Where are you from my friend?

Diary of tribe member Brendan Woodhouse, saving lives out in the Mediterranean:

“Where to begin…
An amazing day that will stay with me for a long time. I’ve lost count of the moments in this day. Truly humbled at times. Frightened at others. And incredibly proud of the achievements of this team today.

It started in the black. We were in the water at four in the morning, a long time before first light, and came across what was the most overcrowded rubber boat that any of us had ever seen. In complete darkness.

Normally the boats have 120-150 on board. 150 would be rare. This boat had 160 and was only just above sea level by a few centimetres. It was fortunate that the sea was smooth and there were no waves. The surface looked like silk as it reflected the night sky.

We were really frightened that if we started to do anything with them, people would fall into the sea, and in the pitch black, finding people would have been difficult (and most cannot swim). The boat was not in a good way. We got them to turn the engine off and then waited with them until there was enough light. By the time there was light, we were seeing boats everywhere.

We took some people off the massively overcrowded boat and then my RHIB (little boat) stayed on standby with the remaining people to make sure they were safe while the other RHIB went off to check various other boats. Eventually we were able to bring the boat alongside the Seawatch 2 (our ship) and brought all the remaining people onboard. The feeling of relief was tangible.

Immediately we went to a small wooden boat with about 30 people in it. There were a few families in there from Syria with some tiny babies. We were able to take them from the boat quickly and transport them to the ship. And then we went straight to further sightings.

A seemingly endless amount of boats were in our vicinity. It was incredible to see so many people fleeing… A thousand dreams and hopes floating in the water. All just ordinary people the same as me.

We worked closely with the other teams to distribute lifejackets and assist in the rescue of hundreds of people. Boat after boat! I don’t have any idea how many people we helped, but it was in the thousands.

Eventually all the boats were rescued, but it took until the early afternoon before we got back to the ship. According to the Italian coastguard, 3,400 people were rescued in 34 different operations, including 28 rubber boats and 6 wooden boats. We were part of a lot of that, in what was one of the busiest days in the Mediterranean, in terms of numbers rescued in a single day.

Back onboard the Seawatch 2, I started giving out water to the approximate 200 people onboard. All ships in our area were at their full capacity. I got talking to some of the guys as I was giving out water. I’m really humbled by their strength in these situations. I just can’t imagine putting my two beautiful little children into a small rubber boat and sailing them into the unknown. They are all so desperate to get away from the conditions in Libya, where torture, rape, slavery and persecution seem to leave their scars, both physically and mentally on all of the people I spoke to. I spoke to many people who said that Libya was the worst place on earth. So many things are happening there, it’s just incredibly sad and terrifying. Many of the people I spoke to had been made hostage and held for ransom, tortured while they waited for their families to be able to pay for their release. Many more disappear never to be seen again.

There were lots of women who had been traveling for months, alone, and who have become pregnant on their journey. I think we all know how they got that way. I don’t ask any questions, I just help and offer kindness. It’s all I’ve got.

Many of the men had torture scars on their backs. Boys were there with burns. How anyone can treat another human in this way is beyond me. But they show as little sign as possible of their suffering. They just keep going. They are my heroes…

I spent much of the rest of the day just chatting shit with them. Talking about football and music. Making children laugh playing games with them. I usually ask where they’re from and it helps spark some conversation. There were guys from Senegal, so instantly I start talking football.

Then I spoke to one man from Syria. I said to him,
“where are you from my friend?”
His reply, “Aleppo.”
Except he didn’t say it really, he kind of whispered it softly, gently, like the word was sacred. I wasn’t sure if I had heard him correctly, so I repeated “Aleppo?” His eyes filled with tears and he just nodded and whispered it again…”Aleppo…”
I just replied, ‘welcome to our ship.’ I didn’t know what else to say.

His daughter, perhaps sensing the sadness in her father started to cry, so I took her hand and pressed it on my nose. I made a big “beeeeeeep” noise and she giggled. Other children amused by this came to join in. Her father relaxed, distracted by my silliness. That was my next fifteen minutes. Having my nose pressed by the children of Aleppo. A beautiful, but poignant moment.

I’m finishing this post here. I’ve written enough for now. I know that the post was long but believe me, the day was longer. It showed me exactly that the civilian rescue teams are stretched to their limits here. They can only continue and develop with your support.”

Photo by Fabian Melber
The first boat being unloaded at first light