My first memory is being hurled into the water. Gasping for air, I tried to battle the rough waves. But the waves were merciless; they kept engulfing me again and again. My eyes barely open, I could eventually see arms flailing in the distance. I swam with all my might, managing to reach the little raft that awaited me. Some men pulled the raft towards them held out their hands for me. Shivering, I was crammed into the crowded orange raft. My thoughts were blurred, and within them, emerged my parent’s faces. In my mind, I saw them flailing their arms in the turbulent sea, desperate to find help for their little son. I looked around and saw anxious faces, but none that I recognized from my country of Syria. I reckoned that my parents would be waiting for me at the shore, for I was too young to fully comprehend the fearful situation I was in. My body was soaked and covered in goosebumps. The chaotic ambiance made me anxious.
“Come on, let us go. We have 35 too many!” a man’s hoarse voice called, as he lifted two other stragglers from the sea. My mother’s face appeared. She was drenched, her eyes red from the rough waters. My father held her tight, as he struggled to climb up the ladders of the boat. “Mom, dad!” I yelled and reached out for them. The boat swayed back and forth, as my parents rushed to embrace me. We sat together, huddled in the corner, completely silent.
Uncertainty and agony loomed under the dark sky. My eyes felt heavy, and my skin was rough and salty. I heard people moaning, others wailing, but the boat drifted in a singular, monotonous pace. The sea was calmer now, but our nerves weren’t. Being only 5, there was little to understand, but enough to see and feel. The fear and apprehension were apparent. Close to 50 of us had escaped from our home countries, and now desperately awaited a future free of turmoil and unrest. I remember my mother throwing up into the water. Her head hurt, and her stomach burned from hunger. The boatman told us that we would be arriving soon, but there was no land in sight. The journey was long and treacherous. I don’t remember too much after that, except that I fell asleep on my father’s cold shoulder, counting from 1 to 10.
“50 more, all alive, lost at sea. Over.” a man spoke into the phone, “Need more first aid. Otherwise, it is under control.”
I woke up to my father’s harsh nudge.
“We are here,” he whispered. The sea was choppy again, and people were screaming all around me. Some prayed and others held on for safety. I looked ahead to see a big white ship. A rescue mission, I reckoned. My mother pushed me forward, and I was pulled up by a man from the white ship. Initially, I resisted, but my parents told me I would be okay. Slowly, I saw all of the people from our raft being carried up to the ship. We were given blankets but still shivered with anxiety. My mother was taken straight into the first aid den. I found out that we were headed to the Greek island of Lesbos. Again we all sat, huddled together, as the ship slowly made its way to the shore ahead. I glimpsed at the land of green in the middle of the vast blue. I longed for the journey and all our despairs to end. So I began counting again, from 1-10, until the land slowly got closer and closer.
20 years later, it seemed like those 10 seconds passed in a blink of an eye. The ship this time was much better equipped, and I was ready to carry on the rescue missions.
“10 nautical miles out,” I spoke into the phone.
My men around me gathered the blankets and life jackets. They hurried to the deck, and let down a ladder into the water. 5 little boats crammed to the brim with the scared, distressed faces of lost immigrants.
“Hold tight, one by one!” my men yelled, slowly bringing up the victims. I stood in my corner and watched the men, women, and children hurry on to the deck. They held onto their loved ones and rocked back and forth. They had all left their homes in Syria, fearing for their lives. For them, jumping into the vast Mediterranean sea seemed to be a better option than hiding under basements in the midst of shellings in Syria. They cried in the name of God and collapsed on the decks of the boat. The children’s eyes were wide with fear, most of which they probably couldn’t comprehend. They looked shell shocked and clung onto their parents and their parents clung onto their hopes for a better future. When I was in the boat several years ago, the fear in me was impalpable too. But since then, I have devoted my time to helping young children like me, regain trust in a better future for themselves and their families. I overheard one kid in the ship ask his mother when they would reach. I knelt down, and whispered in his ear, “Just count to 10, dear one. You will be home safe and sound.”
Count to 10