In my own words

“You wake up to the sound of shooting, you go to bed to the sound of shooting”

Testimony by Richard & Mary*

Richard and Mary fled their native Côte d’Ivoire in 2004 when fighting between the regular army and the rebel Forces Nouvelles made normal life impossible. For them, Libya in the early 2000s was a source of real hope. “We spent two years in Ghana, waiting for something better, and then we went to Libya,” explained Mary. “At that time, it was the best opportunity we had. The crisis in Libya was what made us leave, to go to someplace safer.”

“In Libya, it wasn’t easy,” says Richard. “But we worked, we earned money. After the war in 2011, everything became very different. They kidnap people while they’re going to work. They put you in prison, sometimes they hit you, they tell you to call your parents to get ransom money. We were threatened all the time.”

In 2015, Mary clarifies, the situation became even more risky. Several of their close friends were put in prison camps. They themselves were lucky. “We had been kidnapped, but a man brought us to his house to work, and as soon as he left the house, we ran away,” Richard says. “We didn’t know where to go, we ended up at Zabrata camp where we found many Africans.”

In Zabrata, they witnessed violence on a daily basis. “The men were treated worse than the women, but as a woman, you are traumatized when you see your man abused like that, and vice versa. You wake up to the sound of shooting, you go to bed to the sound of shooting. As soon as someone is in a bad mood they start shooting— brrrr! When you live with fear in the pit of your stomach, nothing is easy, not even drinking water.”

Richard and Mary often finish each other’s sentences. “God is the only one who can help you there, one person alone can’t manage it,” says Richard.

“Even if you’re strong, God is always there to watch over you. But we’re also stronger together, I think. L’union fait la force.”   


*Names have been changed

Interview: Yann Merlin & Ruby Irene Pratka

Text & Translation: Ruby Irene Pratka

Photo: Yann Merlin / SOS MEDITERRANEE