In my own words

“We have no other choice”

Testimony by Diawoye*

When Diawoye graduated from high school, the future seemed bright with possibility. Born in a tiny farming village in central Mali, he had achieved the improbable feat of being named one of the country’s best students. He was on his way to university in Bamako, dreaming of studying English literature and becoming a high school English or computer skills teacher. Even on the Aquarius, it’s clear he has the charisma to run a classroom. A dozen teenage boys on the boat have gravitated to him and look to him for guidance. “He was one of our best students, one of the heroes of the country,” says one boy proudly, as Diawoye himself smiles shyly and looks away before beginning his story.

After a year of studies, his ambition to become a teacher ran up against a wall of problems. His scholarship did not cover his food or lodging. “I had problems with lodging, problems with transportation, problems with poverty, so I couldn’t stay,” he says. “I left Bamako and I went back to the village. There are no jobs back there for a villager who has been to university. There are no jobs at all, except for working on the farm.”

Diawoye left to work in Mauritania and then in Côte d’Ivoire. “Nothing worked out very well back there,” he says of Côte d’Ivoire, still recovering from a brief civil war several years ago. “There’s still a lot of conflict, and now there are terrorist attacks.”

He packed his bag again and went to Algeria, and then on to Libya. “We had friends who told us there was work in Libya, that you ate well there and you could find a nice place to stay. But once we got there, we realized it was a war zone. In fact, we wanted to go back to Mali, but there was no way.”

He was twice imprisoned in Libya. Each time, his parents and friends managed to buy his freedom. Some of his co-detainees put him in contact with someone with a boat.

“We thought that we would get in the boat and in two or three hours we’d be in Italy. we thought we had 20 kilometres to sail. We had no idea it was like this.”

“It’s supers scary,” he says. “If you’re lucky, you can have a big boat like this one that picks you up, but if you aren’t lucky, you die. We take the risks and we have to live with the results. We have no other choice.”



*Name changed
Text & interview: Nagham Awada
Photo: Yann Merlin