Stories from Afar & Up Close

The Mediterranean is burning

I saw a movie – a documentary, actually.
It was called Fire at Sea.

(Which is just the name of a song.)

A little boy on the island of Lampedusa was feeling anxious.
He had a lazy eye and he threw up when the sea underneath his father’s fishing boat got too rough.
Less than 10 years old, but he didn’t have the manly qualities he felt he should have.
Though his slingshot never missed, he needed to stand on the pontoon during rough weather to train his legs.
And learn how to row.
“Everyone on Lampedusa knows how to fish.”

Meanwhile, we heard the dj playing melancholic love songs from mothers and wives for sons and husbands at sea.
Or stuck on land, when the storm whipped up the waves so high that no one would go into the water.
They were in the kitchen preparing the food.

In between were the calls for help from the ships arriving from Libya.
As if they were normal features of daily life.
They are. They have become a regular part of life.
Eighty, one hundred and fifty, two hundred and forty people on a ship.
Divided in layers according to price, with no air at the bottom and only some on in the middle.
The ship just floats, no petrol no steering wheel no direction no possibility.
Out at sea.

I saw the coast guard get to a ship in time.
Wobbly legs going from the wooden vessel into the rubber speedboat onto the big ship.
Emergency blankets.
Picture taking.
“There’s one with chicken pox, he’s coming on board last!”
A friendly pat on the back, almost unnoticed.

I can tell the Eritreans from the West Africans from the Syrians and I wonder why I am looking at them this way.

I saw the coast guard get to a ship too late.
Dehydrated bodies are pulled out first, handed over by arms and legs still strong enough.
They fall into the rubber boat as if life has left them already.
Only breath is left of them.
Maybe a heartbeat.
I can’t tell.
The others climb out by themselves until the boat is empty.
It’s just a metal hull now, surrounded by waves, until the camera moves inside.


We don’t see whole people, only parts.
No faces.
Stacked together in death like they were in the dream that got them in this ship.
They died like this.

Maybe we should see their faces to know who we did this to.

Maybe it is a last act of dignity to not expose them in their last suffering.

Once on the ship the men sit still and the women cry openly.

Once on the island, the men play football and the women watch.
The machine continues -

The little boy with the slingshot has a patch on his eye and trouble breathing.
The doctor listens to his lungs and heart and says he will be fine.
I’m not sure the little boy believes him.

There is a Fire at Sea.
The Mediterranean is burning.