Al Jazeera English: New TV series demystifies European paradise


Picture this scenario: A wealthy holidaymaker checks their chihuahua into a 'dog hotel' before jetting off into the sun, meanwhile you have to work long hours doing a crummy job and your entire village back home expects you to pay for funerals, weddings and new jeans.

That's the European reality for hopeful African immigrants. Or so says television series 'Surprising Europe', which is being aired on Al Jazeera English starting this week until October.

'No more lies about paradise' is the tagline of the TV series. A remarkable choice, because when you watch the first few episodes, you get the impression that lies are the only way to survive in Europe. A man who tries to get a cleaning job, advertises himself as a woman. Another man poses in front of somebody else's car to show his family back home how well he's doing.

"We're showing people in Africa what life is really like over here," says the presenter of the series, Kenyan-born hiphop artist K-Nel. "We're not showing false pretexts. All the stories in the series are true life experiences. It could happen to any African coming this way."

If reality means working in underpaid jobs, getting unfriendly stares off people in the street and living in grim housing, has the series made it its mission to scare people off? "Not at all, quite the opposite actually," K-Nel is quick to clarify. "But people have to know what to expect. We filmed in Africa and people literally told us they thought Europe is a paradise. That's not the case. Life isn't all shiny and easy over here. You can expect a couple of surprises. They will happen regardless whether you want or not. So you better be psychologically prepared."

Somebody who clearly wasn't prepared when she came to Europe is Rose from Nigeria. Her story is the almost stereotypical account of a naïve young woman thinking she'll get a good job but ends up being exploited as a prostitute on the streets of Genoa, Italy. "But I have no other choice, because in Nigeria, they're looking up to me," she says. "Me being in Europe means they will have a future. If my mom knew what I am doing here though, it would kill her."

Rose claims she never heard about forced prostitution in Europe when she was still in Nigeria. "Out of a hundred girls, perhaps ten will have heard a rumour. I certainly hadn't. But even the girls who might suspect they'd end up working on the streets, decide to come to Europe anyway because there are no jobs in Nigeria. Now that I'm in Italy, I see things much clearer. Europe is nothing. It's just for prostitution, that's all."

Not that Surprising Europe only focuses on the darker side of coming to Europe, K-Nel insists. "We also show the stories of people who've made it and retrace their way to success. And we've tried to put some humour in the series as well. Take the hotel for dogs. In Africa dogs are considered a security measure. They guard your home or shop. Imagine an African coming to Holland and finding that there are proper hotels for dogs, and dogs even have their own passports. When I first came to Europe, my jaw dropped."