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Migration History: Zeze

Zeze is 17. He, like Jack, is from a village on the border between the comunes of Za-Kpota and Bohicon. I interviewed him while he was working in Abeokuta. He first came to the Abeokutan quarries as a result of family tragedy. He was in his village in Benin when his father fell seriously ill. After a long and drawn-out illness, his father eventually passed away. At this point, older male relatives suggested that Zeze come to work with them in Abeokuta, but Zeze’s mother refused. She herself then fell ill, however, passing away shortly afterwards. It was at this point that Zeze migrated with his relatives. He was 11.

Zeze is now finishing the third of three consecutive two-year contracts. After the first two years, he earned enough money to return and build himself a house. His earnings from the second two years gave him enough money to equip that house. Now, with the money he earns from this third contract, he intends to buy a motorbike. For Zeze, work here is not a challenge. He grew up working in the fields, he says, which more than prepares you for the lesser rigours of life here. Plus he has been here now for years.

Since he will soon have performed the six years necessary to finish with his apprenticeship, Zeze will soon be ‘free’ either to work entirely for himself and on his own account, or to hire other young labourers to work under him. His plan for now, however, is to return to Benin and see whether he can set himself up in business, though he is very frank that if this is unsuccessful, he will simply keep returning to Abeokuta to earn money as a patron.

Money is, for Zeze, the single primary motivation for his continued presence here. When I asked him why people come, ‘Money’ was his simple one-word answer. Akwe in Fon. Of course, if there were alternatives in Benin, he said, if the state were to set up formal apprenticeships and give people jobs, then he would stay and do work there. But he has little belief that this will happen and is consequently very disdainful when asked what he thinks of the anti-trafficking message that says young people such as him should not migrate for work. Such migration is crucial, he feels, if one wants to make something of one’s life.

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