They were only at sea for three days but, what the heck, rather than starve (hardly possible in three days is it?), one of the aliens took a chunk from a dead man. That is perhaps the most dramatic moment of this fascinating tale from a Somali migrant desperate to cross the Mediterranean and find a new life in the land of milk and honey—Italy!
Hassan Ali is a 23-year-old Somali who survived gun battles and poverty in his youth in his native country before deciding in 2009 to embark on Tahrib, the perilous journey from Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thousands of Somalis make this trip every year, and this month it made headlines after a boat caught fire and capsized on October 3, killing over 300 would-be immigrants. Eight days later, a different vessel capsized in an accident that claimed at least 34 lives. Here, Hassan speaks about his troubled life before the trip and the horrors he experienced en route to Europe.
The cannibalism didn’t start until our second boat journey, from Libya to Lampedusa. We had already been traveling for ten days; people were dying and there was no food. I actually saw one guy cutting a piece of flesh from another man’s body.
Our Ali wanted to be an astronaut, but that wasn’t (understandably) possible in his home town in Somalia where squabbling clans were bringing AK-47s to mosques and shooting at ten-year-olds racing home. So, our young and desperate adventurer, upon reaching the age of 19, found enough friends and relatives to front him $800 to go on Tahrib (described as attempting to get to Europe, but one definition I saw was that it translated to ‘smuggling’—being smuggled or doing the smuggling wasn’t clear).
Mom thought he was crazy! That is what all Moms say!
I first heard about Tahrib on the radio when I was 19. There were people in Europe talking about their new lives and how they’d traveled there from Somalia by boat. It sounded like a good idea. After a while I told my parents I planned to leave. They were shocked. “Are you mad?” my mother said. “You’re a young boy, what has gotten into you?” I told them how I thought Tahrib was my only way forward, that I could only find a better life in Europe. They thought I was joking. When I called them from the first boat months later, they were terrified.
First boat was bad, but no cannibalism yet!
Our first trip was from Beled Hawo to Bosaso, a port city on the northern shore of Somalia. It wasn’t the worst journey, but we had hardly any food and the people who drove us there were being very cruel, shouting at us and hitting people occasionally. I was only a kid [editors note: Somalis are “kids” for a long time, I noticed that when they were leaving Minneapolis to join al-Shabaab, kids, just kids!] —I missed my hometown already and everyone seemed so sad even though they were heading off for this exciting new life.
Captured by Libyan armed men who extracted $300 from Mom and Dad for Ali’s release and then on to the merry Tahrib again!
All I wanted was to be back in Beled Hawo with my parents. I didn’t care if I ever made it to Europe. Even if, miraculously, we survived the journey, how would the Europeans treat us? Would I get a visa? Would I be thrown in jail? I was terrified.
The trip across the Mediterranean was the worst part—people were dropping dead and others needed a little protein with their bread and biscuits.
It took another ten days to find a boat from Libya to Lampedusa. Then the real horror began. There was only bread and biscuits on board and the heat was unbearable. People were dropping dead and the captain did nothing. People started eating each other: it was like something from a scary movie right in front of my eyes. That leg of the journey took three days. It felt like years.
Ali, the would-be astronaut, knows who to blame for all of this horror—politicians who don’t help Somalia! Of course that is the moral of the story after all! Ali continues:
Everyone knows that politicians in Europe and Africa are doing nowhere near enough to address the dangers of Tahrib. Otherwise all those people would not have died near Lampedusa this month. No one is addressing the real issues—the violence, the poverty—that led me away from Somalia. [Here is an idea—-how about if Somalis get their own house in order!—ed]
Postscript! Italy let me rebuild my life—-back in Somalia! WTH!
People tell me Lampedusa is beautiful. I have no idea. I can barely remember any of the landscape I saw: everything was so terrifying. But, Alhamdulillah [praise to God], I made it there alive and, amazingly, got an Italian visa after three months of being held at a camp. Some people I traveled with waited years and others never got one. I love Italy, though. I lived there for three years and made a small living working in various jobs. I may never be an astronaut but Italy let me rebuild a life that was destroyed. I’m back in Somalia now—not in Beled Hawo but another city. I hope I get to visit Italy again some day.
Ahhhh! What are we missing here?