Freelance journalist Glen Johnson recently traveled on a human smuggling boat from Djibouti to Yemen, where he was arrested and imprisoned for two weeks. The following is an excerpt from his report on the voyage for Al Jazeera:
I waited for an hour while people filed onto the boats, departures of each boat were staggered by around 15 minutes. Gradually the Affar left and one of the smugglers approached and signalled to me. While dozens of crabs scuttled across the sand, I waded out waist deep and clambered into the boat’s bow. Nearly 50 people were crammed into the boat, which was essentially a fishing dhow. The passengers were squeezed one next to the other as the boat set-off.
A young man from Ethiopia – his forehead covered in a line of 10 faded, blue tattoos depicting the cross – said there was no work in Ethiopia; in Saudi Arabia he would have everything, like his friend in Riyadh, the capital.
“Ethiopia is a very big country. I have no job and no monies. I calling to my friend and he says about his big house and big car. I say I must go, go, go.”
He had little money, but was carrying a block of hasheesh, to sell in Saudi Arabia. Other passengers carried bottles of vodka, to sell to Yemeni bootleggers in order to fund the rest of their trip to Saudi. Those who could not afford to pay for a vehicle would attempt the journey on foot.
sits on the smaller square gravestone
throwing tiny pebbles of fine firestone
at me as she recites Quranic quatrains
after a pause that follows each throw.
looks at the azure horizon in the West
whispering of the agony in her hearts
one under her breast another in womb
after my plea for a midnight flight fails.
draws mud circles on the graveyard soil
calling each by a hundred names of God
each an invocation for my safe passage
after night falls and death comes for us.
leaves me standing on the grave of hope
moving towards a distant cliff in the dark
to end the two lives and a love despised
after she opts for shame rather than him.
JKS Makokha is a Kenyan writer living in Berlin, Germany. He is the author of Reading M.G. Vassanji: A Contextual Approach to Asian African Fiction (2009). His poetry has been published in the Atonal Poetry Review, African Writing, The Journal of New Poetry and the Postcolonial Text and Stylus Poetry Journal.
From our friend Agustín Velloso Santisteban in Madrid.
Oh, the pirates! What a nice word. It brings us sweet memories from our childhood. Unscrupulous, merciless, astute characters, and today armed with automatic guns. We are longing to see before the High Court in Madrid, Spain, the two Somali pirates captured by our brave Atalanta operatives in the Indian Ocean on 4 October.
We have had enough of the corrupt CEOs who sail towards offshore banks. We do not want to hear anymore about the prime ministers who attack and invade faraway countries. What we really want is to see real pirates. While those corsair and freebooter businessmen and politicians are well-known and still at large, you can confidently expect that the two detainees will spend a long time behind Spanish bars. Everyone knows that they are poor, black, Muslim and dared to attack a Spanish fishing boat.