People in the center would suffer chemical burns if the fuel leaked and mixed with water.Those straddling the sides could easily fall into the sea.

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Some wealthy businessmen travel with paramilitary escorts; police officers demand bribes at gunpoint, and crippled beggars crawl through traffic near the Oba’s palace, tapping on car windows and pleading for leftover food.

One day, I went to the Uwelu spare-parts market, where adolescent boys lift car engines into wheelbarrows, and bare-chested venders haggle over parts salvaged from foreign scrap yards. Blessing’s family used to own a house and a small plot of land.

Through friends, Blessing learned of a travel broker in Lagos, who said that he could get her a passport, a visa, and a plane ticket to Europe.

Once Blessing found work there, he promised, she would earn enough to support the entire family. Nothing.’ ” Doris sold the house and the land, and gave all the money to the broker, who promptly disappeared.

The Edo, like other groups in the region, practiced traditional rituals involving local gods, which the Europeans called juju, a name that spread across West Africa; as Christian missionaries converted most of southern Nigeria, juju persisted as a set of parallel beliefs.

By the late eighteen-hundreds, the British had colonized much of Nigeria, but the Oba engaged them in a trade war and refused to allow them to annex his kingdom.Europe’s strategy had failed; by 2013, smuggling networks connected most major population centers in the northern half of Africa to Tripoli’s coast.As African migrants head toward the Mediterranean, they unwittingly follow the ancient caravan routes of the trans-Saharan slave trade.A dirt path at the western end of the market leads to a shack where I saw a middle-aged woman dressed in purple selling chips, candy, soda, and beer. Her father was a bricklayer, but he died in a car accident when Blessing was a little girl.The family was close to penniless, and Doris was left to raise her four children alone.Some three thousand refugees and migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, silent and barefoot, stood nearby in rows of ten. The Libyans ordered male migrants to carry the inflated boats into the water, thirty on each side.