A few weeks ago almost 900 people were drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to get to Europe. 900 families and more, bereaved in the space of one night. A few nights later, another tragedy: this time, 400 people. All crammed into grossly overcrowded fishing boats with women and children locked in the holds below deck. All had great desires: safety from bombings, or captivity and death by one of the many powerful terrorist groups, a need to make a new start for a dignified way of life with work, desires every human being in similar circumstances would have. Desires born of desperation, like those young women and men who set sail on “coffin ships” to America from the West of Ireland in the mid to late 1800’s to escape famine and misery at home. Many of those died at sea, too, of disease and hunger.
A poem translated from Arabic has recently been circulated through the internet. The author is unknown. We do not know his or her circumstances or whether it was written from direct experience or from afar having heard of the appalling events in the Mediterranean. Nonetheless it is a powerful meditation on the plight of each of those who now lie on the sea bed, partly because the European Community has lost its humanity and is refusing to adequately fund search and rescue operations. “Everyone should read it” said the email, the loss it describes is immeasurable.
I am sorry mother that the ship sunk and that I couldn’t get there and pay off the debts from the journey,
Don’t be sad mother that they didn’t find my body, for what use could it be to you now, except for the cost of transport, the funeral and burial,
I’m sorry mother that war came to us and I had to leave like the others, although my dreams were not big like theirs,
As you know, all my dreams were the size of a box of medicine for your colon, and the cost of fixing your teeth. On that note, my teeth are now green from the colour of the moss clinging to them,
Despite that, they are still more beautiful than the dictator’s teeth,
I am sorry my dear for building you a house of illusions. A wooden cottage like the ones we saw in movies. A humble cottage far away from the barrel bombs, far away from sectarianism, ethnic loyalties and the rumours of our neighbours,
I am sorry brother that I couldn’t send you the fifty Euros that I promised you at the beginning of every month so you could have a good time ahead of your graduation,
I am sorry sister that I didn’t send you the new mobile phone that has wi-fi like the one your better-off /friend has,
I am sorry my beautiful home that I will never hang my coat behind your door,
I am sorry dear divers and search and rescue workers, for I don’t know the name of the sea I drowned in,
Rest easy immigration department, for I won’t be a heavy burden on you,
Thank you dear sea for welcoming us without a visa or a passport. Thank you to the fish who will share me without asking about my religion or political beliefs,
Thank you to the news channels who will report the news of our deaths for five minutes every hour for two days,
And thank you for grieving us when you hear the news… I’m sorry I drowned.