Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

More than sun and heat

MIGRANTS / An uneven book about people who move with a desire for a better life but encounter problems when they move «home» again.

Les Migrations des Nords vers les Suds
Author: Giulia Fabbiano Michel Peraldi Alexandra Poli Liza Terrazzoni
Publisher: Karthala, France

More Than Sun and Warmth is the title of Ann Elisabeth L. Cardozo’s doctoral thesis (USA, 2018). In this thesis, she explores why Norwegians have chosen to settle on the Costa Blanca and how Norwegian migrants in Alicante have maintained transnational networks over 50 years. This means that they have stayed in contact and are close to Norway and Norwegian friends while establishing new friendships, habits, and knowledge in Spain.

While in the 1960s and 1970s, only a few could move to Spain upon reaching retirement age, in the 1980s and 1990s, it became possible for most retirees to migrate. Norwegian pensions were high, and the cost of food and housing in Spain was low. Moreover, it was easier to move when so many Norwegians already lived there.

The climate was appealing, as was the cost of living. The increasing number of older Norwegians in Alicante also created a greater need for various services. It was great to have your hair cut by someone you could speak to in your own language or to be cared for by a Norwegian-speaking individual. Many younger working Norwegians, especially in the service industry, saw economic opportunities in the growing Scandinavian elderly community in Alicante and also moved there. Additionally, many Norwegian tourists took advantage of the services provided by Norwegians on the Costa Blanca. They dined at restaurants with menus in Norwegian and Norwegian-speaking staff. Norwegians established schools, clubs, and interest groups. People move with the desire for a better life, whether moving from north to south or vice versa.

Cardozo’s research would not have been included in the book Les Migrations des Nords vers les Suds since the editors understand the «south» differently than we do in Norway. The editors, all researchers at the prestigious École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, are Italian and French, and for them, the «south» – note that they use the plural form – refers to the global south. The countries in the global south are economically poorer and less industrially developed than those in the global north but are not necessarily south of the global north.

try to feel at home by staying in touch with other migrants.

Uneven

The book contains 12 more or less good chapters. One of the lesser ones is the Aziz Nafa and Jean-Baptiste Meyer chapter. They interviewed 36 people, mostly second-generation Algerian immigrants in France, who have started investing in their «homeland» – a homeland they have never lived in. All of them say that the market opportunities in Algeria drive them, and some also highlight the bad economic times in France as a reason for seeking opportunities elsewhere. However, some also mention solidarity with Algeria and a desire to contribute to development in their home country. The chapter contains several lengthy quotes from the qualitative interviews, but the authors do not analyse the responses. None of the 36 interviewees have moved «home»; for them, France is home. What does a chapter about a group of entrepreneurs utilising market opportunities in their parents’ birth country have to do in a book about migration? Nothing!

On the other hand, anthropologist Chantal Crenn has written a very readable chapter about Senegalese people who have lived in Bordeaux for 30-40 years and, upon retirement, move «home» to Dakar. Some move permanently, but many choose a life as «go-betweens.» These transnational «Senegalese» migrants (often with French citizenship and passports) face many culture-specific issues when they return «home» to Dakar.

While they expect to be treated with great respect, as is often the case for elderly people in Senegal, they find it problematic that they are constantly expected to pay for their niece’s new hairstyle, provide food and lodging for a distant uncle, or finance their younger sister’s grandchild’s education.

People move with the desire for a better life, whether moving from north to south or vice versa.

The Food Disappeared

Crenn conducted what she calls «refrigerator anthropology» to better understand the generosity and collective attitude expected of people toward close and distant family members in Senegal. She noted who took what from the refrigerator in some extended families for several weeks. The returning Senegalese individuals were frustrated that others constantly consumed all their «personal French» food items – small yoghurt cups, cheese, jam, fresh milk, juice, butter…

One retired couple solved this by placing a separate refrigerator in their bedroom. For many French habits or complaints about poor food hygiene, their relatives referred to them as «toubab» (white/foreign), greatly offending the returning Senegalese individuals. They established their own clubs for returnees to feel more at home in Senegal. In this way, they resemble the Norwegians Cardozo studied in Alicante – they try to feel at home by staying in touch with other migrants.

The book also includes three chapters on the role of religion as a magnet for migration – including one on foreign fighters in ISIS, one on the lives of French «expat wives» in Saudi Arabia (Amélie Le Renard), and one on migration between the USA and Mexico (Ève Bantman-Masum). So, although the book Les Migrations des Nords vers les Suds to some extent fulfils its title’s promise, the content and perspectives are so different that, in my opinion, they would have been better suited as individual articles in different journals. That way, the mediocre chapters in the book would never have seen the light of day.

Ketil Fred Hansen
Ketil Fred Hansenhttp://stavanger.academia.edu/KetilHansen
Hansen has a PhD in African history. He is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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