The hungry sea
Ali tells the story of his own crossing from Turkey to Greece in a rubber dinghy. This experience exemplifies the drama that has been unfolding on the Mediterranean Sea for years and has already cost numerous lives.
Saturday 04.10.2014 I was sitting at sunrise on a small mountain in the Turkish city of Izmir/Ceşme near the coast of Elif Koyo. It was a special day. It was the Muslim festival of sacrifice. I was 14 years old at the time, but felt like I was 30 years old. I will never forget that morning. The sunrise was somehow very beautiful and calming but also powerful and scary. I was there with 25 other people, all sleeping among bushes. Elderly people, children and women. The plan was that on the night of October 5, 2014, we would all cross the border between Turkey and Greece in a black inflatable boat with a Yamaha motor.
The sun was slowly rising and I felt the warmth on my skin and the glistening sea dazzled my eyes.
The thought that this might be the last sunrise I will see worried me.
I was so lost in thought and suddenly I heard footsteps among the bushes and immediately stood up, startled. I grabbed my knife and asked in a shaky voice: Hey, who is there (in Turkish). Suddenly he said, "hey Ali it's me Hossein, please don't be scared. Our captain is here. Come you have to see him and believe me you will be surprised."
I then replied, "Salam brother, I wanted to watch the sunrise. Let's watch it and then go to collect meat because today is the Feast of Sacrifice and one last barbecue in Turkey can't be missed."
We left and when I saw our captain I was at a loss for words. He was just maybe 15 years old and he was supposed to take 27 people across the border in an inflatable boat. His name was Mohammad and he had a very strong self-confidence. You could trust him immediately but one thing struck me, he could also sell himself very well. He was very well informed and had an answer for every question. Well the poor little boy was well trained. He was not an isolated case because the traffickers often used children for such things. Everyone was unhappy with the situation but everyone knew he was being screwed just like we were. The traffickers let him go for free but in return he had to steer the boat. A crime or rather an abuse.
After many discussions, four of us went from door to door and came back with lots of meat. On the way we bought skewers and salt. I said to Hossein, "Brother find two stones and some wood. We will build a natural grill." It was noon and very hot. Slowly the first beachgoers came to swim. We fired up the grill and there were big clouds of smoke, but I didn't care. We even went to the beach later and swam. I wanted to try my luck to see if we would be noticed and the police would come. But I also knew it was a holiday and there wouldn't be many cops out.
The sun was slowly setting again, the fear in me continued to grow and night returned. At exactly 23:00 we started to inflate the dinghy and connect the motor. At 00:00 the beach lanterns went out and it was the perfect time for us. At 00:15 the boat was lowered into the water and we took off. Our distance to the Greek shore was long. The heavy passengers sat in the front, the light ones in the back and the women and children in the middle if possible. I was very familiar with the sea and knew how to behave on the water. I had worked as a fisherman before, or rather helped out on a boat, and so now I sat right next to Mohammad, the captain. Everyone except me was in the boat with a life jacket. I couldn't afford them, but I trusted my swimming skills. All eyes were on our little captain and they were full of hope and fear. I suddenly felt weak in the knees and damn scared. He started the engine and took off.
After a few meters, I notice that we are very heavy and water is flowing into the boat. I say to Mohammad, "stop the boat, we have to go back, it's very dangerous. We are too heavy and it can end badly." Suddenly there is a very big discussion, the majority want to risk it and go on and a few don't want to. Suddenly Mohammad says, "I'm not going to take responsibility and I'm going to take the boat back to shore now." At that moment, a young Afghan named Reza pulls out a knife and tells him, "either you keep going or I'll kill you and steer the boat myself." Mohammad restarts the engine and suddenly starts driving.
I say, "Cut two water bottles in half and everyone grab one half and try to scoop the water out of the boat."
Later Mohammad told me, "I was about to jump into the water and just swim back, but I couldn't let a crazy man steer the boat full of women and children. So I decided to go."
We continue on, nearing our destination. The night is calm, the sky starry, and an eerie mood is on board. Suddenly, a woman notices that our boat is losing air and she is damn right. The boat cannot withstand the pressure and the salt water. The boat slowly sinks and only a few hundred meters before the finish line there is no boat left. I only hear the cries for help. I shout loudly, "save your strength and swim after me. Try to breathe calmly and not to lose your orientation. Watch out for the elders and children." I start swimming and fight with myself not to look behind me. I don't want to see anyone die.
I just want to survive. I swim like a professional athlete. Suddenly I have a magical power. I feel nothing, no cold, no salt, no pain. I just see the flashing light and keep swimming.
I don't hear anything anymore. Like a robot that can only swim and is capable of nothing else.
After a few hundred meters of swimming, at least that's how it seems to me, I reach Ag. Minas, Chios Greece. I get out of the water and sit down on a rock. I can't do anything and suddenly I black out.
I didn't even notice the sunrise. All of a sudden I felt a shaking hand on my shoulder- it's Mohammad and he says "Ali get up my dear we made it. "
On 05.10.2014 Mohammad, 11 other people and I reached the shore and 14 other people including women and children died. The worst was that a mother opened her vest and let herself drown when she realized that her little daughter was dead. This is what other survivors told me.