Meet Modou.

In Lampedusa, 8 December 2016. ©Pamela Kerpius

In Lampedusa, 8 December 2016. ©Pamela Kerpius


Meet Modou.

24 years old and from Lamin, Gambia.

To reach Lampedusa he crossed six countries: The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the most dangerous of all, Libya.

His journey took eight to nine months. It took him about one month to reach Agadez, Niger, before he then crossed the Sahara desert in the back of a pickup truck with 30 people. His water ran out after three days of the five-day trip, so the passengers who still had water in their possession rationed it among Modou and those who had also run out. 

I asked him to describe the desert. “It is very hot, that’s all I can say. Thank god we didn’t have any casualties.”

He told me the price of the trip across the dessert includes the fees used to pay the men who rob you at the various checkpoints along the way to Libya. “You pay for bribery,” he explained, sort of like an all-inclusive ticket.

He lived in a camp in Sabha, Libya for about two weeks. He was out of money at this point and was forced to call his sister who could send him money to continue, “the situation was so hard. There was no hope.” His sister provided enough money to get him from Sabah to Tripoli. 

In Tripoli he was kidnapped and held in what he describes as a structure resembling an unfinished apartment. It had gates and windows; there was no electric light at night though, and on days when the sun wasn’t shining it was difficult to keep track of time. 

“Sometimes you don’t know what day it is. Is it Monday, Tuesday? You don’t know.”

His kidnappers demanded money. A Libyan man spent nights there on guard; during the day a Nigerian man was hired to do the job. 

To drink, he received a cup of water daily. Sometimes his captors would give him a bottle of water to share among 6-8 people, the number kept in each room. For days he would not eat. When he did, he got bread and sometimes rice, “but that’s not always.”

I asked if he was ever hurt, if there were beatings.

“Yeah, of course. If they’re in a bad mood because it’s been a long time since they’ve received money from anyone in the camp…[they] would make it hard for us those days. People like us, we didn’t have [financial] help, so it was very hard.”

He stayed in the prison house for one month, and finally plotted an escape with the others. He broke a window and got out, “we would all die if not.”

He didn’t know where to go, so he just traced his way back to the place in Tripoli where he last saw his original smugglers. He hoped to reconnect and continue his transfer to the coast, and then onto the boat, but the kidnapping, the smugglers told him, had voided the original transaction. 

He managed a lower rate for the last part of his trip, and received financial help from a “clean-hearted” Gambian friend who he met there. The man chipped in enough so that he only had to ask his sister for a small amount of additional cash to get to the coast.

It wasn’t enough to meet the total amount though, so he stayed and found work in unstable Tripoli for about three to four months. However, “we don’t get anything out of it,” he said. “The job is like, work to eat. You go out to work, but you just get food to eat, no money.”

Finally, he says he was “dumped” at the coastal camp in Sabratha, after he received only food––bread or rice––as payment for his work.

It is like suicide. On the Mediterranean it’s like suicide in those rubber boats.

He lived there for three months in a tent. I asked if there was a shower available. “Shower? It’s like days before you take a shower,” he said, describing their short supply. Because Sabratha is a connection city and a departure point for the Mediterranean, there could be hundreds of migrants waiting there to leave at any given time. 

He drank well water, which was salty, like sea water, but not as strong; bottled water was too expensive. He received bread and sometimes some rice to eat.

One night, a boat was leaving. It was not his, but a smuggler summoned him to help secure it in place while passengers boarded, but at the last minute he snuck aboard.

Modou crossed he Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy at midnight with about 140 people, including more than ten women and two children, boys, who were about 5- or 6-years-old.

I asked what it was like to be on the Mediterranean Sea at night. 

“It is like suicide. On the Mediterranean it’s like suicide in those rubber boats. That’s how I take it to be. Because the amount [of people] in the boat and the type of boat you are using, it’s like suicide.”

The only thing he was able to see were stars. He felt, “just fear.”

He was out to sea for eight to 10 hours before he was rescued by a German ship, then transferred to the Guardia Costiera, arriving in Lampedusa on October 29, 2016.

He called his big sister and his dad when he arrived; his family thought he had died, because they hadn’t heard from him in months. He heard his sister and father cheering over the phone when they got his call from Italy.

In the strangest twist of irony, Modou told me he was employed as an immigration officer in The Gambia before departing for Europe. Now, he wants to go to school; it’s something he didn’t have the chance to do in Gambia. 

He is super, super tall and had an awesome sense of humor when I would crack wise about him towering over everyone else on the street. His favorite football team is Arsenal F.C.

Modou is an amazing human being.