Ousman Umar’s North to Paradise, a Memoir of Migration Across the Sahara Desert

The story, moving from Ghana to Spain, has been called “a stunning testament to the strength of the human spirit.”
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Ousman Umar was born in a small Ghanaian village to a shaman father. His mother died giving birth, but Umar’s childhood was memorable, spent in the fields, working, or in the jungle, where he set traps. “Still,” writes the publisher of his new memoir North To Paradise, “as strange and wondrous flying machines crisscrossed the skies overhead, Ousman dreamed of a different life.”

The book is forthcoming from Prairie Lights Books on March 1, 2022. In vivid narration, it tells the story of Ousman’s journey to the streets of Barcelona, Spain, as well as his return home to rural Ghana.

Only 12 years old when he set out, it took Ousman five tumultuous years to reach Europe. It was a journey of commerce, with Ousman coming in contact with loose networks of smugglers and “sinkers”—migrants who’d gone broke and were therefore constrained to a life in limbo, unable to continue northwards or even return home.

Ousman’s journey illuminates the human activity across the Sahara Desert, and through metropolitan cities like Accra, Tripoli, Benghazi, and Casablanca, and over the Mediterranean Sea. Even on this path, rife with all the evils that comes with migrating in such fashion, Ousman found friendship, hope, and generosity.

Ousman Umar. From Ousman Umar's Facebook.
Ousman Umar. From Ousman Umar’s Facebook.

“With unerring humanity,” writes Publishers Weekly, “Umar brings instances of light to his sobering tale through moving recollections of the friendships that bolstered him and moments of ‘divine intervention’ that led him to finally find a new home in Spain. This is a stunning testament to the strength of the human spirit.”

Ousman Umar was born in 1988, in a Ghanaian village called Fiaso. He arrived Barcelona in 2005, and, after spending months sleeping outdoors on benches, a Spanish woman, Montserrat Roura, and her husband became his guardian. In 2012, he founded an NGO called NASCO Feeding Minds.

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“In what way was my experience going to be useful?” he writes on the NGO website. “The answer was clear: now I have to transmit and inform others of my experience to raise awareness about where I come from. There has to be a way to improve living conditions in Ghana and the most important [is that] I have to do everything in my power to avoid that other people suffer from the same experience that I had undergone. The possibilities of losing lives are too high.”

North to Paradise was originally published as Viaje al país de los blancos, in 2019, by Penguin Random House Spain. It was translated into English by Kevin Gerry Dunn and narrated in audio by Kwesi Busia.

Kirkus Review wrote: “Both sobering and inspiring, this story about a young African man’s awakening to the realities of an often uncaring world offers a compelling portrait of humanity at its ignorant worst and enlightened best.”

Emmanuel Esomnofu
Emmanuel Esomnofu is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a culture journalist and has written extensively on Nigerian music and on several moving parts of popular culture. His writing appears online in Native Mag, Okay Africa, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He was published in print in The Muse, the oldest student journal in West Africa. In December 2020, he worked on "Fuji: A Opera" as a copywriter, creating informative and exciting stories from Fuji's rich history.

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