How a little girl kept me in Libya

I’m standing on the shore outside Zuwarah city in Libya. The salty smell of the sand mixed with seawater is strong. I hear the sloshing of the waves. It’s July 2014. I am on my way to Italy and I wait, looking out at the huge anchored ship a few hundred meters off the coast. I wonder if it’s waiting for us? It´s big — bigger than anything I´ve ever seen. I take a deep breath – after two weeks of waiting, it is almost time . I look at the ship and forget all my pain, hunger, sadness, and broken pride. I could almost cry!

It´s the first time that Im facing the Mediterranean sea with the idea that I am going to cross it, in the middle of the night with hundreds of strangers.

We wait. Three hours pass. Then, at one o´clock that night, a twenty-meter fishing boat approaches the shore. It can’t be that we’re were going to Italy in this small boat. Impossible. Something’s wrong here. It must be a nightmare, or an illusion, or a silly joke. There are too many of us for this small strange old blue boat. We are 282 hope seekers.

A rubber boat

It makes me want to go back to Syria, to my own life. I don’t belong in this place, nor does anyone else who is here. But there’s no way back. I have to go further. I’m no better than all the others who’re going to risk their lives. One of the smugglers says, “Walk fast to the rubber boat!” I walk. I walk with a broken heart, as if I´m walking towards death. Now I really want to cry. I want to say NO! I want more time to understand the situation. I need more information, or at least some explanation why we´re not going on that huge ship!

I´m not afraid of death, but I don´t want to die in the Mediterranean. It´s very dark, cold and silent. The noise of an engine is proceeding and out of the darkness a rubber boat comes into sight. I can hear my heart beating. Twenty-five of us are brought to the rubber boat and then another group of twenty-five and so on. I jump in and find a place in the back. A woman approaches me and says: ‘Please hold this girl, Mohannad!’

How does she know my name?

A couple or two singles

I hold the girl and sit there while the mother sits two meters away from us with another two daughters. These two teenagers are in a different world. They´re so terrified that they both faint. There´s 10 to 15 cm water in the rubber boat. The boats gets so crowded I get pushed against the side of the boat. A piece of wood hurts my back and there´s no room for my legs. I have to fold them in an uncomfortable way while I do my best to keep the girl safe and dry. What a hard moment. I can´t get rid of the pain or to change my position.

The boat starts to ride towards a fisherman boat, 25 meter in length. It takes at least 30 minutes. It feels like longer, with the pain and fear.

When we come alongside, the main boat is nearly full. People on the main boat shout that they need two more people. Either a couple or two singles.

I’m a single. I can go.

But I have a three year old little girl in my hands. I look around for the mother, but she’s nowhere to be seen!

The captain calls again for a couple or two singles. The whole crew repeats after him. I so much want to raise my hand and say YES I’m a single.

But I don’t. That will end up costing me two more months in Libya.

Beeld: Mohamed Ben Kalifa (Freedom House)

Mohannad Sharrouf is a Syrian activist who lives in The Netherlands since September 2014 as a refugee. He has a Bachelor of English Language and Literature from Aleppo University, Syria. He worked as a translator, interpreter, tourist guide, and English teacher.
After telling his story as a refugee, in public schools, he decided to write about his experience and give the readers the opportunity to read real refugee stories in RFG Magazine. In addition, he wants to share his views on the Dutch society as a new comer with the hope that this sharing would create more understandings and bonds between 'The guest' and 'The host'.