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“Please kill me, doctor!” shouted one of my patients on the refugee rescue ship.
It was a rainy and stormy day on the Mediterranean Sea. I found myself on a rescue ship that was filled beyond its capacity. The scene on board was appalling. I could not take it anymore. I ran to a corner, covered my face with my hands and cried.
Two months before this incident, I got a letter from a European Union supported organisation enquiring if I would like to volunteer to help in a search and rescue mission between Libya, France and Italy. I did not know what to do or say, so I discussed it with Doctor Sam Stanwood.
“I am really proud of what you are doing for yourself since you arrived in London. You have proven that hard work, focus, determination and discipline yield great results” he said to me as we were eating in the hospital’s canteen.
“Thank you, sir. I am just trying to take your footsteps. You are my boss and role model” as I tried to slice my beef medallions into smaller pieces.
He laughed. “You are too kind” he said as he drank from his glass of water. “I have only made breakthroughs in the medical world, but you seem to also be making major waves in the fashion world. You are just a one-man wonder” he continued as he put on his reading glasses and picked up the letter, I had shown him.
“So, what do you say about it? It is from a well-known organisation and it is for a good course. What do you think I should do?” I asked as I looked at him straight in the eyes.
“I think they sent this letter to you because you have recently been getting the attention of the media. You have been on different talk shows in the United Kingdom because people are amazed at what you have achieved in both the medical and fashion world” he said as he placed his reading glasses back on the table.
“So, it is a means of publicity for the organisation?” I asked looking at him sceptically.
“Not necessarily! Organisations like this try to get the attention of the public to important issues by involving people or celebrities that are making waves at that particular time” he answered as we stood up and carried our trays to the disposal unit.
“They want to use me?” I asked myself but spoke loudly.
“I think it is a privilege to answer their noble call. You would be saving the lives of a lot of people. I will surely grant you the permission to go for such a mission if you want to” said Doctor Stanwood as we walked out of the canteen.
“Thank you so much, Doc! I will certainly pray about it” I said as we got to the reception.
Fast forward two months, I was sitting in an all-expenses-paid first-class round-trip flight to France. In Marseille, France, I met with the assigned mission-doctor, his nurses, the captain of the ship and his crew. We all had breakfast together and went through the final plans for the journey.
My heart was beating fast as I got on the ship and looked back at the beautiful harbour.
“I hope I do not regret agreeing to embark on this mission” I said to myself as I went into the room given to me to prepare my toolkit and to rest a little bit.
I opened my eyes and started to shout. “I cannot swim! HELP!! I cannot swim!”
I kept on shouting as I tried to move towards a floating object. I tried to keep my head above the water by resting the upper part of my body on the floating board. I did not even have the energy to lift myself out of the water.
I looked around but found no one. I was surrounded by darkness and silence. I started crying. “Jesus, I am lost. Please find me”.
“Please, find me”, I kept on whispering as my eyes were shutting and my body was getting stiffer because of the cold.
Just at the moment, my eyelids were about to give up, a ray of light brought hope into my heart. My eyes opened up wide as the light got brighter.
“Are you okay?!”
“It’s time for dinner! I heard your voice from my room”, said the mission-doctor as he walked into my room.
“Oh, I have been dreaming”, I said as I bounced off the sweat-soaked bed and walked towards the door. “I need some fresh air”, I continued as I wiped off the sweat off my face. I was trying to hide my fear of the sea and being on a ship.
“First time on a ship?” the doctor asked as he smiled at me.
“Yes, I guess I am not hiding my fears so well”, I answered as we walked to the dining hall.
“I find it so impressive that you leave behind your comfortable and beautiful lifestyle to help the lost at sea and also create awareness”, said the doctor in his rich Italian accent.
“I am glad to be here”, I said as we sat with the rest of the crew for dinner.
There was slow soft music playing in the background and people getting to know one another. It was a beautiful evening. I went out to the deck to enjoy the evening breeze and get myself acquainted with the ship.
I looked around. There was no one at eyesight, so I went to the edge of the deck and stretched out my arms like Janet from Titanic. I shut my eyes and allowed myself to enjoy the breeze that was caressing me.
“PLEASE HELP US!!”
I heard the call for help from a distant. So, I ran back inside to inform the others.
Everyone took action immediately. The sailor’s crew went into their cabin and switched on the search-lamps, some of the crew members were in charge of the speedboats used for rescue.
“Doctor Henry, we have to move now!” shouted someone has he directed me to one of the speedboats. The boats got lowered from the ship to the sea and we sped towards the direction of the call.
Twenty men, ten children and six women were found on a tiny boat in the middle of nowhere on the Mediterranean Sea. One of the men was shouting for help, two others were paddling, some of the men were pouring water out of the boat while the women and two men were hugging the barely dressed children to provide a little warmth for them. Most of them had bruises and injuries on them.
As I was hugging my first aid box, I was moved with compassion as I watched the crew help the refugees off their boat unto ours. I shook off the sadness and got straight into action. I started to check the refugees for injuries and wounds. I admitted the necessary first aid as our boat headed back to the ship. As I got to the last lady, I noticed that she had a baby on her back. I persuaded her to give me the baby so that I could check his temperature and know his condition.
She untied her wrapper and used it to wrap the baby as she carefully handed him to me.
I took a look at the little baby boy. Then I looked at the mother. The baby was stiff and cold.
The baby was dead.
“I know he is dead”, the mother told me as I stared speechlessly at her. “But he is all that I have! And I have not had the chance to bury him properly”, she started to cry as she asked for the body.
“I am sorry, ma’am. You cannot have it back. A dead body is dangerous for the health of others”, said a member of the rescue team. He took the body from me. “We will have to burn it when we get on the ship”.
I was moved by the pain in the woman’s eyes as the body of her baby was being burnt on the ship.
We provided the refugees with warm clothing, food and a place to sleep.
“I am glad we were able to save those people”, I said to the other doctor as we attended to our patients. “So what happens next? We return back to France tomorrow?” I asked.
He laughed. “Not so fast, Doc! We have not even gotten to our usual spot for rescue”, he said as he attended to a man with a broken limb. “We were not expecting these people”.
“Oh! This is really serious”, I said to myself as I cleaned up and disinfected the open sores on the children.
The sound of blaring alarm of the ship woke me up the next morning.
“Doctor Henry, we have an emergency!” shouted a nurse as she knocked on my bedroom’s door.
I jumped off the bed immediately, wore my shirt and coat, grabbed my bag and walked out of the room.
The view from the ship’s deck was horrifying. There were boats everywhere on the sea.
“Are we being attacked?!” I asked the person standing next to me.
“No, it’s not an attack. Those are boats of people who are fleeing from different parts of Africa because of war, poverty, torture, abuse, etc.”
At that time, we did not have to use the speedboats. We lowered ladders into the water so that the people could climb up. The people that could not use the ladders were helped with a pulley system.
There were people of different shapes, sizes, skin complexions and ethnicities. People running from chaos, wars, poor and corrupt state of living. People risking their lives for the sake of greener pastures, for the sake of a better life and in search of basic human rights.
“This is more than we bargained for!” shouted a nurse as the ship was filled beyond its capacity. Her formerly sparklingly white uniform was already red, soaked with human blood. All the beds were filled, injured people were everywhere on the deck, some people were also in the speedboat.
There was blood everywhere, people were crying of pain, the medical staffs were running up and down doing their best to attend to everyone.
There were more boats approaching the rescue ship. “We have to turn back and return to France”, said the captain of the ship. “There is no more space on the ship for the refugees. Everywhere is filled up – you cannot even walk through the dining hall without stepping on someone”, he added as he went back to his office.
I watched as some boats struggled to catch up so that the people could get on the ship, but they were not successful. I saw how some people fell into the sea while trying to climb up the ship.
My legs and hands were shaking as I tried to put myself together and attend to the patients.
I heard a man crying in Yoruba, my mother’s tongue. I went over to stitch his injuries as I tried to find out why he was on the ship.
“I was fed up with my state of living in Nigeria. Nothing was working for me, so I decided to chase greener pastures anywhere abroad. I tried different kinds of embassies, but they all denied me visa. Well, I decided to sell everything that I had, then I followed some people to Libya”, he narrated as he squeezed his eyes shut because of pain from the stitches.
I gave him some water to drink.
“We had to walk through the desert in the scorching sun. We got raided in the forest. We were left with nothing”, he continued. “When we got to Libya, we had to work like slaves, we were maltreated. Placed in a small camp to die of hunger, so we fled! A lot of people were shot dead, a lot of people drowned, but I thank God that I could make it to this rescue ship”, he said as he drank from the glass of water. “You should be happy that you were not born in Africa. A lot of destinies are wasting in that continent”.
I did not tell him that I was also from Nigeria. I understood what he was talking about, but I said, “Don’t say that! There are a lot of people who are really making it big in Africa – especially in Nigeria. With the grace and favour of God, anything is possible”.
I was moved to tears. Once again in my life, I got a chance to really appreciate the opportunities I had been blessed with.
“Oh God! Oh Africa! Who is going to save us from ourselves?!” I cried with my face in my palms.
“What are the solutions to our problems?”
“When are we going to be able to stand on our feet without the need of support from the western world?”
“When are we going to become the envy of the whole world?”
“When will foreigners start to dream of getting the visa, even just to visit and admire the majesty of our nation?”
“When will there be light?!”
“When will there be security?!”
“When will there be jobs for our youths?”
“When will war and corruption be things of the past?!”
“Our nations are lost at sea – who is going to rescue us and restore our lost glory?”
I wiped off my tears because I believe that there is hope. I have a strong faith in my mother’s land. Even five years after that experience, I still believe and pray for liberation and progress for the soil I came from.
- HENRY AND THE BLACK DIAMOND: https://valtoybob.com/henry-and-the-black-diamond/
- HENRY AND THE 1001 TATTOOS: https://valtoybob.com/henry-and-the-1001-tattoos/
- HENRY AND THE FALLING LINES: https://valtoybob.com/henry-and-the-falling-lines/
- HENRY, WHAT A MESS!: https://valtoybob.com/henry-what-a-mess/
- HENRY AND THE LAND FLOWING…: https://valtoybob.com/henry-in-the-land-flowing-with-milk-honey-sugar-and-garri/
- HENRY AND THE SEGMENTED LIFE: https://valtoybob.com/henry-and-the-segmented-life/
- RONKE: https://publish.okadabooks.com/book/about/ronke/17961
- LIGHT UP MY WORLD: https://publish.okadabooks.com/book/about/light_up_my_world/18086
- NEVER ALONE: https://publish.okadabooks.com/book/about/never_alone/18048
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