It’s a long way from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast to the interstate highway near Chicago where trucker Mamoudou Diawara relishes the advantages that come with traveling the open road.
“Trucking is the freedom,” Diawara says. “It is the freedom and the money is right. I am not going to lie to you. You make more than the average Joe.”
Increasing demand for long-haul truckers in the United States is drawing more African immigrants like Diawara onto America’s roads. He says truckers in the United States can make as much as $200,000 a year. The sometimes dangerous work involves long hours, but it’s a chance to make a new life in a new country on his terms.
“You got to get the goods to the people,” he says. “This is how the country is built. It does not matter where you were born, you can be whatever you want. This is what this country teaches me everyday.”
Elias Balima took a similar journey from Burkina Faso. He saved for years to buy this truck and now not a day passes without someone offering him work.
“People like me who did not go far in the school system, it is an opportunity for us,” Balima says. “It is tiresome. But after the labor, the result is good.”
After several days on the road stuck inside a five-square-meter compartment, it’s the little things that count — like a free shower. And a good night’s sleep after a long day’s drive.
But time is money so Balima is up early. On this morning, he’s thinking of home.
“I am almost 34 years old now. I am still not married,” he says. “Because I cannot make my mind up. My mind is between Africa and America. Sometimes I see younger brothers newly arrived from Africa telling me, ‘I will not stay more than two years in the States.'”
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As much as Balima and Diawara have grown to love McDonald’s french fries and the opportunities and freedoms in America, they believe that in the current political climate, many Americans will always see them as Africans.
Balima says he tries to stay out of the U.S. immigration debate.
“I know they are all politicians,” he says. “I am not afraid of him. If Americans did not like Trump, he would not be where he is today.”
Most of the time there’s no room for politics inside Balima’s cab. For these African immigrants turned American truckers – keeping their eyes on the road is the key to success.