There are no underground cables in Honduras. When you look up, you’re greeted with a jumbled mass of black coils, snaking across San Pedro Sula; an overt, if somewhat electrically troubling display of the prowess of telecommunication. Usually, our phone calls and TV channel surfing are buried deep into the ground, but here, they’re on display, leaving scars across the milky white February sky. Funnily, no one – visitor or resident – seems to notice. Cables are not beautiful; cables are also ubiquitous, so what, the pedestrians seem to say, marching purposefully down streets, eyes ahead, should I have to look at them for.
I’m obsessed. I think about the messages sent across the cables, lover’s arguments and benign logistics, coded business exchanges and tearful goodbyes. I think about international phone calls from the US, where so many Hondurans leave to, fleeing violence, gangs, and economic desperation. There must be phone calls from all the countries along the way, quick calls from the bus to Guatemala, the walk across the Mexican border. Migration is the biggest story of our time, people say, but surely the phone – and the cables and wireless technology that send our voices across borders and water – is its most important accessory.
I wonder if there are any phone calls from the Mediterranean, where my roots are, where I’ve lived for the past half decade, and where my own IWMF story begins. Two years ago, I took a ferry trip from Tunis to Salerno. The Italian-owned boat, which had been constructed in Korea, was staffed entirely by Hondurans. There are thousands of Hondurans working on ferries, cruise ships, and oil tankers, in oceans around the world. The working conditions are difficult, terribly so in some cases. Many workers have no idea where they are being sent to; their contracts are flouted and they work 19 hours a day; racism onboard is rampant. “I don’t care about seeing the world,” one marino told me, “I just need work.”
Like the cables, migration has become seeped in banality. I now live in Greece, where thousands of refugees and economic migrants wash up on her shores every day. The EU loves to discuss migration in statistics, as if it is a mathematical equation with a logical conclusion. Germany will take X amount, Greece keeps X, send the rest back to Turkey. If you don’t want them, Czech Republic, you can pay us instead. Among my colleagues, we talk about how newspapers don’t want to publish stories on migration anymore.
Migration, of course, is not arithmetic and besides, it’s constantly shifting. More and more Hondurans are taking non-traditional paths movement, looking eastward towards Europe. In its reverse, more and more people from Africa and the Middle East are taking their chances on Central America as a passage to the US and Canada. To me, these are the most interesting stories but they’re also the least reported. We think we understand something – the cables are always there, why examine them further – when in reality, the tentacles of movement and globalization are just as complicated as the coils criss-crossing San Pedro Sula.
– Sarah Souli