Roland Fosso (36 years old) crossed the Melilla fence in May 2005. He did it on his fifth attempt. Two years, seven months and eighteen days had passed since he left his father’s house in Bamenda, northwest of Cameroon, and crossed 12 countries to reach Spain. “The death of my mother was decisive: it was like losing an arm, one that I am still looking for,” Fosso explains about the reasons for his departure. A few minutes after the interview he will tell his story again in front of an auditorium full of kids who live in La Masia of FC Barcelona, the team of his life. He has been invited to give a training talk under the title Sport as a means for social integration, one of the activities of the club for the European Month of Diversity. “Football opened the doors for me to interact when I didn’t even speak the language,” he defends. Specifically, it was when he started playing for FC Casablanca, from Sant Boi de Llobregat (Barcelona). But this will be the end of the story.
When he was 16 years old, some friends convinced him to go to Europe. He took his savings and set out for Chad, bound for the shores of the Mediterranean; but a war in the north of the country made him retrace his steps. He crossed Nigeria and then Niger. “That’s where they stole all my money,” recalls Fosso, who must have earned a living as a welder or fruit picker before attempting his first trip to Europe, by plane, through the Ivory Coast. He soon discovered that in the latter country he had been swindled: the documents he had obtained were false and the Ivorian authorities put him in a dungeon for two weeks. “Then they gave me 48 hours to leave the country,” adds Fosso, who decided to march in the direction of Libya.
Its objective was to touch African coasts to somehow reach European territory. With 26 companions they got a 4×4 to cross the Sahara desert; although the trip was complicated: “We arrived at 11″, he recalls.
— What happened to your companions?
— Some died from snake bites, others from hunger, thirst or fatigue. I buried 15 in the desert. One was killed by the Tuaregs.
It refers to the historically nomadic Berber people spread throughout different African countries, those that cover the Sahara desert. Here the story is suspended for a few seconds. Fosso looks around the room: the minors who listen to him have long since put down their cell phones, the complicit whispers. When Fosso speaks, the rest is silence. He then clarifies: “I don’t want to say that the Tuaregs are bad people; but the ones we encountered were. My partner was killed for a little money.” He will not say what he follows in front of the minors, but before, during the interview: those people also took them as slaves.
For six months his job was to lead camels to the oasis to fetch water. “I had to do it because they gave us something to eat: a glass of milk and a piece of bread,” recalls Fosso. She was a Tuareg woman who helped them escape at night, guided, like everyone else in the desert, by the light of the stars.
Thanks to her they reached Libyan shores, where Fosso paid 1,200 euros on his second attempt to reach Europe, this time in a canoe. 250 people carried the boat. Twenty of them, including Fosso, were not allowed to board. Then he will think again of all the people he has not been able to bury: that canoe sank before reaching Lampedusa (Italy), and the 250 people drowned on the way. “The Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert are the largest cemeteries I have ever seen in my life,” the Cameroonian meditates.
It was in those dark hours that they told him about the Melilla fence. At this point the story picks up speed. In just a few months, and after jumping the fence with hot returns and beatings by the police forces on both sides of the border, some that have left marks on his body, he goes from the autonomous city to Malaga, and from there to Barcelona. . A friend had a space for him in a shack near the Calatrava bridge, between the districts of Sant Andreu and Sant Martí, where he lived for four months. “I had arrived in Barcelona with 15 euros in my pocket. Do you know how happy I felt the first time I saw the Arc de Triomf? I had fulfilled my goal”, he clarifies with satisfaction.
The night at La Masia took on a different aura. That same day, Fosso had met another young man, 10 years his junior, who had also embarked on the great journey. In his case it was from Mali. Not even five hours had passed since they greeted each other for the first time and Tchacka Doumbia (26) was already calling Fosso “big brother”. The harmony was absolute. The conversation between the two, moderated by the journalist Lu Martín, kept the young people, future basketball, handball or soccer players, attentive.
When she was in the shack, a compatriot spoke to Fosso de Sant Boi, the municipality that changed her life. Roland Fosso, who now works helping migrants at the Putxet Foundation in Barcelona, wrote a book (the last frontier) recounting his experience, and has participated in a documentary about integration that has arrived at the Cannes festival. From time to time he returns to his village in Cameroon: he is setting up a library with books in Spanish, a language that he now dominates. “If the children already know English and French, why can’t they learn a new language?” She will ask herself during the interview. The defining moment was when she started playing for FC Casablanca de Sant Boi, when he found those who would be like family to him. “They took me in,” she remembers.