Meet Wally

Wally in Lampedusa, Italy. November, 2016. © Pamela Kerpius

Wally in Lampedusa, Italy. November, 2016. © Pamela Kerpius


Meet Wally.

20 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 trip took about six months. He crossed the Sahara Desert with 7 liters of water and, like all others who make this trek, he saw bodies and rough hewn graves for the dead, a normal sight along the way.

He spent five months in Libya. He was captured and spent two months and two weeks in Libyan prison where he was beaten regularly. He is scarred across his head and neck where he was whipped with a pistol. They cut his arm with a knife. He was bloodied from head to foot.

He spent two months in a Libyan ghetto recovering from his injuries. He had a deep wound on his shin that was swollen so bad he couldn’t walk; when he reached the Libyan coast, he had to be carried onto the boat. The wound on his shin is still scabbed and visible.

He crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy with 121 people, including 25 women and, he says, “more than three babies.” They spent the night on the sea and were rescued by a German ship the next day.

The migrants were transferred from the German ship to an Italian Coast Guard vessel where they spent three days. They were cold. Many migrants suffer from hypothermia after the voyage.

On the Coast Guard vessel some guy stepped on his foot and he was like, “‘the hell, man?” but it ended up being Seikou (19, Gambia; pictured here with Wally), who worked with Wally’s brother as a truck driver. Now they’re friends.


Wally was wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt when I met him because his warm clothes had been stolen by another migrant who was transferred to mainland Sicily.

Wally’s father is deceased, but he is survived by his mom, one sister, and one brother. “If we have family, we are happy,” he says. He has a terrific sense of humor and can greet you in Italian, even though he says he can’t speak the language.

Wally is an amazing human being.

Read Wally's one-year followup story, recorded November 2017 >