Zahidullah’s Story: Athens
Unwashed for the past eight days, eighteen year old Zahidullah looks skinny and dishevelled. A map of Europe is taped to the wall but Zahid has only ever seen a rough sketch of the borders he has crossed. Arriving in Athens yesterday, the boy who lost both his legs when he was kidnapped by people smugglers in Turkey at fifteen is worn down. In torn clothes and without his prosthetics or any belongings, he has at least found a flea-ridden blanket at an illegal Afghan apartment to sleep under. Spending the last three years dreaming about the future that was denied to him as a disabled refugee in Peshawar, Zahid has finally made it to Europe by once again almost paying with his life.
“It took us four hours to drive from Istanbul to the Greek border with the Afghan smuggler. Our group was split in half; two of my friends were with me, and five family members in another car. For the first three hours the going was good but then it got very rough. We were dropped in a jungle where the road ends and from there it was just fifteen minutes walk to the river. When we arrived at the riverbank we heard a big military alarm and because of that we sat there for three hours. The water looked about waist high but on the Greek side it got deeper and deeper and was very fast. The smuggler had told us that the water would only come up to our knees and we were all very worried and crying. The boat was so small and dangerous that we realised it would be too heavy to carry us all. When we tried to cross for a second time the police came on the other side shouting at us to go back and then the family got too scared to go again. The agent at the river was Turkish so we couldn’t understand each other but he basically began shouting at us saying that we can either go to Greece or go back to Istanbul. We said Greece.
We hid in the trees and it was nearly dark when we went back to the dingy again. As we pushed off the Turkish man ran away and we floated for about fifteen minutes. Then the boat got caught on a tree in the river. I held on to the tree trying to steady the boat so that it did not capsize but the family were trying to climb onto the tree. Suddenly they started to climb out to get onto the branches and all the weight went to one side so that the boat was out of control. I couldn’t keep my grip and I was swept away along with the woman and her four year old boy. The boat was drifting ahead of us and we both began to try to reach hold of it again. Everyone else was hanging onto the tree including the father who had the small baby tied to his back. The baby was crying for its mother and the woman was crying for her baby but she couldn’t swim. At that moment I was just thinking about saving myself when I realised that her cries had stopped. When I looked over my shoulder she had gone. The man was just screaming at me Help my wife! Help my wife! My plastic leg was floating next to me in the water but after seeing the woman drown, my mind wasn’t thinking to save it. In the end I managed to get back hold of the boat. I floated back to Turkey and my friends Saraj and Wahab pulled me from the water. It was dark and we were very cold and soaking wet. The man could not stop sobbing. He was just rocking the baby and screaming and screaming for hours. He kept asking where is my wife, she is my friend, she is my everything, she is my life. He said that because of the smugglers he would kill himself. The woman who died was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. It was the hardest night and I was even thinking to go back to Pakistan.
Wahab’s mobile was the only one that was still working so we called back to the smuggler. We sat freezing in the jungle. It was at some time after midnight he arrived and took us to an abandoned farmhouse to sleep. The next morning we proceeded to a different spot on the river with the same boat but this time we managed to cross. All this time Saraj had to carry me on his back and after we passed to Greece it was four hours walking before we came to a small village. The police took us in a van with some other boys to a very dirty camp. They took our fingerprints and our photographs and then dropped us at a bus station. We bought the tickets and I slept all the way to Athens”.
Zahidullah is not sure what he will do now or if he will even find the energy to ever move onwards to Belgium. Able only to crawl across the un-swept carpet on his knees, he is reliant on the friends he came with but they are already out talking to agents making travel plans. Visibly traumatised, Zahid sits against the wall staring vacantly, “My mind is still in that river”.
©Alixandra Fazzina | NOOR
Athens, November 2011
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- December 5, 2011 / 11:12 pm