Behind Every Statistic is a Human Story Part 2

Edited by Joanne Roberts

The waiting moments seemed very long and they began at sunset and despite the large numbers of people the dialogue among us was almost non existent. Each one of us tried to lose the stress and the panic that will be coming as soon as we get on the boat.

Everyone of us trying to calm themselves through silence. The best trick for any person to avoid psychological pressure and tension was silence. None of us used our cell phones. The battery of the phone was worth too much this trip to waste. Most of them extinguished their cell phones immediately. The arrival of the bus was hours later than the time we were told and after arriving it was barely enough for us all to fit. A bus custom made for 20 people would contain double that. It was better to go at night to the crossing points to avoid police and problems.

The bus was overcrowded, this caused nausea to everyone. The passage of time seemed to double. It felt as if the road was endless. After about 4 hours or more the lights on the Greek islands began to appear in the horizon. Everyone on the bus sighed with relief.

To avoid complications and in the style of one of the action films the bus suddenly left the highway we were travelling on and recklessly left the road entering among the scattered bushes away from the street. I did not understand whether it was the rudeness of the driver or had he sped up because of the police? Everyone had been jostled by his recklessness and my glasses fell off my face. We entered an agricultural road full of bumps and holes. It was a short while until we came to a stop.

At a point far away from the city or buildings surrounded by the bushes the night was full of a terrible silence and darkness. Everyone had to step off the bus into the mud. Mud caused by rain two days before. Moisture permeated my shoes and reached between my toes despite the thickness of my socks.

The smell of the rain still loomed from the place and the humidity of the sea was easy to feel on my cheeks despite my inability to see it yet. Everyone started walking in the darkness and whispers among them was the only sound.

I reached out my hand and felt around. My hand was barely seen through the darkness. The darkness with the silence brought back my military service years ago when I used to camp in the middle of the desert in Syria. I was able to sense the anxiety of the people around me even when I had no ability to see their faces nor the signs of their bodies. Everyone began to wear their life jackets and some prepared their inflatable rubber tyres.

Those with children had to focus more than the rest of us. People's words had gotten back to me. One mother's voice stood out above the rest. She was louder than most and was giving instructions to her son to hold her hand all the way.

Everybody was organised in a line to start following the guide through a path. We all followed him blindly without question. The guide maybe intended or unintentionally wore a white shirt to spot him easily from the others, the glow of his cigarette was easier to spot than his shirt.

My feeling of being in a Hollywood movie was greater than my anxiety and anticipation. It is true the experience of smuggling is an adventure a man won't have a chance to experience more than once in his lifetime.

We walked for a while and although I am very fit and physically strong the muddy walk and heavy backpack along with the pressure from the life jacket exhausted me. It wasn't surprising then to see the elderly and the children slow our progress.

The guide was accompanied by two other men and although dark it appeared they were always in front and whispering in Turkish. I was close enough to hear part of their conversation. Despite my lack of proficiency in the Turkish language I understood they were talking about their fear of the police and how they would react to avoid being caught.

Finally the sea shore appeared to us. The guide gave a signal to everyone to stop and prepare for the last time. People were starting to get anxious about getting in the rubber boat. The walk is over but the next phase has begun.

When the guide asked for someone among us who can speak Turkish, a young man approached him to confirm. Then the guide asked him to translate his last instruction into Arabic. The young man replied " I do not speak Arabic I am from Azerbaijan". This situation made me laugh. I don't know why these situations choose times like these to test us. This made me forget for a second what I was about to face next. In the end the guide spoke Turkish forgetting the translation in the hopes that everyone understood what he has said.

The bottom of my trousers and shoes filled with mud and despite the cold weather I was sweating profusely upon my face. It was time to catch the boat and after an exhausting walk the flow of adrenaline increased and my heartbeat accelerated to the max. No longer thinking or looking around it was the moment to stare tightly at the horizon of the sea.

In this sea and its prosperity thousands died and tens of thousands have passed through it. The moment was to know whether I would become a missing person, a statistic who drowned or whether I would be another number amongst the arrivals. The death rate is small but the thoughts of death overwhelmed my senses and my bodily functions.

Most who have died at sea, have frozen to death in the cold water before dying from drowning. It looks like a really bad way to die but it was not possible to retreat. What will be will be and the mercy of death is still better than displacement in Turkey.

Women and children first. As usual women and children were riding in the middle of the rubber boat first and on its sides the rest sat. I did not know this time but I think the boat took off around 3am and the congestion on the boat was similar to that on the bus if not worse.

The waves of the sea were very calming in the beginning although it's calmness as we left the beach was increasing with every metre we go forward. The fright at sea has been described by others but to experience it in person is always different to what you hear.

Only tens of metres into the sea was enough to reach bigger waves. my mind was focused on the cold water more than drowning. I tried hard to touch the sea with the tips of my fingers to feel it's coldness and I wish I had not. It was a disgusting feeling and it only increased my anxiety and tension. The time seemed to me to go from slow to slower and the principles of physics faded away.

The Turkish shore was not going away and the Greek shore was not approaching. The hours seemed like days. In the middle of the dark sea, the water splashing our faces and increasing the moisture on our clothing raised the feeling of the cold and the horror of this place.

The most stressful thing in the boat was the children and their movements. A young girl was in front of me with her indifference and her lack of awareness of the risks surrounding her. She was very confused. With her little body she could not stay calm whether sitting or standing. She stirred black thoughts in my head. I had such fears that she may fall overboard at any moment. I asked her kindly to come as close to me as she
could so I was able to hold her tightly just in case. I quietly asked her to sleep and to calm down throughout the journey.

After more than two hours since the start, fatigue and fatigue seemed to dominate all of us. Even the boatman became more impatient and more nervous and increased his screams to the passengers to adhere more mobility and patience to arrive safely without any accidents.

It was easy to see the Turkish Coast Guard through the darkness and easy to recognise their lights. I am sure they spotted us more than once and also they directed their scouting lights on us on numerous occasions but they did not approach or come directly near our boat. Perhaps they were careful not to intervene for fear of the wave they may cause if they approach. Maybe they had direct orders not to approach. I will never know.

One of the passengers in the rear had enough room to use the GPS to see if we had crossed territorial waters or not. Finally after what seemed like an endless time he shouted from the bottom of his lungs that we had passed Turkish territorial waters and we entered the influence of Greece.

Even though we were all filled with fatigue I also felt full of energy and relief. Finally we got to the last of the smuggling steps. The easiest part was to reach the coast of Greece without getting wet. The fuel was not implemented. We did not face the dangerous waves. We did not sink. It was a successful trip by smuggling standards.

It is really one of my biggest achievements in life even if others have their own opinion. I think it was one of life's most interesting experiences despite the risks. A boat landed by dawn on the other side of the sea. I saw the Greek beach boat as the day wore on. A few hours passed through the sea. I felt like it was a whole life time and my first step was in the land of Greece on the beginning of a new day.

A new day has come with a new chapter of my life. I started it by losing the life jacket that had narrowed on my chest just as the worries of war.

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