Thwarted dreams and hidden talents

Ousmane is 18 years old. He left his home in Guinea to try his luck with the desert crossing to Libya with dreams of getting to Italy by boat. Along the way, he faced hunger, beatings, and bandits.

I lost my parents when I was 10 years old. When I lost my parents, my close family let me down, that’s why I decided to leave.

After a while my cousin came to me and said he had paid a smuggler for two tickets from Conakry to Bamako. I had always wanted to leave one day to go to university in Europe, and here was my chance. We both believed that leaving would give us a better future. So I left Conakry with some money, which I had saved by working part-time as a hairdresser.

When we got to Mali, we paid a smuggler for the journey from Bamako to Burkina Faso, then to Niamey. The borders were tricky, policemen demanded money and beat you if you didn’t pay them. In Burkina Faso, I was whipped on the arm, even though I told them that I didn’t have money.

We had no contact in Niger, so we stayed for five nights sleeping at the bus station where you could rent mats. I made a little pocket money as I had brought my things with me to work as a hairdresser.

I’m used to hunger. I know what it is like to be hungry, so not eating was not a problem for me.

We met a Senegalese smuggler named Samba who brought us to a place with other migrants; there we waited for a week. We paid him and he made arrangements for the trip to Libya.

We did the trip across the desert in a pick-up truck which had 49 people in it. We bought glasses, masks for dust, a big bottle of water, and Samba gave us each a wooden stick. The stick is supposed to support you so you don’t fall off the speeding pickup. I was lucky because as a kid, I was much thinner, so they took pity on me and let me sit at the bottom of the truck where it was safer.

We spent at least a week trying to get to Libya. At night, we slept in the open air of the desert. Some were sick, others were terrified, but I already knew suffering and I was used to it. I wasn’t really afraid.

In Libya, men dressed in camouflage appeared out of nowhere with guns pointed at us. They shouted in Arabic “Emshi, emshi, emshi!” (“Leave” in Arabic). This is the only time I was terrified and found myself shaking. We all got off the truck and I managed to hide underneath the vehicle.

They wanted money they pushed everyone inside a nearby tent. I stayed under the pickup and was separated from my cousin. Our driver spoke Arabic and he did not look worried. Looking back, I realize that it was a setup and that he was working with the kidnappers.

A long shot of an emoty road
UNICEF/RoseThe open road through the Sahel took Ousmane hundreds of kilometers from home and closer and closer to the dangers of Libya.

After everyone left, I got out from under the pickup and walked to a small village not far from the border. I knocked on the door of a house and a woman opened. With gestures I told her I was attacked and she let me stay at her house for nearly a month. She was a Libyan widow with two children and spoke some English so we could communicate a little.

One day, I told her that I wanted to return to Niger because I was so discouraged. In Agadez, I could figure out how to make some money and be able to make my next move. So, I returned to Niger with little money and I was told about the International Office for Migration (IOM).

In the centre, we had activities, games and photography classes. They invited an artist to do workshops with us, he asked, “Who has a hidden talent?” My talent was singing and after I performed acapella I was suddenly the lead singer of the band. He asked me to make a ‘sound’ on migration and what happened to me, so I wrote a song and we went to the studio.

During that time, I thought a lot about my parents, which made me cry and feel down. I wept when I thought about everything I had lived through. It was a failure for me, I lost my money and I didn’t even arrive in Italy.

If the desert was the only way to get to Italy or Europe, I didn’t want to go anymore. I’m young and graduating this year so it’s not worth sacrificing my life. My friends still mock me for not getting to Italy and leaving one month before my final exams. Before I left school I was the best at French and I really liked history.

Now I’m back in Guinea with help from IOM. They helped me go back to school so I can finally take my final exams. I want to be a musician and an international songwriter, but I want to do sociology in University first and then I can fully devote myself to music.

Based on notes from interview by Fatou Tandiang (UNICEF-Guinea) and Lucas Chandellier (IOM- Guinea)

UNICEF Niger coordinated the rap session and the music video. 

 

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