Sekou Camara

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My name is Sekou and I’m 26 years old. I arrived in Italy by way of Lampedusa, but I don’t remember anything of the island, because when I got there I thought I was dead. Before everything started I was in Tripoli. I was working on a construction site when Gaddafi’s militiamen captured me. I didn’t know what they were going to do with me, if they wanted to force me to fight their war or lock me up in a prison. I didn’t ask any questions when they caught me: I was afraid of their rifles and maybe also of what they would say. I discovered that my prison was to be a fishing boat and the war waiting for me was the sea. My place was down below, in the hold, where you couldn’t breathe and the smell of fish was unbearable. We couldn’t even stay dry: we fought against the sea that poured in by throwing buckets of water out through a small porthole. We had been at sea for two days when the boat stopped. It was night. Around us there was just water and sky. “It’s the work of the devil,” someone whispered. As it passed from mouth to mouth, the devil from just a simple word became something real and terrible. We decided to collect everything we had, money, rings, bracelets, and gave it to the sea. Hoping the devil would be satisfied and let us continue on our journey. At the first light of dawn we started to move again. We hadn’t eaten and drunk anything for two days but we were full of hope because we knew we had almost arrived. But after another day and another night at sea we still hadn’t seen land. And we had almost run out of diesel. At that moment a thought crossed my mind: I was going to die. However much I tried to push the thought away, it kept returning. We were all going to die. This thought grew more and more inside me until in the end there was nothing else except this fear. My mouth can produce a lot of languages: I know French, English, Arabic, Wolhof, Pulaar, but I couldn’t pronounce a single word because there is not one that has any sense when you know that you are already dead. I don’t know how much time passed. Voices, people – they didn’t exist any longer, nor did the sea, the smell, my thirst, and the sight of land, of Europe, that didn’t appear. Maybe it was me that didn’t exist.

My heart stopped while they were saving us. “Heart failure,” the doctors said. The only memory I have of Lampedusa is the helicopter that took me away from the island. In Rome I spent two months in a hospital, without ever finding anything to say. There was not one word, a single word, in all the languages I know, that could give any sense to what I had been through.

Sekou Camara comes from Guinea. He arrived at Lampedusa in 2011. After a long period of rehabilitation in hospital he found accommodation in Rome, where he lived for a year working as a tyre repairer. He now lives in Turin and is looking for a job.