This is a documentary story by journalist Ahmed Zaidan, who traveled from his hometown Mosul, Iraq, to Finland. The article is a combination of Zaidan’s own experiences and those of his friends and family members. The photos are taken along the long journey from Iraq to Greece via Turkey and from there further up to Europe.
Sea, the calm blue creature that inspires poets, painters and seduces the sailors to go deeper and deeper… What seems brilliant and friendly under the sun which gives him the shiny smile is in truth very wild beneath the surface. There many, many stories have got a sad ending.
The journey has just started, we are still on sand, secretly walking and trying to find some route far away from lights. Lights mean death and immortal darkness if ISIS fighters track our tracings. We are still beyond the borders of human lands. It was hard to get here, to this Syrian city controlled by ISIS, AL Raqqa, where the remote old houses have been prepared for the batches of arrivals – they will be crammed into them.
Smugglers are the masters of our destiny. They phone each other to secure the trip that is waiting ahead of us. We changed our dialect into Syrian as it is not allowed for people of Mosul to leave the city.
We have managed to get to the Turkish borders. The border guards grip firmly the barbed wire. Sometimes they open it for few minutes and we have to pass through the trench. Finally, we have overcome the first obstacle, we have reached the gate through which we fly in our dreams to the civilised world of the twenty first century, and several meters from where the middle ages were!
Here, the culture of camels and yellow lands is gradually becoming a thing from the past, as we are aiming to the north.
One week is enough to be spent in Turkey, and after that , things have become settled down with smugglers. But this time smugglers are different in their prices and in their way of communication. They take 1500 euros per person and we shall not see their faces, only their voices through phones are enough for us to trust them, as we have no any other way.
Sadly, this is where the real human trafficking starts. Guys who came by planes from safe cities to Istanbul go on with their journeys to the old continent on decks of ferries, taking pictures for each other. For them the high tide is no more than another attraction. They can pay more, they have bought their lives! Me and my friends, we have passed all kinds of dangers, driven by our grisly destiny, wrestling with the huge sea.
… Going to Greece sounds for everybody like some a kind of a luxurious vacation! But for us it is the biggest test we have ever faced. Night, darkness, frightening silent stars and life jackets here and there, moms cradling their children. Some are giving their last milking to their infants at the bare corners… One of us will be the leader of the voyage of death – the one, who must drive the boat towards the farthest lamp splitting the darkness.
Me, I don’t even know how to drive a bike, so it’s not wise to be at the front or in the back of the boat. Families form rows in order to balance the boat. We had to listen to the leader who warned us not to move on board, whatever happens. With those poor families we have to face the unstable moods of the sea as we couldn’t bribe the smugglers, nor the tides.
Our voyage started when the noise from the motor raised. How calm the sea is on Turkish shore! This is just the beginning. Later the cute little waves will transform into predators as we are crossing the open sea towards the foggy circle created by the lamp at the Greek island.
It seems that the boat has gotten out of control. Children burst into crying and women screaming but I was silent and remembered the negative comments from my cousin who was afraid to cross the sea and who said that the people who go to Europe do not realize that they can be the next meal for the sea… Who knows when the sea is going to get hungry! These words came to my heavy head and froze me to my place. And I thought that, in their very last moment, all victims have felt the same as me: how much I would still like to know, and I already knew. And it wouldn’t make any sense now, if I would soon be in the bottom of the sea.
I woke up from the short but long coma preceding death. It is the voice of the guy beside me that has brought me back to reality. The boat had been turning in darkness and hit a rock! The motor is silent now, but the children are not.
It’s not wise to send an alarm call or highlight our location, as these are our last options. Our attempts to ignite the engine and make the propellers run again have been in vain. One of the experienced guys bravely jumped into water to check the underwater parts of our floating world… We had all lost the gleam of hope until we heard him screaming that we can successfully continue our voyage to Greece. He had found the reason for why the motor was not working. The boat was once again wrapped in silence when he dived near the propeller, untied with his hands a piece of cloth that had stuck to the motor and came back on the boat telling to turn the engine on! Now it is running again as it should be. Our long faces have changed and smile has risen on the lips mixed with fear.
The light of hope is nearer than ever before. 40 minutes of fighting for our lives and blaming ourselves will soon be a thing from the past. We have finally reached the point we wanted and the sailor has managed to overcome all the evil waves. We are so close that we start to look behind saying “goodbye Turkey”, “goodbye our bloody homelands” …
The burning sun is like hell when it is close, but it will turn into a brilliant beautiful star, when we travel further little by little… This is how the hard memories are!
We all jumped into shallow water of the coast of the Greek Island.
We threw into the sea everything related to the sea, and we carried on our trip towards the far north.
Europe seems different than seen from abroad, through the television screens in our enclosed homelands. There we haven’t met a European or westerner, other than the UN personnel or people from military. Sometimes, very rarely, we witness a blonde journalist.
But as the sun wakes everything up, we see ourselves in the midst of crowds of journalists and human rights organizations. Every one of them tries to position us according to their own agendas. Yes, we smile to cameras and give speech, sometimes not knowing whether their lenses see us as guests or invaders!
Here in Greece, the first station of the old continent, the situation is indeed not comforting. A small boat with people from Iraq and Syria has changed into an island of people from different countries, all of whom have ended up taking the same routes. Maybe they will have the same destination, too, and whether we like it or not, they will be our companies on this trip. The familiar Arabic and Kurdish faces have mixed with those of Africans, Pakistanis, Afghans and some that are hard to distinguish.
“Oh God”, I said to myself. I thought that I will meet only civilized people, but then i saw a big clashes between Iraqis and Afghans. But despite all the disappointing scenes that I have witnessed, I still hold onto hope in my mind. I decide to just overtake all these people from different countries as I am travelling to the farthest north.
Ahmed Zaidan, journalist