Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 20, 2019

Earth Concerns News

What I Wish Were Fiction by Sister Debbis Timmis, CSJ

About a year ago I read the book, “Little Bee: A Novel,” by Chris Cleave. It's a wonderful story about a girl from Nigeria who migrates illegally to Great Britain. In her home village, the land is being drilled for oil, and soldiers are dispersing villagers from places they had lived for generations. As I read through the book, I began to compose for myself a list of what I would later research and call now, “What I Wish Were Fiction.” I don't want to give away the story, so I will be sparing in details, but this book is a must read. Chris Cleave is masterful with both his use of the English language as well as his ability to engage the reader in a serious issue in an almost entertaining manner.
        I began my research by googling Chris Cleave, going to his site and finding his own research for his book. I would suggest that you do the same for further information. What I found is that oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1957. Since that time, oil companies have been drilling, destroying farmland and displacing the tribal people of Ogoni, Ijaw and other peoples of the Niger Delta. An investigation and report by Essential Action and Global Exchange found the following:
        “Oil corporations in the Niger Delta seriously threaten the livelihood of neighboring local communities. It is due to the many forms of oil-generated environmental pollution evident throughout the region that farming and fishing have become impossible or extremely difficult in oil-affected areas, and even drinking water has become scarce. Malnourishment and disease appear common. The presence of multinational oil companies has had additional adverse effects on the local economy and society, including loss of property, price inflation, prostitution, and irresponsible fathering by expatriate oil workers. Organized protest and activism by affected communities regularly meet with military repression, sometimes ending in the loss of life. In some cases military forces have been summoned and assisted by oil companies. Reporting on the situation is extremely difficult because of the existence of physical and legal constraints to free passage and free circulation of information. Similar constraints discourage grassroots activism.”1
        You will not be surprised that the following story is the first on my list of what I wish were fiction but found to be true. Little Bee has been displaced from her village. Her family has been killed by a government eager to receive money from oil companies. Her village has been destroyed not only their village homes but also the environment itself. Water and soil have been polluted.
        Then, Little Bee migrates to England as a stowaway. She spends two years in a detention center in England and is freed accidentally. I wish what has been written about the detention center and the treatment of political refugees were fiction. On Chris Cleave’s site he writes, “For a chilling insight into the scale of immigration detention, take a look at the Global Detention Project.”
        Next I recommend two extraordinary non-fiction books as a good entry point to begin to think about what it means to be a refugee, and what refugees from conflict can expect. The first book is “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah, a veteran of the conflict in Sierra Leone. The second one is “Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees.”2
        The story of Little Bee was inspired by the true story of Manuel Bravo who migrated to England to avoid being persecuted and killed. After being released, he and his son were re-captured in a raid and were scheduled to be deported the next day. The father took his own life, knowing that unaccompanied minors cannot be deported in the UK, thus saving the life of his son.
        Finally, I really wish our dependence on oil did not have such worldwide implications. I think Little Bee says this best, “The gasoline flowing through the pump made a high-pitched sound, as if the screaming of my family had been dissolved in it. The nozzle of the gasoline hose went right inside the fuel tank of Sarah’s car, so that the transfer of the fluid was hidden. I still do not know what gasoline truly looks like. If it looks the way it smells on a rainy morning, then I suppose it must flash like the most brilliant happiness, so intense that you would go blind or crazy if you even looked at it. Maybe that is the reason they do not let us see gasoline.” 3
1"Oil for Nothing: Multinational Corporations, Environmental Destruction, Death and Impunity in the Niger Delta,” Essential Action and Global Exchange, January 25, 2000.
2Cleave, Chris. “Little Bee Get Involved.” Chris Cleave. N.p.n.d. Web 28 May 2012. <>.
3Cleave, Chris. Little Bee. Array New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012.