Saïd* is “16, 17, something like that”. We met on the deck of the Ocean Viking. I saw him several times before we actually spoke. We had crossed paths and exchanged polite words over the past few days. But that night, when I arrived on the deck, most of the rescued people were in the shelters, getting ready to sleep. He was the last person outside, sitting on a small step.
We spoke about small things, at first. What picture did I publish these days, he asked. Where am I from, when are we going to disembark? This is when the conversation took a turn. I realised that it was not my place to answer questions anymore. My role, now, was to listen.
“Life is not easy”, the boy started. He repeated it, gazing at the horizon. He was not trying to explain or convince me. He was just acknowledging.
“What happened in Libya is too hard to explain. When I’ll be okay, I hope a journalist will give me a microphone to tell everything. I hope I’ll be invited at big tables to explain everything that happened to me and my brothers. But now I can’t … because I’m not okay, you know”. I nodded. I knew. The scar of 2 to 3 centimetres on his right eyebrow speaks for itself, the even bigger scar on his right knee and the many marks on his left leg are evidence of the violence he has endured. Saïd left Guinea in 2016, at 13 or 14 years old. He didn’t tell me exactly how he made it to Libya. Sometimes by car, sometimes by bus, he told me. He doesn’t remember which countries he passed or when he arrived in Libya.
“I don’t know exactly how long I spent in Libya. After I left Guinea (Conakry), I spent 6 to 8 months taken in a prison. I don’t know where”, he said, looking directly at me for the first time.
“I haven’t spoken to my mother for a very very long time, you know. It’s one of the hardest things. She’s more than 70 years old. She is getting tired. I’m her only child. It’s very hard to know that no one is taking care of her. That’s why I left Guinea at the very beginning… to find a job and to be able to send her some money.” He stopped talking.
“If I could speak with her soon, when we disembark, it would be beautiful, it will be like seeing her with my two eyes. I hope it will happen”, he said again.
“I’m having troubles sleeping. I haven’t realised yet that I’m not in Libya anymore. Sometimes I forget, but when I look around and see SOS MEDITERRANEE written, like on your T-shirt, or when I see a European like you, I feel better. I know I’m not in Libya anymore. But then I forget. I doubt myself a lot. I haven’t really slept since I was detained. In Libya people get killed for no reason. If someone looks at you, and you say one word, he can shoot you. So many killed… So many wounded. We are not humans anymore in Libya. I can’t explain what happened. Even I don’t understand it”.
His personal history is too heavy to carry. He looked at me again, and came back to the present:
“Do you have any news from Josefa? Thanks God they were there. Before they arrived, I was thinking of jumping in the sea. The small rubber boat we were in started to fill with water, the engine wasn’t working well anymore. I even cried three times. I’m afraid for my brothers who are still trapped in Libya. What will happen to them? I am safe, but what about them? Are you going to continue saving people?”
Saïd’s dream is to go to school and to be a Footballer. A number 10, in the centre. “It’s been my dream since I was little. Maybe I’ll be a politician also”, he says.
Testimony collected and written by Laurence Bondard, communication officer onboard the Ocean Viking. September 2019.
*The name has been changed to preserve the anonymity of the minor testifying.