In my own words

“I’m only 17 years old, I want to live!”

I am 17 years old. I left my family in Ghana because in our Islamic tradition a girl must marry her paternal uncle’s son, but I did not want because my desire has always been to go to school. If you are married, you cannot study or even work. It’s not easy to live in Ghana for a woman. The rule is that you have to marry and have children, you have to accept this in front of the ‘shrine‘, the traditional family altar. If you don’t, they cast a curse on you and reject you. My mother did not want me to be thrown out on the street, but my dad told me that if I would not marry the man he had chosen for me he would have killed me. He beat me with a strap, he threatened me and yelled at me: ‘If you do not marry him, I’ll kill you’. I have a brother and two sisters who are married to men chosen by my father. He forbade me to go to see my sisters until I would be married. My brother also tried to convince me, he punched me too, but I knew I wanted to have a different life.

My mother could not say anything, she did not want me to leave, she was crying and she was afraid for me. She was ill, she could not walk because she her legs are paralysed. She could never oppose my father’s decision. He beat me and told me that if I would not obey him he would not hesitate to shoot me.

I left my country at the end of January 2017. The journey from Ghana to Libya lasted three weeks. I did not expect it to be so difficult. But crossing the sea is worse than the trip in the desert, at least there is sand there. In the sea everybody is pushing, you are crushed one over the other, if you fall into the sea nobody helps you, no one can do anything and you die. In the desert if you break the car engine, you can stop and fix it.

But it’s dangerous to stop in the desert, if the truck starts again and you’re not aboard, no one helps you. I’ve seen many dead bodies in the sand. Everyone is beaten at checkpoints, but I had nothing to give to them. I tried to hide myself so they would not notice me, and I did not want to see or to hear anything.

We arrived in Tripoli and I was only thinking about how to find a job to pay for my school. But I soon realised that the situation was very difficult. I was so scared, I felt a very strong blast, a bomb had exploded in the street next to us. Then I saw a group of armed men starting to shoot. They killed so many people!

They told me to run away because we were in the so called ‘black zone’, the black immigrant district. Libyans hate immigrants, in particular the black people. They go hunting for black people, there is a real war against them. If I went out to buy something to eat I was always followed, they were pushing me and sometimes they put their hands on me. It is very dangerous to go out, especially if you are black. It is even more dangerous if you are a black woman. I’ve seen many people picked up together and put on a truck, they’ve been taken away and nobody hears of them again. I saw people being killed while they were just walking in the street.

In Tripoli I was living in the “black zone”. I was brought in a large home where there were forty black girls who were on call to work as they were waiting to leave. I did the housekeeping for an Arab woman who never paid me. If I asked her for the money she would beat me. It was very frustrating and even frightening because I was always in fear of something to happen. Sometimes you could hear shots and very strong explosions. I was living in this house for a month or maybe a little more.

When I saw how things were going in Tripoli, I was very scared because I had realized that I could not have stayed there and I could not have gone back. In both cases I would have been dead.
I felt lost.

I did not know anything about the boats going to Europe because I went to Libya to work. But one night they threw a bomb on the house where we were living, then some men picked us up and brought us to the place from where the boats leave. It was night and I could see nothing but the white rubber boat on which we went on. I remember that there were many girls and other people with me. I paid nothing, I had no money. The Arab woman for whom I had worked for must have given the money for my trip. 

I asked where we were going to and they told me we were heading towards Europe. At first I was not afraid because I did not know anything about the journey and I could not see anything because it was dark, but when the sunlight arose I was terrified of being in the middle of the sea. I saw others crying, vomiting, praying, I did not move. I wanted to cry, but I was too afraid to fall in the water. I was paralysed by fear.

I thought that if I would be saved, I would want to study to help people in jail. Because we also lived in a prison, I saw what it means. So many days without eating and with little water. I want to make food for those who are in prison. I would like to tell my mother that I’m alive, but to my father that I’m dead.

I’m only 17 years old, I do not want to marry, I want to live to study “.


Author:  Francesca Vallarino Gancia – Testimony Collector
Photos: Francesca Vallarino Gancia/SOS MEDITERRANEE
Editing: Francesca Vallarino Gancia