We are so happy for Italy for saving our lives.
  From left to right, Ousman, Fatou (22, Gambia), Yanks (20, Gambia) and Malick (17, Gambia).

From left to right, Ousman, Fatou (22, Gambia), Yanks (20, Gambia) and Malick (17, Gambia).

Meet Ousman.

Meet Ousman.

16 years old and from Brikama, 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 about nine months. 

He arrived in Agadez, Niger after five days and remained in the city for four months. The city is hot, and being the departure point for the desert to traffickers, he found quick work as a water vendor. He delivered gallon-sized water jugs to trucks that were transporting migrants across the desert.

He himself crossed the Sahara desert in the back of a pickup truck with 25 people, including one woman, and one child who was about eight to 10 years old.

The typically 4-5 day journey took his group 10 days because his truck encountered mechanical problems. They ran out of water as a result, and scrambled to find anything to drink at all; eventually they came across a source where animals were drinking. 

He slept under the pickup truck because the sand unguarded by the shade was too hot. There are no trees. There are the carcasses of dead animals around. There are graves of the dead. These are normal sights.

Just outside the border of Libya, his truck was stopped and robbed. People who didn’t have money were pulled from the truck and beaten with chains, including Ousman.

He arrived in Baye, Libya (I am unable to confirm the spelling of this city name), where he stopped for one night, then proceeded onward to Sabha, Libya.

Ousman stayed in Sabha for two months, where he worked for a Libyan to earn money for further passage. “It is not a nice place,” he says of the city, which is the sort of phrasing most migrants use when they begin to describe the places that have harmed them the most.

“I was always hearing the sound of guns,” says Ousman. A friend of his, 18 years old, walked outside for a break one day, and being mistaken for a runaway, he was shot in the leg. 

The compound being guarded is split into two areas. One is outside, where he slept on a mat; there are no beds. 

He continued to work, but was sometimes not paid. He would often be dropped without any food, water, or pay for the day. 

In Sabha he was kidnapped and taken to the desert where his captors took all that he had, 15 dinars. I asked him what he was thinking when this was happening to him, he, who is basically, still a kid.

He said he had the same question for them, repeating to the kidnappers that he was just 16 and didn't have anything to give them. But, “they don’t care. The only thing they want is money.”

He was then sold to a prison in Sabratha where he remained for two months. This is how it works. One person kidnaps you, steals what money they can from you, then they sell you to the next owner who holds you for ransom or uses you for slave labor. 

At this prison in Sabratha he was beaten every day. He drank toilet water. Only sometimes was there food; when there was, it was typically a flour and water mixture. 

Water was scarce. He showered once a month. 

He was sold again to another prison in Sabha. He was placed on a bus, but escaped the bus and walked for two days until he met a Libyan man who allowed him to stay outside of his home.

Sometimes he made a fire to keep warm. On some nights it rained on him. There was no food or water. He stayed here working for the homeowner doing gardening and housework until he earned enough for the man to pay for his passage on the palapa; he was never actually paid a wage.

He waited at the seaside camp at Sabratha for two weeks before his boat departed.

He crossed the Mediterranean Sea at midnight in a rubber dinghy with 141 people, including 21 women, five of whom where pregnant. There was one baby. He was out to sea for 12 hours.

He was rescued by the Guardia Costiera and brought to Lampedusa, arriving at 6:00am sometime during the Easter weekend, April 2017.

“We are so happy for Italy for saving our lives,” he said.

Ousman is an amazing human being.