After seeing Barzakh, I was immediately eager to see the director’s previous film, Bolingo. Bolingo means love, and it is the name of a migrant camp in the forest on the border between Morocco and Spain. The film is composed of interviews with women of Bolingo, and animated illustrations of their journey to get there.
The film opens with a beautiful shot of the forest at dawn, the canopy of treetops stretching out to this iridescent gold and silvered sky. In the peace and beauty of this vista, small lines start to draw the outline of each tree, and suddenly the harmony of the forest is broken into borders. It is for as stupid a reason as this that all the misery you are about to hear happens.
This film is a hard watch. These women’s stories are brutal, and at times it is agonising to watch them relive the horrors they have endured. Too often when stories like theirs are portrayed in the media, it is of the observable aspects of the journey, a car or a boat too full, as if it were merely a matter of an uncomfortably crowded ride. What can’t be captured from the outside, is the state of sheer terror you are in the whole time you travel, to know that if you fall behind, if you get sick or injured and can’t keep moving, they will leave you to die out here.
Some set out from Nigeria, or Congo, or Cameroon. All are running from poverty, all see Europe as the possibility for a better life for them and the people they love. They sink all their money into being carried through the desert to Morocco, where there’s a chance of crossing into Spain. This means traversing the Sahara Desert by jeep or by foot, with limited food, limited water. It means trying set up a makeshift camp with just what you have on you, and sleep on the sand. It means dodging police patrols, crossing rocks and ravines.
But it is not only physical hardship. The trail is littered with the bodies of those who have not made it, those who fell or got lost or perished from thirst. These women relate so many moments they came within a hair’s breadth of dying, whether it is falling off the back of a truck, or almost slipping in a ravine. Some lost friends. They watched them die and had to leave them there, unburied, because stopping wasn’t an option.
The people smugglers don’t care if you live or die, only if they get paid and aren’t caught. You listen to these women’s stories and think, how could anyone fail to listen and break their heart for their hardship? But men like these smugglers, they only think about how they can make it worse. Rape was a constant danger. The smugglers and their contacts would simply pick women out and rape them as if it were nothing, a matter of course.
Many women found themselves pregnant. Alone, in the desert, short on food and water, dealing with the trauma of rape and having to live daily at the mercy of rapists, they find now that they must bring a child into the world on this journey.
Some women miscarry from the sheer physical strain of the journey. Some women die from a lack of proper medical care during attempted abortions. Those who remain pregnant must now travel all this way while carrying another human being inside them. Women describe being left behind, to give birth alone.
And after birth, they are now trying to make this hazardous journey, as silently and secretly as possible, with a newborn baby. The horrors they face are beyond imaging. Trying to keep ahold of a newborn baby as you go into the sea, trying keep them and yourself from drowning.
In Bolingo, they have set up a camp within sight of the goal they made so many sacrifices to reach. Children laugh and play, are bathed and fed by their mothers. They are innocent of all it took to bring them here alive. They only know how to be children. Their laughter beneath the shade of the trees is a balm at the end of these women’s tales.
And I just got so furious watching them. For a fucking visa. That’s all. All that suffering, all that horror, for the sake of a fucking visa to cross a border. It is so enraging, because it’s all so unnecessary.
Bolingo. The Forest Of Love is an incredibly moving documentary, incredibly heartbreaking. The strength of these women is overwhelming, and all you want from hearing their stories is to ensure they suffer not one minute more.