Recalling a long conversation during a hot unbreathable afternoon. He was sitting by my side, as we used to sit, in front of the shop. A cold beer was being shared by the habeshas in the nearby. And nobody was close enough to listen, so he could talk more openly.
You know, all of us had a problem. There were two main problems: the desert and the sea. And each one of us suffered from the first, the second or even from both of them. My problem was the desert. And Libya. You know, when I was still at home I would think: a couple of months and I’ll be there in Europe, then I find a job, earn good money and come back home. But it was not that way. I first escaped through the forest, paying the guards so that they could take us to Sudan; we were a small group of four people. And that part was ok; I just spent two weeks in Sudan. You see this picture of a camion? We all travelled on that. Those platform trucks would take us from the frontier to Khartoum and from there to Libya, but in the meanwhile you had to pay a lot to the informers. And it was strange, because you could never know who was by your side. We should travel by night, being all illegal, and besides we were all dark-skinned, so you could only see the open eyes. And then Libya… You know, I’m afraid of travelling more because I remember Libya very well. We were not people in there. We could not be Christians. We could not talk. I saw a young habesha being killed because he had two coins and wanted to buy food instead of giving them to the Libyans. And then prison, many months, different times. We were treated as beasts and we all brought some scars from there. And sometimes they would put us in prison and then take us back to the desert, to the frontier with Sudan. And we should walk again, following those dead corpses on the sand, because it is difficult to find direction in the desert. You follow people and you have no money, before that you already lost it all. Then you look for work and you must accept anything, work without a rule and beg not to be caught by police again and again. It’s a nightmare. I had never prayed so much as there, and nonetheless I felt hurt by God. I would just pray, it was not living, I was just constantly praying to survive.
And then another interview, on a later evening, he needed some time to trust me and to believe in his ability to share the story.
I’ve fortunately passed Sudan and Libya and remained a lot of time in Tripoli. I’ve been lucky on that. My memory was on escaping from hospital, you see this mark, it’s from there. So I don’t remember what I’ve seen or where I’ve passed, I just wanted to go far away. Arriving in Tripoli, I got the chance of working illegally for a year. Police would come by sometimes, but I always found a way to hide or escape. My problem was the sea. I’ve tried it six times. Everything happened: no gasoline, too heavy, being caught by Tunisian officials, many people dying, the boat sinking… And then, finally, I did it. Spent my weeks in the detention center in Italy crying, eating and sleeping. I did it. What for?
These stories have been kept in my memory; they would not share them in front of an audio recorder. Both the interviewees are about 30 years old. They took from one up to three years in this trip. They speak Amharic, Tigrinya, English, Italian and a little bit of Arabic. They have completed high school, one of them in a technical field. They work, as most of the habeshas we have met, in transport and assembly, and they live at shared houses in Bologna. They had problems of housing, health care, work inequities and racism in Italy. They keep on asking themselves the last question of the previous paragraph.