The smuggler walked past the diaper aisle, through the back door of the convenience store and into the metal shed where the migrants were hiding.
It was Monday in one of the world’s human-smuggling capitals, the day when trucks crammed with Africans roar off in a weekly convoy bound for Libya, the threshold to Europe. For Musa, an expert in sneaking people across the Sahara, it was time to get ready.
He walked around the white Toyota pickup parked next to the shed, loaded with jugs of water. Then he glanced at the cluster of 30 people waiting to climb atop the load.
One of them was an 11-year-old girl from Burkina Faso, sucking a lollipop. Another was a mother who held her wailing 6-month-old baby. Next to them, 27 men, from five countries, shifted their eyes nervously between Musa and the truck. If they weren’t caught or stranded or killed, it would take them three days to get from the stash house to Libya.
“We need to leave soon,” Musa said, examining the truck, its windows tinted, its license plate missing, prayer beads hanging from the rearview mirror.
Since the 15th century, Agadez has been one of the continent’s most important trading hubs, the gateway between West and North Africa. Now, it is a city run by human smugglers.