This is the story of Ibra. Three years ago he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a patera to come to Spain. In June, he passed with high marks the entrance exam to a Spanish course. In September he began to study public health and this week he is telling his story to the students of a summer course:

I left my house at night; I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to cry in front of them. But I also didn’t want to celebrate another New Year’s Eve unable to give them anything. My country Senegal offered me no opportunity to prosper.

In Africa there aren’t proper medicines. If a mosquito bites you and you catch malaria or typhoid fever, you die. In some of the countries where I have lived the pharmacies and shops will sell you fake drugs.

My trip lasted five months. I traveled with all sorts of companions. Some had already been to Europe, some had never seen electric light. The former described to the latter the color codes of the light signals.

We journeyed at night so as not to be stopped and detained by the police. The objective: to cross the border of Mauritania. The frontier is a river that runs along Senegal. We arrived there after many nights of walking and many days of sleeping hidden in the bushes.

A friend and I decided to make the journey to Spain. We waited many days until the sea was calm. It was night when we left and the water was cold; all around us was darkness. The waves flooded the boat. My nose and eyes stung with salt water. I was so afraid. I was afraid of dying, drowning, because many of us die that way.

You must overcome the force of the sea to match the expertise of the coast guards in Tenerife. The police patrol the waters, preventing the “undocumented” from entering. A risk diluted by the alternative: pretending to drown or acting as corpses, a body that one might find bloated and stranded on any beach or lost forever at sea.

I was close to losing consciousness. We saw the Spanish police. We wanted to shout, but we didn’t dare. I couldn’t put at risk the journey of my fellow travelers nor incriminate those who had been our guides. If did it, and if, for any reason, we were returned to Mauritania, they would never forget my actions. I would have many problems. But the police didn’t catch us. In reality, they saved us.

I spent three and a half years in a reception center in Tenerife. There was a case against our guides and I had to serve as a witness. I asked for asylum but they denied my request. I told my story to whomever would listen and I listend to the all the stories I could. Each time someone in the center asked me where we wanted to go, a chorus of voices sounded “pe-nin-su-la”

When time came to leave they asked me where I wanted to go. I talked about Tarragona, a western city where there should be others there from my country, and so they sent me there. They gave me a ticket and a paper that gave me permission to to enter Spain. When I got off the bus I didn’t know what to do. I stayed behind to see in which direction the others were waling. I was bewildered. Everything around me was new. I felt lost and tremendously alone.

Europe, the peninsula, the paradise, didn’t end up being as idyllic as I thought it would be. I found travel companions to help me during my first days there. I stayed at friends’ houses and everyone who received me explained that life here was very difficult.

We left our towns thinking that in Europe they gave you money whenever you needed it, 100 Euros without question, why not? We thought that everyone was rich here. We thought that the women would fall in love with us. We thought that Europe was a never-ending party to enjoy with friends. Not a single Senegalese or African left each other on their own. We helped each other however we could, though we had little to offer.

Among the reasons why I came to Santander, one of the most powerful ones was the existence of my brother. While I am here I have time to plan my life, to find stable work and to find a group of friends.

I don’t set goals for myself. Life takes you through better and worse. I have seen strong and intelligent men lose their mind because they couldn’t adapt to this new society. I have had the luck to endure. I am not a friend of the ‘big picture’. I am used to improvising and choosing the best option presented to me in a moment. In the 7 months that I have been in Santander I have achieved the most important thing: many people care for me. I am obligated to do the same for others.

Four years have passed since I left Senegal. The journey still has not finished. With each step of my journey, I feel closer to success. But, every day, I think about returning home.

– Ibrahima Faye

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