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(Tales from the Mediterranean Sea)
December 20th. Jamil has just turned six. After reaching the beach and seeing the sea for the first time, Jamil is amazed by its beauty: the colors, the scent, the sound of the waves. And then he gets on that big boat. Big, yes, but always smaller, as it gets more and more crowded. Men, women, children. There are many children, and Jamil is happy: he will play with them during the trip. Amal, yumma, his mother, already explained to him that the journey is going to be long, and that he must behave well, just as she taught him.
Sea, sea, and still sea. Jamil did not imagine that the sea could be so immense. But he knows that they are going to reach a land where men will tell him: “ahlan,” welcome. A country where no one will destroy their home. Where he will always have something to eat, and no one will let yumma Amal cry anymore. Uncle Yussef already went to that land, and he told him so many things. He told him, in a very long letter, that the birth of the prophet ‘Issa is celebrated there as well, right in December. There is a big party: lights, decorated trees and lots of good things to eat. And then, there is an old man with a long white beard that brings toys to all children: dolls, trains, stuffed animals… But only if one is good, of course! Jamil is sure that he will receive his own share of toys. He is always very good! But he needs to arrive on time.
As the sun sets, Jamil is a little scared. It is dark all around the boat! Well, on the boat there is some light, but around there is only the black sea. Someone is sleeping, and Jamil hugs yumma Amal. “Mom, I am hungry.” Yumma Amal opens the bag, and hands him a piece of bread. “Mom, I’m thirsty.” “There is no more water,” Amal answers. Jamil runs his tongue over his lips: they are salty. “Salam ‘alaykum”, the man next to them says, offering some of his water. “Allahu akbar,” says yumma Amal thanking him. “When will we get there, mom?” Jamil asks. “It will not take long, hinsha ‘Allah!” says Amal. “But I’m tired, mom!”. “Sleep, habibi!” Amal says with firm voice. “Sleep, my darling!”
Amal holds Jamil close to her, to protect him from the cold that is coming with the night. And Jamil closes his eyes, falls asleep, and dreams… He dreams of the old man with a long white beard, and of many toys, all for him: the ball he has always longed for, a train that runs if you only push a button. And then bread, sweets, and candies. Suddenly Jamil feels cold. And he feels that he is all wet! Maybe he peed once again, as he often does while sleeping. Or maybe not, maybe it is just snow. Uncle Yussef told him once about the snow. He said that the snow is almost like the water ice that Fatima, his grandmother, prepares when the weather is too hot. But, he added, it is softer, and it falls from the sky… Jamil hears his mother’s voice calling out to him: “Jamil…Jamil!”. “Ugh, mom! I don’t want to wake up, I want to keep dreaming! This dream is too beautiful!”
Jamil will not hear the voice of yumma Amal anymore, as the Mediterranean Sea keeps cradling him within its belly.
(This tale is inspired by the true stories of many children who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea, every day. This story was written by the Italian kindergarten teacher Adriana R. in 2015, and performed by her pupils during a project on migration in their school in Italy. I painted “Jamil’s Dream”on canvas only in 2019, inspired by this tale and by the sad news about the shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea.)
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Read more posts:
“Hope”. Every ocean has a distant shore.
“Exile”, the beginning of a journey