by Pearl Mashabane
We sat crammed in an overcrowded boat travelling on the mercy of winds and greedy sailors. Our hearts rose and fell with the rising and calming of the ocean tides.
We held our breaths and rested our minds on the promise of a new life awaiting us on the other side of the shore. We clang tightly to our meagre belongings and said little to each other with words, but with our eyes we shared collective fears and hopes about the unknowns of new beginnings.
We were on our way to Lampedusa; an island near Italy, which we were told is a stepping-stone into freedom and liberty. We parted with the last bits of our savings to pay for a journey across the perilous sea aboard a fishing boat that made no promises that we will reach our destination.
We boarded the vessel resting on grand stories about those who made the crossing and stepped into newness.
We were leaving behind us a land of our birth that had turned us into refugees and orphans. We were dying of hunger while living on rich and fertile soil. We lived in darkness while the sun on our continent sheds its natural light and energy day and night. We were poor while the belly of our continent sits pregnant with minerals and oil.
We had begged, voted and protested for decades until our voices grew thin and our bodies grew weary. We were watching ourselves wasting away waiting for changes and a hope that would not rise with the dawn of tomorrow or next year’s sun. We had no choice but to cast the nets of our dreams on lands afar. A boat to Lampedusa would take us a step closer.
Most of our days and nights out on the open sea were calm. The moon shone with reassurance by night and the sun comforted us by day. The waters cradled and rocked us back and forth like infants.
On the morning that we awoke to see the “promised coast”, our wind-chapped lips broke into smiles. We began to make small talk. Even our deprived stomachs began to rumble with pangs of hunger at the smell and sight of an island where the essence of our lives would be fed and resurrected.
And then like a flip of a coin, our fate changed as the engine died and fire broke out. Uproars of panic rocked and capsized our fragile ark. Within minutes the sea had opened its mouth and began to suck us into the depths of its dark blue belly. We were drowning. We screamed, prayed and struggled to hold on. The hungry sea swallowed 300, 200, 425 and more.
As our bodies sank into the bowels of the Mediterranean, our hopes and dreams of freedom, equality and a humane world rose up to the surface to make pleas on our behalf and for other millions of refugees and immigrants who walk or sail on the balance beam of life and death daily across our shared globe.
Do not dig graves for us on the lands of our birth. Do not mark graves of deferred dreams in lands afar that would not welcome us. The story of our lives is etched forever in the memories of those we left behind.
Ocean winds weep as witnesses of our demise upon rickety boats and perilous paths carrying nothing but bags filled with heavy dreams and hopes of a people whose mother lands had turned hostile and whose neighbors lock their front gates and turn a blind eye.
Tell our story to those who sits on thrones and wield power over the destinies of their people. Write about the conditions that lead to the journeys of our demise.
Lead protests far and wide speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. Open the doors of the world and pull down barriers and walls that keep the human family trapped in enclosures like wild animals.
Compose songs whose melody will comfort and send a message of hope for a better tomorrow in our Mother Lands – for today the belly of the sea has become our new home.
God bless Africa.