buzz at the gate signaled that another young Senya immigrant was coming by to ask Teacher's advice; they excused themselves and withdrew to talk. Teacher returned shortly, and the young man took off. Teacher returned to the question of his work. The problem, he told us, was that a lot of cars were being stolen in Naples. "What they'll do," he explained, "is that they'll steal a car, then they'll send a boy around who knows where the car is parked, maybe carrying a picture of the car on his mobile phone, and if you want the car back, you'll have to pay him." Then the haggling could begin. What kind of demands were the car thieves making, and how much was the car worth to the dealer? The bargaining might go on for some time, offers put forward and rejected, until an agreement was reached and the car was finally handed back to the owner. Calling the police, Teacher said, is not the first option in Naples.
When I asked about migrant life in Naples and the many hardships the young Senya Beraku fishermen were going through, however, Teacher did not encourage such complaints. He agreed that Naples was a hard place, but that was only to be expected, he said.
Teacher: What is life like in Naples? Life here is normal. If you want trouble, you'll find trouble. Most of the Senya boys are law-abiding, you know.... They know how to comport themselves. But if you go around the city at midnight, you'll meet bad boys and they will give you trouble. So, it's up to you.
Tired from being on the watch all night, Teacher excused himself. He wanted to go take a nap. It was approaching noon, and the sun was scorching. Walking us to the gate, he pointed out some of the more expensive cars in the lot, a Mercedes and a BMW. The weather had been hot and dry for weeks, and the cars were covered in a fine layer of dust.
Teacher: The director only prays for one thing: rain. He wants the rain to come and wash the dust off the cars. You should see him when it rains. He's very, very happy.
After this visit, I returned to talk with Teacher on several occasions, and the research benefited greatly from his experience and straightforward approach to the challenges of migrant life. The opportunity of a job in the underground economy and a cheap place to live, as Teacher pointed out, is a main attraction that Italy-a relatively new migrant destination-offers to West African immigrants.
Illegal Entry into Italy
Although Italy, like the other Mediterranean countries of the European Union (EU) except for France, has a long tradition of emigration, immigration is a recent phenomenon. So-called undocumented immigrants from Eastern Europe and non-European countries, mainly North Africans, have entered Italy only since the late 1980s, with the number of foreign residents, regular and illegal, reaching more than 3 million in 2005, out of a total population of 57 million. Although this figure is relatively small compared to the foreign resident populations of Northern European countries, it is remarkable in that the influx of immigrants was quite sudden; it occurred at a time when Northern European countries were clamping down on the influx of immigrants (possibly as a side-effect of Italy's becoming a "back door" to Europe); and immigration into Italy consisted largely of non-European nationals. In fact, 85 percent of the foreigners residing in Italy in 2000 came from non-European countries, and most of these (according to one report, 75 percent) had come without documents (Calavita 2005: 3; Caritas/Migrantes 2006; Grillo 2002: 5; Reyneri 2001: 2; Venturi Villosio 2006: 91). As a consequence, Italy has issued five amnesties (1986-1987, 1990, 1995-1996, 1998-1999, 2002-each of which was declared "the final regularisation" [Chaloff 2003: 3]) in order to regularize the status of immigrants, followed in each case by a tightening of the immigration laws. One of the latest legislative revisions is Law 189 of July 2002, also known as the Bossi-Fini Law. Although Law 189 regularized 650,000 migrants-the largest number ever given such amnesty in Italy-it also provided for combating illegal immigration by, among other measures, stepping up deportations. Simultaneously, the new law made it more difficult to enter Italy legally by changing immigration quotas and employer contracts with immigrants. With regard to the latter, the six-month permit for entering Italy to look for work was abolished, and work permits were made dependent on having a job offer prior to entry, which in practice makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for unskilled migrants to enter. The latest amendments to the law, from July 2009, make undocumented migration punishable by a fine of 5,000 to 10,000 Euros, and those who house undocumented immigrants can face up to three years in prison. The most controversial part of the legislation, however, allows for unarmed citizen guards to patrol the streets (Ammendola et al. 2005: 11; BBC 2009a; Levinson 2005: 3; Venturi Villosio 2006: 92).
The number of illegal immigrants in Italy varies, according to one estimate, between 200,000 and 500,000 at any one time (Venturi Villosio 2006: 93). On the whole, more than 100,000 illegal immigrants enter Italy each year. Most cross the Italian-Slovenian border, following routes used by both independent travelers and human smugglers transporting would-be immigrants from Central and Southern Europe, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and elsewhere in Asia. In contrast, the sea routes from North Africa are used especially by African immigrants. Via this route, predominantly the one taken by the informants in this study, there were 22,939 landings in 2005. This number was almost twice that in 2004, reflecting a controversial tightening of immigration control measures at Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves in North Africa (Ammendola et al. 2005: 14).
How do immigrants enter and remain illegally in Italy? There are at least four main ways of illegal enty: (1) crossing a land or sea border without documents, (2) entering the country with a short-term permit and subsequently overstaying, (3) entering with false documents, and (4) entering as an asylum seeker and staying when the application is denied (Reyneri 2001: 18-19). Immigrants who try to enter Italy without valid documents are either rejected, which is common at the land borders, or given an expulsion order (or folgio di via). If the immigrant does not comply with the expulsion order, he or she can be forcefully repatriated. Not only is this procedure "very expensive," with costs in some cases reaching "catastrophic figures" (Prefect Anna Maria D'Ascenzo, director of Italy's Department for Citizens' Freedom and Immigration, in a hearing before the Schengen Committee in October 2003, cited in Ammendola et al. 2005: 29), but it also depends, of course, on a positive identification of the immigrant as a national of a particular country and also on a bilateral agreement with that country-neither of which is always obtainable. The Guan informants in this study, for instance, intentionally destroyed their documents prior to the boat trip to Italy, and often claimed a nationality other than Ghanaian. Combining options 1 and 4 above, they entered Italy illegally by sea and subsequently applied for asylum on political or humanitarian grounds.
The regular Italian administrative procedure is then to transport the immigrant asylum seekers to temporary reception centers in Sicily or on the mainland of Italy, where they await the outcome of their applications (though the Berlusconi administration has carried out highly controversial and widely criticized deportations of African immigrants directly to Libya). When an application for asylum is denied, the immigrant is given an expulsion order, which means the person has to leave Italian territory within five days of being discharged from the reception center. In 2005, 65,617 immigrants received such an expulsion order but did not comply, choosing instead to stay and work illegally in Italy (Ammendola et al. 2005: 46). Upon leaving the reception centers, such noncompliant migrants travel to the large cities to look for work, predominantly in the underground economy, though as Senior Teacher explained, "in Naples, you can get an odd job without documents."
The Italian Underground Economy
The immigrants, whether authorized or not, depend on the underground economy and vice versa: in fact, the underground economy's continuous need for undocumented labor, combined with a tightening of the immigration laws that has almost eliminated regular forms of immigration, has a "sizeable pull effect" on illegal immigration into Italy (Reyneri 2001: 53). As Bruno Riccio (2002) puts it, Italy has become "a model case" of the informal economy's power to attract "an unorganized labor force prepared to accept any kind of working conditions" (4). And the well-established underground economy in Italy is, at 28 percent of the country's gross domestic product, "the largest of any advanced capitalistic country" (Calavita 2005: 54; see also Reyneri 2001: 23). The distinctive Italian labor market structure also affects unemployment figures. Although joblessness appears alarmingly high in some places, the figures do not always reflect the reality of the work situation. In the case of Naples, for instance, "only a small proportion of the Neapolitans registered as unemployed are actually out of work" (Pardo 1995: 20); moreover, many unemployed workers receive retirement pensions or other welfare benefits while working in the underground economy and therefore have "no interest in being registered" as looking for work (Reyneri 2001: 23). The unemployment situation, however, is disadvantageous in some parts of Italy, especially the South. In Campania, which includes Naples, the unemployment rate reached 22 percent in 2001, comparable to levels in the most impoverished regions of Eastern Europe. Still, there are dramatic regional differences within Italy. In the North in the same year, the unemployment rate dropped to a "historic low" of 3.9 percent (Calavita 2005: 57). In the south, the poverty rate (the percentage of households financially unable to secure a minimum of adequate housing, food, and clothing) rose to 24 percent in 2001, and the extreme poverty rate to 11 percent, the national average being, respectively, 11 and 5 percent. These figures hide the fact that, in the South, the low per capita income is matched by low per capita consumption, and that traditional family and housing structures, especially in the South, allow an entire family to live off one salary or pension. These factors might account for Italy's low internal demographic mobility (Calavita 2005: 58; Venturi Villosio 2006: 95-96). Another explanation regarding the unwillingness of southerners, unlike the immigrants, to move to the North where there are jobs to be found in factories and money to be made-Cole and Booth (2006) call this "the inexorable pull of the north" (4)-centers on the sociocultural differences between the North and South that have haunted the modern Italian nation-state since its inception. Chapter 2 explores further how the internal north-south division may also influence Italian-migrant relations.
In light of the unemployment situation in parts of Italy, the advent of large numbers of migrant workers in the country's labor market has led to heated debate about competition over jobs and possible downward pressure on wages. However, as one recent study shows, the presence of migrant workers in Italy actually increases wages for unskilled national workers, in part because migrants work in "boom areas" where "competition is unlikely," and in part because Italy has strong labor unions that negotiate general agreements on wages, making these less sensitive to changes in supply and demand. Furthermore, national unemployment does not seem to have worsened because of the intensified immigration (Venturi Villosio 2006: 91). In fact, the effect of the migrant workers on the labor market is "complementary"; that is, migrant workers engage in work activities, whether regular or illegal, that nonmigrant workers consider less than acceptable, and thus they compete "only" with marginal sections of the national workforce (Reyneri 2001: 55). Which jobs are the migrants taking care of? In Sicily, Cole and Booth (2006) found that migrants do "dirty work"-the jobs that Sicilians themselves have rejected because of their degrading, dead-end, and low-paid nature (1). Along similar lines, Reyneri characterizes these unattractive migrant jobs as "3-D jobs"-dirty, difficult, and dangerous. The occupational sectors where legal and illegal migrants find employment are the same in Italy, Spain, and Greece (the main migrant destinations); namely, "housekeeping, street selling, agriculture, construction, small manufacturing firms, catering and low-level urban services"(Reyneri 2001: 37, 51)-and, one might add, prostitution.
The connection between the underground economy and the migrant workforce is also reflected in the tendency of the former toward "ethnic segregation." Each ethnic group focuses on particular jobs, thus further limiting the available opportunities. In Naples, for instance, the Senegalese and Chinese migrants are the dominant ethnic groups when it comes to street-selling, whereas the Ghanaians dominate in day-laboring. This development is perhaps influenced by the recruitment system, which often relies on networking within the same economic sector; it also reflects employers' preference for certain ethnic groups because they believe them to be "cheaper, more vulnerable and more docile" (Reyneri 2001: 51). I would add that the job preferences of the Ghanaian migrants in this study (their dislike for farmwork, for example) are to a degree influenced by their sociocultural backgrounds, even though of course no one can afford to be particular.
Their strong affiliation with the underground economy has many negative effects on migrant workers. Among the more obvious are employer violations of accident and work safety regulations in allowing dangerous, exhausting, or generally unhealthy working conditions, but also employers' lack of respect for rules regarding working hours, breaks and time off, and night work and their lack of protection for maternity rights and for minors. There are even cases of enslavement (Ammendola et al. 2005: 17). Another negative effect of the link between the underground economy and the migrant workers is that, while the underground economy in some sense provides "a shelter" to migrant workers without which it would be impossible to sustain themselves in Europe, it also appears to have a stigmatizing effect in the sense that the migrants' willingness to take an undesirable job and thus to position themselves in the lowest strata of society seems simultaneously to reveal something negative about their human qualities to the Italians (Reyneri 2001: 53). To explore this point further, the following chapter is devoted to the actual day-to-day experiences of the migrants working in the underground economy-the empirical context, which is absent from many, though not all, of the macro-approach studies cited above (Cole Booth 2006 being an important exception). Having left the reception centers, the Guan fishermen slip directly into the subproletariat of Italian society by working on small-scale construction projects or in farming. In the words of one informant, Benjamin, "We do the donkey work, the jobs that cannot be done by themselves [the Italians] or by the machines."
About the Book
"A compelling text, containing both pwerful narrative and thoughtful theoretical analyses."—Alice Elliot Anthropological Quarterly
"Darkness before Daybreak should indeed be required reading for those interested in the intersection of labor and migration."—Anthropology of Work Review“Lucht’s engaging prose style and keen ethnographic eye provide for a captivating narrative on a form of population movement often in the news but rarely if ever really understood.” --Jeffrey E. Cole, author with Sally Booth of Dirty Work: Immigrants in Domestic Service, Agriculture, and Prostitution in Sicily.
“Few ethnographers manage to integrate in-depth multi-sited fieldwork, enthralling narrative and innovative theory as well as Hans Lucht does in this study of existential reciprocity among Ghanaian fishermen forced by dwindling catches to embark on hazardous migrations to Europe in search of the wherewithall of life. In Lucht's capable hands, these stories become an allegory of our times.” --Michael Jackson, author of Life Within Limits: Well-Being in a World of Want.
"An original, comprehensive, and skilled study, Darkness before Daybreak provides the reader with a real sense of the quality and meaning of existence in Ghana and in Naples, while providing enough historical and political/economic context to permit a nuanced critical analysis of globalization theory." --Peter Schneider, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology, Fordham University, and author with Jane Schneider of Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo.
Table of Contents
Part I. Losses and Gains in Naples
2. Migrant Work Situations
3. Suffering in a Globalized World
Part II. The Journey to Europe
4. The Mediterranean Passage
5. The Maghreb Connection: Libya and a Desert to Cross
Part III. In the Village of the Lost Captains
6. The Guan of Senya Beraku
7. The Body Stays, but the Soul Returns
Epilogue: Living on the Moon
- Elliot P. Skinner Book Award, Association for Africanist Anthropology