A Journey through adversity

© Rosalie Ann R. REYES<br>100 refugees were crammed on the boat.

© Rosalie Ann R. REYES 100 refugees were crammed on the boat.

The following are stories of Somalis and Ethiopians who cross the Gulf of Aden in a treacherous boat journey in search of a better life in Yemen.  Their quest for sanctuary also became a journey through adversity…
A Brother's Guilt The 25 year old Ethiopian, Zenebe, was grief stricken with the death of his sister.  He felt guilty for encouraging her to come with him.  Employment opportunities were rare back home.  To survive, they would have to look for such opportunities abroad.  He wanted her to go to Saudi Arabia to find work because it is easier for women to hide from authorities to avoid being deported.  He, on the other hand, was going to stay in Yemen.   Events took a turn for the worse when the smugglers refused to go any nearer the shore.  They were forced to jump into the water and got separated.  When he came ashore, he wanted to search for his sister immediately but his companions advised him to start walking inland first. In the morning, he found his way back to where they landed because he had heard that some bodies were buried there. He found out that one was, indeed, his sister's and though he was relieved to know for certain her fate, he was beside himself with grief and guilt and didn't know how to break the news to his family back home in Ethiopia.  Between the Desert and the Deep, Blue Sea 17 year old Mohammed was 3 years old when his mother left Somalia for Saudi Arabia to look for work.  Three years later, his father brought 6 year old Mohammed to Sanaa, Yemen.  However at 15, he went to Saudi Arabia hoping to reunite with his mother whom he had not seen in the last 12 years.  But his hopes were to be quashed when the authorities deported him to Somalia. At 17, he was able to save enough cash to make the trip back to Yemen to see his father.  In the fishing boat smugglers used to transport the refugees, he was placed underneath, in the hull of the boat meant to store fish.  This storage had a 2 meter perimeter entrance that was usually covered to accommodate more people on top.  The lack of air, light, water, food and the stench of urine and stool were more than some could bear.  Not long after, he realized that he was amongst some corpses.  When people started to get tired and restless, the smugglers had repeatedly said "You will be thrown into the sea sooner or later".  For someone who cannot swim, it is a shuddering thought.  When the time came and they had to jump into the dark waters, Mohammed desperately hung on to the boat, fearing for his life.  He saw some people drown and thought that he, himself, would perish.  He lost his grasp at last.  For two hours, he tried to stay afloat.  When he saw the shore, he was motivated to reach land.  The hope was short-lived though, for he realized that after defying death at sea, he then has to defy death in the scorching hot and barren desert.
Rosalie Ann R. REYES, who is a Filipino psychologist, worked as a mental health officer in this project from August 2007 to January 2008. She offered counselling to the survivors as many had lost more than one close relative or friends and traumatized by the terrible experience in the journey.