“Time to shine! It is our time to shine!!” On the back deck of the AQUARIUS, at the first glimpses of daylight on Tuesday morning a dozen people were praying altogether, blessing the AQUARIUS and asking Europe for mercy as we were entering the port of Taranto, in the south of Italy. “This is our time to shine” they said, shaking hands – shaking mine too – with a wide, white smile, full of hope. Aboard, some were still convinced that our destination was Toronto, Canada. Well, this was actually a funny mix-up, but reminded me and all of us of an interesting parallel, as at the beginning of the XXth century, Italians were fleeing from the very ports we where now disembarking the rescued. By 1920, more than 4 millions Italians had emigrated to the United States, Canada, and South America. They were mostly economic migrants at the time.
The night prior to our arrival, women went outside the shelter room intoning an “Alleluia” as the boat was finally approaching the Italian coasts. The joyful party on the deck, the frenetic dancing, seemed like an exorcism after all the pain, violence, fear we knew they had experienced in Libya.
“We are so happy tonight” said a young girl, standing on a box, clapping her hands. I was happy to see next to her A., 16 years old, finally smiling.
The night after she was rescued, I had noticed the lonely, sad, young girl. A. was still so scared by the crossing and the rescue, that she couldn’t sleep. So I just sat next to her, silently.
From that moment, during our four days sailing from the SAR Zone to the South of Italy, I constantly checked on her for breakfast and for lunch. I would gently tease her if she’d rather pretend that she was not hungry and not eat, than swallow the emergency vegetable pot that we “cook” – with so much love – for our guests.
Her smiles, her friendship instantly became very precious to me. A. had been traveling on her own for many weeks. She did not really want to talk about it. Actually she wouldn’t really speak, but murmur. “Most of those girls have been through severe and repetitive sexual violence in Libya, and along the trip” a volunteer told me later. It is very hard to admit that this shy, innocent, pretty little girl had the appearance of a “normal” teenager but could actually be deeply wounded inside.
After she disembarked, I lost sight of her but felt confident that as a minor, she would be taken good care of in Italy. She would be sent to a family, eat pasta and go to school.
After a while, I couldn’t help but check on her for the last time. She was just getting on a blue bus to… somewhere, saw me and waved at me, as the bus left.
Text: Mathilde Auvillain