March 29, 2019

Three Strong Women: A story of immigration and its challenges

Immigration to a wealthier country offers the lure of a better life which might end up being a façade rather than a reality. As an immigrant, I am thankful for the opportunity of moving to Canada and the lure of a better life has become a reality for me. However, I recently read Three Strong Women and it reminded me that immigration is not always an escape to paradise.

The Journey

The novel begins with the story of Norah, a lawyer and single mother to a young daughter. Norah is a character who carries angst, bitterness, and resentment towards her father. This is why. Norah’s father immigrated to France to study where he met Norah’s mother. Together, they parented two daughters and a son. When Norah’s brother was five years old, her father moved back to Africa with her brother, leaving Norah, her sister, and her mother alone. Norah’s father returned in pursuit of economic opportunities, however, his immigration separated his family causing them immense pain. Norah struggled with the trauma of abandonment and the loss of a sibling. Many families experience this pain when family members migrate to foreign countries and for whatever reason are unable to return to their families. Immigration can be disruptive to the family unit causing lasting emotional and economic damage.

The novel continues with the story of Khady Dhemba, a young widow who was sent off to Europe by her husband’s family to find a distant cousin. Although the author does not disclose the geographic locations, Khady’s excruciating journey most likely resembled the Western Mediterranean route that many refugee migrants follow. With this route, refugees usually pass through Morocco and attempt to climb the Wall of Shame, as it is infamously known. These walls are located in either Melilla or Ceuta- both Spanish enclaves located in Morocco, Northern Africa. In other words, they are constitutionally Spanish but geographically Moroccan (Walls of Shame, 2016). The wall of shame is, in fact, a double six-metre high barbed wire fence in Ceuta and a triple wall in Melilla (Walls of Shame, 2016). In between the parallel fences, there are guards, heat sensors, noise detectors, and infrared cameras monitoring activity between and around the fences to ensure that no refugee makes it through (Walls of Shame, 2016). Khady, like many others, ended up lifeless at the feet of the fence; she never did make it to the distant cousin in France. Khady’s fictional character happens to be the reality of many illegal immigrants who lose their lives on their quest to a better life. Immigrants who lack the knowledge or the financial means to legally migrate find themselves in life-threatening situations in search of the supposed greener pasture.

Fanta, the cousin in France Khady never reached, was born in the Colobane district in Senegal where she lived with her aunt and her uncle in austere conditions. She struggled to receive an education, but eventually became a teacher at the Lycee Mermoz, a school for the children of diplomats and wealthy entrepreneurs. It was at the Lycee Mermoz where she met her husband, a French native. She moved back to France with her husband in hopes of a better life than the one she had known in Africa. She hoped that she would be able to continue her work as a teacher, but to her disappointment, she remained unemployed. French employers would not hire her. That is the unfortunate reality of many educated immigrants, even in Canada. With their degrees and wealth of experience, they drive taxis and clean office buildings, roles that are well below their skill level and professional training. For many individuals, immigration fails to fulfill the expectations and the dreams of a more prosperous life.
Although immigration has the potential to positively change lives, we need to be aware of the challenges it poses. These challenges include difficulty finding culturally appropriate foods which can lead to adverse health implications, a lack of acculturation which can result in social isolation, and the likelihood of underemployment or unemployment which can unfavorably affect economic empowerment. As a country that opens itself up to immigrants, we need to ensure that families are not fractured as a result of immigration as was the case of Norah, that the immigration process is accessible to more disadvantaged individuals so that they don’t have to resort to dangerous means as was the case with Khady, and that migrants can better integrate into the economy once they do immigrate as with Fanta. Let’s make sure that this lure of a better life ends up being a reality for many, rather than the façade it could become for the less fortunate.


NDiaye, M. (2013). Three strong women. London, UK: MacLehose.

Walls of Shame: The Spanish-Moroccan border. (2016). Retrieved from

Olaitan Ayomide Ogunnote, URA, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph

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