We followed Mahamadou Doukara for three months as he tried to make his way to Europe. http://on.wsj.com/1Spquqc (Photos by Mackenzie Knowles-Cousin)
  1. Mahamadou Doukara’s journey began in March, when his uncle gave him $500
    “I will be a stranger in a different man’s home,” the young villager said, as his uncle counted out the money. “It will be a different culture. But I will keep hold of who I am, and I won’t look for problems.”
  2. “It’s the African dream, to go abroad, make some money, build a house, marry.”
    Lately though, the route is becoming costlier and deadlier: About 3,000 migrants died last year, trying to make the three-day sea crossing into Italy from Libya, the International Organization for Migration says.
  3. Day 1: Leaving Home
    It rained the morning Mahamadou set out for Europe. That is good luck, his roommates assured him. It is what he told his aunt, too: “There will be no problem, God willing. Everything will be good."
  4. Day 7: Border Crossing
    Mahamadou assumed it would be free to leave his home country. Instead, a border guard demanded the local equivalent of $9.
  5. Police on the other side, in Mauritania, stopped him, too
    First, they opened his wallet, to confirm he had enough cash for the bribes he would have to pay along the road. They kept roughly $74 for themselves, before Mahamadou climbed back on the bus, headed to Nouakchott (Mauritania’s desert capital).
  6. Day 9: Road to Nowhere
    Before leaving Nouakchott, Mahamadou spent roughly $82 to purchase a ticket to Morocco. As he did, two distraught Gambians walked in with a warning: Moroccan border guards were asking for more than $500 in bribes to enter the country.
  7. Mahamadou only had $200 remaining
    It didn’t spoil his mood. The day before he left, he sat with a half dozen fellow travelers, wildly cheering around a television: Pro wrestler Bret “The Hit Man” Hart was grappling in a match, dressed in pink spandex as he thrashed his opponent.
  8. Mahamadou rode through the desert in the back of a rundown Mercedes-Benz
    At the border, Mahamadou handed a Moroccan officer $200. The officer pocketed the cash—then demanded more. For two hours, Mahamadou argued furiously, trying to get into Morocco, or his money back.
  9. Exhausted, he gave up, and headed back to Nouadhibou
    He had a plan to buy a flight to Casablanca. His father would wire the money. “No problem, no problem,” he said, repeatedly. “No problem.”
  10. Day 13: “I Can See Spain!”
    Mahamadou arrived cold and shivering in Casablanca, stepping off the train that had carried him from the airport. His plane ticket had cost him $586—and his father’s patience.
  11. But there was a problem
    The first smuggler said he wanted €4,500 (about $5,000) for the 30-minute trip across the Straight of Gibraltar into Spain. Pushing back tears, Mahamadou bargained that down to €3,000. It was still an impossible sum.
  12. For the next two months, Mahamadou worked a truck station in Rabat
    He lived in a squalid hostel jampacked with migrants,nicknamed The Titanic, because it was big and full of travelers who didn’t seem likely to make it.
  13. One day, on the shore, he caught a glimpse of the other side
    “I can see Spain!’ he shouted. “There! Can you see it? I can see Spain! It’s right there!”
  14. Day 176: Returning Home
    In September, he gave up. A flight paid for by the International Organization for Migration brought him back to Bamako.
  15. At night, Mahamadou lies on his childhood bed
    “I don’t sleep,” he says.” I ask myself: Do I have a future? If I don’t get to Europe, how will I marry, have children? How can I give my family a future if I don’t have a future?”