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'Stay here, work here, succeed here': Why this Senegalese woman is against migration

Guet N'dar, Senegal (Octob er 6, 2022) - Yaram Fall is the head of an economic interest group for the women who preserve fish. She represents hundreds of Senegalese women who do her kind of work, and she discourages youth from taking the boat to Europe clandestinely.
Guet N'dar, Senegal (Octob er 6, 2022) - Yaram Fall is the head of an economic interest group for the women who preserve fish. She represents hundreds of Senegalese women who do her kind of work, and she discourages youth from taking the boat to Europe clandestinely.

Yaram Fall has a moto: "Stay here, work here and succeed here."

Fall is staunchly against people leaving Africa to build their lives elsewhere.

"The development of Africa comes from its own people," she says.

She is the head of a group of women who preserve fish in Saint-Louis, Senegal. Her job has allowed her to see firsthand how challenges in the fishing industry have changed livelihoods in Senegal.

Commercial overfishing and climate change have decimated the availability of fish stock, while soil that was once arable has given way to salinization.

Despite the challenges, Fall is convinced that Senegalese are better off if they stay in Africa.

Listen to our full report by clicking or tapping the play button above. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript :


There's a through line connecting three of the biggest stories of our time - climate change, migration and political extremism. We're taking a journey that connects these dots, traveling from Senegal to Morocco to Spain. And it begins with a question that millions of people experiencing climate change are wrestling with - do I stay or go?


SHAPIRO: Life in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis is defined by water and the fish that live in it. There are daily patterns. Fishing boats called pirogues go out each morning at 4 and come back every afternoon. There are yearly cycles, too. The biggest pirogues take a pause every fall when people repair and repaint for the new season. Every evening, the spot where smaller boats come ashore becomes a pop-up market. And here, the strict gender roles in Saint-Louis become clear. While men unload their catch, women wade into the water up to their knees. Men hoist bright-eyed swordfish, tuna and boxes piled with snapper and mahi-mahi.


SHAPIRO: And the fish that are not sold fresh - well, they wind up a five-minute walk from where the boats land, where women work at the fish transformation center. The first thing that hits you when you arrive here is the smell. It's not a bad smell, but it's a sharp, pungent smell of salt and fish and fermentation. It's a hot day, and the fresh catch won't stay fresh for long. So this is a center where people - they use the term transform - the fish into products that can be shipped great distances inland. And the key tool for the transformation is salt.


NDEYE MAREME DIOP: (Through interpreter) Once we wash the fish, we put it in these containers, and then we put salt on it. Then we close it for three or four days. Then we sell it.

SHAPIRO: Ndeye Mareme Diop learned the art of fish preservation from her mother. A basin at her feet is full of salted fish. This will last months without refrigeration.

DIOP: (Through interpreter) I like this kind of job better than any other job.

SHAPIRO: Why? What do you love about it?

DIOP: (Through interpreter) I earn my own living. I don't ask anyone for money. And if I have a problem, I can solve it myself.

SHAPIRO: We can see the ocean very close right here. When you were a child, how far away was it, when your mother was doing this work?

DIOP: (Through interpreter) It was very far from here. But now, the sea is advancing.

SHAPIRO: Do you worry that someday the sea might be here and you will not be able to work here?

DIOP: (Through interpreter) We're very worried about that. One day, we don't know. We're really worried.

SHAPIRO: What will you do if that happens?

DIOP: (Through interpreter) Run away and see if the government can help us.

SHAPIRO: Run away to Spain, maybe.

DIOP: (Through interpreter) No, that's too complicated.

SHAPIRO: But many men are running away to Europe. It's not just the pressures of climate change. Boats from Europe and China are scooping up Senegal's fish, so it's harder than ever for Senegalese people to make a living from the sea.

YARAM FALL: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: The situation worries a matriarch named Yaram Fall. She's the head of an economic interest group for the women who preserve fish. She represents hundreds of Senegalese women who do her kind of work. In late afternoon, she pours tea in the second floor of her home.


SHAPIRO: Ocean waves crash in the background just outside her door. The sea destroyed many of the homes here during a flood a couple of years ago. It wasn't even a storm, just a tide higher than anyone here had seen in decades. But Yaram Fall insists she's not going anywhere.

FALL: (Through interpreter) I have a motto saying that I'm going to stay here, work here and succeed here.

SHAPIRO: Stay here, work here, succeed here.

FALL: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: As someone who deals with fish every day, she has seen the ways that commercial overfishing and climate change are squeezing the people of Saint-Louis.

FALL: (Through interpreter) There are species who are disappearing.

SHAPIRO: Like mackerel - they used to be abundant starting in the fall.

FALL: (Through interpreter) Now we wait until the month of February before we can see those species.

SHAPIRO: We've spoken to so many fishermen who say, I cannot earn a living here, so I'm going to Europe. Do you know many people who have left, who have given up?

FALL: (Through interpreter) There are a lot of them, said that they're going to go to Europe. But I think this is not the good solution.

SHAPIRO: And so when a young man says, I have to leave, what do you say to him?

FALL: (Through interpreter) They don't understand. I've been to many European countries, such as Italy, and it's not easy there. You can find a job, but here, too, there is a job. You have to believe in it.

SHAPIRO: Yaram Fall travels all over the world for culinary and cultural events, representing the Senegalese women who preserve fish. And she's seen how Senegalese people live in Switzerland, in Canada. She is adamant the grass is not greener over there. Taxes are higher, she says. One meal of smoked fish in Italy costs what she'd pay for three days of food at home.

FALL: (Through interpreter) The development of Africa comes from its own people. All those young people, they would like to go.

SHAPIRO: That must be frustrating for you.

FALL: (Through interpreter) Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: Outside her balcony, we hear a rhythmic chanting. On the beach, men are organizing the fishing nets, a row of arms pulling in rhythm, hand-over-hand. Even little kids join in.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: Two weeks later, we are more than 2,000 miles away in southern Spain. On a strawberry farm, workers from across sub-Saharan Africa poke seedlings into a raised bed. One of these migrant farm workers is from that coastal town in Senegal. His name is Abdoulaye Baya (ph). I pull out my phone and show him the video of the men organizing the nets on the shore where he used to live.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

ABDOULAYE BAYA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: His face lights up.

That's your family?

BAYA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BAYA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: In Saint-Louis, yeah.

BAYA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: Ah, you're from there.

BAYA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "Those are my people," he says. "We're all like family in that community." In 2006, he gave up his life as a fisherman. Baya worked as an undocumented immigrant for 10 years in Spain - 10 years without seeing his wife or son. Now he has papers and can go back to visit. And he sends them 2 Euros out of every five he earns.

Is the life in Spain more difficult than the fishing life in Senegal?

BAYA: (Through interpreter) This is harder work, but you can make more money here than in Senegal. Fishing is also hard, but you don't make that much money.

SHAPIRO: In Saint-Louis, we spoke to a woman named Yaram Fall. She's the head of the group of women who preserve fish. And she said to us, people need to stay because the future of Africa will be built by Africans. What do you think about that?

BAYA: (Through interpreter) Yeah, that's a good rule, but there's no work there. So you can't find work. And if you find work, it's not enough to make a living. It's barely enough to eat.

SHAPIRO: Sometimes when he eats fish in Spain, he thinks about where his meal came from. He wonders whether commercial trawlers from Europe pulled the fish out of the Senegalese waters he used to sail off the coast of Saint-Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.