“I have always been fascinated by foreign languages and the Arab culture. In 1996, I left Senegal for Egypt to study. I then relocated to Jordan where I stayed for another four years to learn Arabic while I worked for a local paper. One time I went back to Senegal for holidays, I met my wife and she got pregnant. We have three kids together. I haven’t met the youngest yet. She got pregnant a couple of years ago when I last saw her.
In 2007, a friend suggested I go with him to Libya because he knew about some work opportunities. I rapidly felt integrated since I knew the language and understood their culture. I started teaching private classes and always got along well with my students. Back then it was different – they valued education, there were banks and people got paid.
It was hard for me to see my students in such frightening situations: 12-year-old driving their mothers to the market, accompanying them gun in hand. They go to the fields to train how to shoot. I can only pray for their future.
After ten years in Libya, I can say I have seen both sides of the coin. I have met men of their word, but also men ready to kill me at every step. I rapidly found this out after my first time in prison back in 2013. I had met a young pharmacist that I quite liked. Her brother despised me so together with his friends he almost beat me to death. Then they put me in prison.
They used to torture me every day, asking me to confess our relationship. I used to scream and scream, but nobody heard me. I never called my family to ask for money – never. After starving me for five days, they eventually set me free. Nevertheless, I ended up in prison three more times.
I have lived in the Arab world since 1994 and I realized they are people just like any other people, with strengths and weaknesses. When they notice something works – good or bad – they stick to it. God created us all to live together in peace, but they are still trying to survive a war and this is what they know best.
When I was finally coming back to Niger, I spent 15 days stranded in the desert. I saw more than 800 graves during that time. When I arrived at the transit centre, I saw children recreating these grave sites with stones. I couldn’t even find it sad anymore – it was something beyond that. After what I experienced in Libya, I think there is a little bit of me that died.
When we are young, we have all of our lives ahead of us. The youth shouldn’t be thinking ‘it’s either Europe or nothing’. Education is the most important thing. There are other ways to make it in life that don’t involve crossing a desert.”