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Against the Global Northern Map: Chronicling Forced Migration in Doro (Book Review)

By Irene Praga Guerro

Courtesy of Unbound.

The first instance in Doro Ģoumãňęh and Brendan Woodhouse’s Doro (2023) is a map-like representation that seemingly depicts Mo Doro Ģoumãňęh’ journey through various countries and regions in Western and Northern Africa, as well as Southern Europe. The map highlights significant locations along the journey, creating the impression that Ģoumãňęh’s journey was linear and consisted mainly of crossing fictional lines representing geopolitical borders. Historically, maps were artefacts of colonial dominance which presented a totalizing and omniscient view of a large (foreign) territory.

It is likely that the decision of incorporating one at the beginning of the book was probably taken by the book’s press, UK Unbound, aiming to orientate the European reader through distant and unknown lands, including the vast territories between The Gambia and Angola, and the main cities of Algeria and Libya. However, the map falls short in guiding the reader within the complex and intricate narrative of contemporary forced migration, the routes and roots of which challenge Global Northern notions of mapping and (b)ordering – to begin with, Europe, the ultimate one responsible for the horrific cycle of abuse targeted at refugees, does not feature in this map.

Courtesy of Unbound.

Doro: Refugee, Hero, Champion, Survivor (2023) chronicles the life journey of Mo Doro Ģoumãňęh, a former fisherman from The Gambia. In 2014, Ģoumãňęh was forced to escape his homeland when the government of the dictator Yahya Jammed seized the country’s fishing rights and began arresting indiscriminately its people. Ģoumãňęh’s migrant journey began days later – and so one could easily content that migration is a response against authoritarianism, an ultimate and necessary form of civil disobedience. Co-authored with Brendan Woodhouse, a British firefighter and volunteer rescuer for the German non-profit Sea Watch in the Central Mediterranean Sea, Doro revisits the main events of Ģoumãňęh’s migrant journey, spanning from his early years between The Gambia and Senegal to his present as a refugee in Bourges, France.

Interestingly, a third of the book unfolds at sea – a part that is omitted in the map – where the most significant events in Ģoumãňęh’s story take place. From the first memories with his father fishing to his dreams of attaining stability as a fisherman in adulthood, followed by the four attempts to cross the Central Mediterranean Sea and the two weeks aboard the Sea Watch. More than drawing a line from water to water or from place to place, as the map suggests, Doro chooses to focus on the most traumatic events of the harrowing traverse that could have very easily cost Ģoumãňęh his life. Most notably, the two author-narrators recreate Ģoumãňęh’s treks across the deserts of Algeria and Libya, as well as the tortures and indefinite imprisonments he endured in Libya, leaving him severely wounded. In Doro, time passes slowly; some of the events are more intense than a lifetime.

Ģoumãňęh and Woodhouse’s book needs to be placed on the shelf of activist writing that conceives both the story and storytelling as a political act, and, in doing so, presents an alternative to the prevailing narrative of (anti)migration in the Global North. To tell is to denounce; more than that, to tell is to migrate – words move and travel freely irrespective of any geopolitical border. In essence, Doro draws a counter-map of forced migration.

Through reconstructing Ģoumãňęh’s individual story, Doro delves into the problematics and challenges of mass displacement in the Sahel region and Northern Africa, revealing the intricate relationship between the ‘externalisation of borders’ of the EU and the human trafficking networks operating in the area. This aligns Doro with other recent journalistic chronicles of independent migrant writing such as Ibrahima Balde and Amets Arzallus’ Little Brother (2021) and Ibrahim Bah’s Tres días en la arena (2021). These works blend long-form journalism, personal testimony and new travel writing to reshape the contemporary narrative of migration in the Global North.

Doro is due (mainly but not exclusively - let us not forget that the book was crowdfunded by more than 740 supporters) to Ģoumãňęh and Woodhouse’s friendship, which blossomed on the same day of the rescue in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Woodhouse remembers how ‘at the back of the boat stood an enormous figure in a grey tracksuit … Little did I know how close Doro and I would become.’ Ģoumãňęh and Woodhouse’s relationship transcended the intense experience aboard the Sea Watch and grew over time. A friendship deeply intertwined with storytelling since Ģoumãňęh shared ‘some of his story’ with Woodhouse aboard the Sea Watch. A year later, Woodhouse visited Ģoumãňęh in France, where he is now living as a refugee, to record Ģoumãňęh’s story of migration. While Woodhouse is monolingual, Ģoumãňęh can speak 12 languages, and thus had to translate his story from French into English.

Doro was technically written solely by Woodhouse, who transcribed Ģoumãňęh’s voice, preserving his language – and there is, of course, a certain dislocation between the written and spoken word. As such, it is remarkable Woodhouse’s desire of staying in a secondary position. As he clearly states in the ‘Prologue’: ‘This is not my story. I want to tell you about Doro, but in fact I’m going to let him tell you.’ This suggests a desire for horizontality which radically challenges the traditional, imbalanced hierarchy between the journalist-witness, who controls the narrative, and the informant, whose mission is to provide information but often remains unacknowledged – as the story is “owned”, only, by the journalist.

A recent report conducted by Refugee Journalism Project worriedly concluded that 64% of news broadcasts about refugees do not feature refugees. In Europe, migrants and refugees make daily headlines, yet their voices are silenced and omitted, if not censored. Neither Ģoumãňęh nor Woodhouse pursue journalism as a profession, nor define themselves as ‘writers’. In a recent tweet, Woodhouse ironically noted that he ‘got an F in GCSE English literature.’ The redefinition of intricate and complex notions such as ‘migrant’ and ‘migration’, and the re-mapping of our borders, limits, and identity, depends on the inclusion in the public sphere of non-dominant and non-academic actors like Ģoumãňęh and Woodhouse, who foster friendship and ties of love regardless of the ethnicity, nationality and social origin. That, I believe, is the only way of finishing with the ruling Global Northern elite, ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands of migrants en route to Europe.

Irene Praga Guerro was born and raised in Valladolid, Spain. While completing her BA in Modern Languages, she moved to Canterbury, UK, and stepped out of her comfort zone - she would never return. Since then, she's been trying to learn new languages and ways of thinking, all the while deepening her commitment to fostering freedom of movement and freedom of speech. She is now pursuing an MPhil/PhD in English and Humanities at Birkbeck College. But her alma mater is the University of Geneva, where she studied Literature. She is afraid of word counts and blank pages.


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