Theophylline Mulbah has had a long journey to Tunisia, but he’s found hope — and music — along the way.
Theophylline Mulbah is in no rush. “I have things to do here,” he says from a rain-soaked alleyway in central Tunis. “I am seriously pursuing my musical career. I am a rapper.”
Two years ago, Mulbah left his home in Liberia in West Africa and took his time travelling before arriving in Tunis in August. Mulbah moved through Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali and Algeria on foot, spending some time in each country as he raised funds for the next stage of his journey.
His longest stay, he says, was in Algeria — a visit that lasted a year and four months. “There were so many things and experiences I wanted to get acquainted with, so I had to stay for some time.”
“I did a couple of songs in Algeria, and I’m planning on doing a couple more here,” he says of his music. “I have a good game, and I know that my game will do me well. I’m a hip-hop rapper. I talk about my past, my present, things I feel troubled about, my situation, my childhood.”
While some people in the alleyway are fleeing war and revolution, 28-year-old Mulbah says a failing economy and high inflation led to his flight.
“I started dreaming of improving myself and gathering money,” he says. “I applied for a Schengen visa for France but couldn’t obtain it.” After a few failed applications, he decided to travel by road, knowing the journey would be rough but hoping his Liberian passport would see him through.
“When I got to Algeria, I came to understand that it wasn’t what I thought,” he says of the daily difficulties faced by thousands of foreigners there without documentation. “I started gathering information on how I could continue my journey [to Europe via Tunisia], and my friends would tell me, ‘This is the process.’”
Since arriving in Algeria and Tunisia, racism has been a daily problem.
“That’s something I had expected and prepared my mind for. In whatever environment you find yourself in, you either quit or abide,” he says, “So I decided to come and abide.”
This article is the fourth of a five-part series of portraits of refugees from different countries, with diverse backgrounds, bound by shared fears and hopes as they enter 2024. Read the first, second and third parts here.