Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat – The New York Times

It began with blips on a radar screen, 12 miles off the Libyan coast. As the rescuers approached, they found overloaded wooden vessels and rafts that evoked scenes of the slave trade.

Credit Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Aris Messinis, an Agence France-Presse photographer aboard the rescue boat Astral, said it was like nothing he had ever seen.

The passengers — from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries — were found by the Astral on Tuesday, part of a wave of more than 11,000 rescued in the Mediterranean by aid groups and the Italian Coast Guard this week.

Migrants aboard a large wooden boat, which may have held 1,000 people — roughly five times its capacity — waited frantically for help. Some jumped into the water.

 

via Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat – The New York Times

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Where will she go?

Fatuma Ibrahim before January 6, 2016 was a mother of four in Korof Harar, deep inside Wajir on the north eastern side of Kenya.

However, her husband changed this narrative on that sixth day of the year.

He stabbed her.

On her thigh.

On her leg.

On her chin.

On her right cheek and when he tried to pull out the 10-inch knife, but it was stuck.

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Ms Fatuma Ibrahim at Wajir Airport, shortly before her medical evacuation on January 7, 2016. Photo/Eunice Kilonzo

The rusty knife with a rugged handle went through her head on her right cheek and almost popped out a short distance from her left eye.

But it didn’t.

It stayed there from 5.30pm that Wednesday when he attacked her, was still there when she was taken to hospital at 2am.

Wajir Referral Hospital would not move it either otherwise, she would have “bled internally and suffocated in her own blood.”

That’s what her attending doctor said.

Our paths crossed on Thursday at around 5pm. I was part of three other journalists who had gone to airlift her to Nairobi where she would get the Intensive Care treatment she required. Nearly two hours away from her home, away from her children and away from the man, who had put her in this place. With a knife sticking out of her now swollen face.

She was very still during the flight.

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Ms Fatuma Ibrahim airborne heading to Nairobi aboard the Amref Flying Doctors plane. On her right is nurse Charles Atemba from Amref. Photo/Eunice Kilonzo

She did not move.

She did not cry.

Only half-way in the flight did she say her legs were paining.

The in-flight doctor raised her legs, dressed her wounds and gave her something for the pain.

Then I saw the scars on her thighs.

Shiny patches of skin that had once been smooth but now held reminders of previous attacks.

I began to reason maybe, just maybe, they are tribal or beauty marks or large birthmarks.

Maybe?

She would not talk to confirm or allay my fears, so I let it pass.

We got to Nairobi at 8pm, into a waiting ambulance where she was rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital.

About four hours later, she was wheeled to theater and the lodged knife removed.

By morning, she was up and talking to visitors.

Her husband was arraigned in court and he said his wife, Fatuma, wanted to commit suicide and “he was trying to help her.”

Nine days later with several trauma counseling sessions in-between, Fatuma was fit to be discharged from Kenyatta National Hospital.

I was fortunate to meet her before she left ward 5A.

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A few minutes before being discharged. Photo/Eunice Kilonzo

Then she smiled.

And I saw the missing front teeth. Probably four or three.

“He knocked them out in a previous fight,” she said through a translator.

“He has beaten me not ten or twenty times, several times: I don’t know how many.”

She smiled some more when she walked into the waiting ambulance that would take her out of the hospital.

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The husband Mohammed Deq on the other hand was still in police custody.

I called my mother and we discussed about Fatuma and she asked me: But where will she go?

My friend and editor, Zipporah Musau, asked: “But where will she go? Back to the same home where she was stabbed? Where she had endured so much violence? Is she safe there?

These questions stung me: Where will she go?

Those who came to discharge her said they would take her to relatives, away from her home but back to her children.

Where will Ms Fatuma Ibrahim (really) go? She has no Identification Card, she has no skills and she is unemployed.

Where will she go?

 

For more information read here, here and here.

Of Connecting flights and Zimbabwe Mosquitoes

Our next flight for Vic Falls was the next morning at around 9.30am.

Where am I coming from? Start part one here

Therefore, Harare Airport would be our bed and breakfast, literary.

The arrival section had leather seats sealed covered with clear polythene paper in rows. I quickly spotted a place I would sleep in for the next three hours or so because I was getting cranky because of hunger, fatigue and lack of sleep.

I slept.

For about two or three hours and I was woken up by a start.

Didnt I switch off the lights? I was confused thinking I was in Nairobi.

It read around 5.30am.

But, the sun outside looked the one you see at noon in Mombasa or Nairobi.

Zimbabwe is an hour behind Kenya, and the idea that I was an hour late was thrilling. But, the sun was too bright. As it rose, my sleep scattered.

We had an hour to go before our flight and we went to the domestic departures section.

After checking in our begs, the airport attendants said we needed to pay taxes.

“Wait, what taxes?”

“You heve to pay theiya $15 taxes to the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, then you will show it as you are about to board.”

“What happens if we do not pay?”

The other passengers at the airport stared at me in the just-pay-and-be-done-already look.

About 30 minutes later, we were pacing towards Air Zimbabwe for about an hour flight to Vic Falls.

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Touch down: Vic Falls

And the place was/is HOT!

Let me explain.

It was way beyond 37 degrees.

The heat feels like its throwing pins on your skin. Wait, more like a hot iron on your face. The earth beneath was not helping either. My t-shirt at this point was digging dip into my armpits, sticky with sweat.

It is understandable, Zimbabwe is close to the Kalahari Desert.

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Vic Falls is a small tourist town with an array curios shops, arts and crafts, galleries and plenty of high end hotels.

We drove in an air conditioned bus and the 10 minutes or so we pull up at the hotel we would be staying for that week.

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The lodge was really nice, very clean rooms with an overhead fan.

The staff was also nice and kind. Their breakfast quite heavy in the protein side (bacon and eggs)

But nothing prepared us for the other guests who we would inadvertently share rooms with.

The MOSQUITOES.

They were fierce, they felt like they they chewed your skin off. Not sucking like their peers back in Mombasa, Kenya.

No.

These ones, particularly loved hovering over my head, ears and dived in, to bite off my legs.

Now imagine the overbearing heat and the army of flesh-eating mosquitoes.

And, no, there was no Air Conditioning, you would not dare open the windows as this would be inviting more of the ‘biters’ neither would you cover yourself with the sheets.

Despite the hotel spraying outside the rooms in the evenings with insecticide it did not seem to help.

The solution at the time was using the mosquito repellent lotion.

In desperation I bought one and  smeared it all over myself. Bad mistake. It created a film around my body and made sleeping super uncomfortable.

The mosquitoes still attacked, viciously I think, to send a message that “no weapons formed against them” shall prosper.

That night, my body was a battle field, bored by the tiny insects (I think?) with welts forming all around my skin.

I thought of the two mosquito nets I had left back in Nairobi.

Fimbo ya mbali, haiuwi nyoka (A snake is not killed by a cane that is far away)

Next day, I went to the OK supermarkets and bought a $21 mosquito net.

‘Borrowed time’ in Zimbabwe

For my leave, I flew off to Zimbabwe.

Yep, that country that we were told had billionaires and millionaires carrying their Zim dollars in bags and baskets.

I even thought we would meet President Robert Gabriel Mugabe at the airport and he would ask us what we were doing in there. Facile thoughts, I know.

Either way, I was prepared to visit the country that flows with the Zambezi River and see for myself the “run down economy” that we all think Zimbabwe is synonymous with.

Touch down at Harare International Airport October 25, some few minutes past 2.30am and for the nearly two hours flight from Nairobi I was not sure what to expect.

I still had in my mind that things would be really bad in the Southern African country and nothing prepared me once I walked into their arrival terminal.

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The place was clean, the airport staff friendly and warm.

They asked that we stand on a white tile as they screened us for Ebola. Shortly after, a woman in a blue uniform, matching socks, black leather shoes and a cap came up to us and handed white slips of paper.

“Please fill in your details over theiya and come beck to these tills.”

We were a group of us and we pulled out our pens and got to it.

Name.

Nationality.

Contact.

Address.

Reason for visit.

Occupation.

Host Address.

Shortly after, I went beck and handed my slip and stood patiently in front of the pretty young lady behind the computer.

I gave her my passport as well for the entry stamp because, as a Kenyan I do not need a visa to visit the landlocked country in the south.

As she scanned though the leaf of paper, I kept wondering to my self what lies beyond the white airport walls, if I would see artifacts that told me welcome to the land of the Shona and the Ndebele, if I would be allowed to get into Harare town before our morning connecting flight to Victoria Falls…

“You are a JOURNALIST?”

The stress and emphasis was intentional.

I looked up, thoughts and sleep weaving in my head…

“Yes, yes I am…a journalist from Kenya.”

“Where is your accreditation? What are you coming to do?”

“I am here for a conference in Victoria Falls.”

“Vic Falls?”

“Yes, Vic Falls,” truncating like she did.

“But you need accreditation, you need to get clearance.”

She stood up from the swivel chair, and called the lady in the blue uniform.

In a singsong to what I would later know was Shona language they exchanged the slip of paper and the passport, shook their heads and looked at me.

“I am sorry but we do not have your name here or of those other Kenyan journalists,” the younger lady pointed at my three other colleagues behind me.

“Oh, okay…is there someone to help us? We are here for the Climate change conference.”

I even pulled put my phone to show them ‘proof’.

“You will need to speak to immigration office but they don’t open until Monday.”

It was Sunday, 3am.

Then an elderly man come into the conversation. He had on a white shirt and a stripped tie.

Speaking to the airport attendants but looking at us…

“You need to clear them so that the plane that brought them can leave…”

Wait, wait, I thought…you mean they can turn us back right here at their doorstep?

Then they broke into more Shona, heavy with concern (perhaps of what would happen to us, or that we were holding back a plane) a few nods here and then the woman in the blue uniform said:

“You will only stay here until 27th. After which you will present yourselves to the Immigration office at Vic Falls. It is close to the hotel you will be staying in. Okay?”

My affirmation synced with the tiny rectangular purple stamp on my passport. Another white slip inside the passport and we were done.

We were here for seven days. We had three.

Hello borrowed time. Hello Zimbabwe.

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