We had heard that the Italians were rescuing boats when they got close enough. They pick up people in their navy ships and bring them to Sicily.
I hope they find us soon.
I know we’re close, we have to be close, but just how close no one knows. Least of all our 15 year old Egyptian fisherman turned captain.
This is the third night we’ve been on this god awful boat. The food ran out yesterday and there are just a few gallons of silty brown water left. Everyone is hurting, you can just feel it, but no one shows it.
I do my best to stay calm. I distract myself with dreams of Europe and beginning a new life. I keep telling myself that this suffering is only temporary. Inshallah (god willing) we will make it. My eyelids close and usher in a dreamless sleep.
But in minutes the quickening pace of my heart stirs my consciousness, and my eyes open wide. The spray from ocean waves lapping up and over the boat has increased. The wind is picking up as well. Everyone is drenched now and holding each other, in part to stay warm but mostly out of fear.
Suddenly the boat rides up a wave the size of two men and crashes down with a loud smack. The bow momentarily dips below the sea and water pours in. The comforting drone of the engine is lost. Light from the few remaining flashlights disappear. There’s nothing but darkness. Panic infects us all.
A huge wave is approaching from the right and it’s going to broadside us. The women and children shriek. The men frantically try and move away from the incoming wave. I yell in a desperate attempt to restore calm but my voice is drowned in a cacophony of cries.
I look back towards the captain, he’s trying to restart the motor, but it’s too late.
In an instant my body is catapulted into the abyss.
When I surface my ears are filled with the splashes of flailing arms and hundreds around me gasping for breath. I look for my friend and spot him just a few feet away. I swim towards him but another grabs my arm and pulls me under the waves. I struggle free, resurface, and grab my friend with one arm. My lifeguard training trickles back and and I scissor kick away from the drowning masses.
I want to help but I know I can help no more than one.
My legs keep kicking, kicking towards what I hope is a dim green light in the distance.
An Unrelenting Urge To Help
Based on the stories I’ve heard from survivors, this is just one of the many scenarios I’ve been envisioning these past few days. They command my day dreams and replay in my sleep. They’re exhausting and anxiety filled.
The more stories I hear, the more I realize the extent to which they’ve suffered. And the more I fear for the survival of my friend. I just wish I could do more to help.
Anxiety, Guilt & Self Inflicted Suffering
At the hostel in Siracusa, I met a lovely British girl who had just finished her Phd in Phycology. Having worked with war victims from various countries, she enlightened me to some of the effects that this can have on one’s own psyche.
She told me how after hearing abominable war stories from her patients, she would begin to internalize them. She said she experienced guilt for never having to suffer in such ways. And that this was effecting her approach to her patient and her own mental well being. To remedy this she would often have sessions with her senior advisor.
I never thought that speaking with survivors would effect me in such a way but it did. I hadn’t been eating much and I felt guilty for not being to do more to help. I was internalizing their suffering and current predicament. So I spoke with her about it and I was glad I did.
At The End Of The Day
At the end of the day, I understood that putting myself through physical and mental stress wasn’t going to help anything. I realized that I could help by doing what I’m doing now, spreading awareness, sharing stories and giving survivors a voice.
Although I still wish I could be there on the boat with my friend and help him should anything go wrong, I know it’s not going to happen. Libya is too anarchic and me being there might only make things harder. Besides, it’s too late now, he’s already left.
I just have to have faith and trust that it’s going to work out. I’m fortunate to say that everything that I have ever set my mind to has worked out in the end. I pray this trend will continue in the coming days.