Imagine you’ve never seen the sea

The MOAS office is made up of a small, dynamic group of dedicated humanitarians. Below, one of our team shares a personal insight into his memories and reflections on the experience of those we save.

Many among the people we rescue in the Central Mediterranean admit that they had never seen the sea before taking this deadly journey.

“Imagine you’ve never seen the sea” is what a friend of mine from Togo, Nestor, once said to me when I asked him how he felt to see snow fall for the first time in his life.

He was 26 at that time, he had come to Europe to study at university, and when the first snow came that winter, he spent the whole day outside, in the cold, playing with it and watching it fall.

I remember how happy he looked: he was thrilled. This beautiful natural phenomenon, which he knew existed but had never directly experienced before, was finally unfolding in front of him. I mocked his reaction, and that’s when he replied: “imagine you had never seen the sea, what would your reaction be when, for the first time in your life, you got to a beach and looked at the horizon?”

© Mathieu Willcocks/ 2016, all rights reserved.


I had grown up around the sea and so it was an integrated part of my frame of reference, so I tried to think about something equally impressive, big and fascinating. I thought of the desert, and tried to imagine my reaction if I ever found myself standing before that huge expanse of sand for the first time. I felt the sudden urge to actually go to see the desert and to venture into it, just to see what my reaction would be.

Now some years have gone by, and I haven’t made it to see the desert yet, even though I’m still curious as to what my reaction would be to see it for the first time. This story comes to my mind every time someone among those we rescue, finally safe and sound on board one of the MOAS ships, lets go of all the fear, and tells us, almost in tears: “this is actually the first time I’ve seen the sea in my life”.


© Mathieu Willcocks/ 2016, all rights reserved.

Suddenly then, anxiety gives way to a smile, and to a spontaneous admiration for such a beautiful, yet at times terrible, natural phenomenon.

These men, women and children, that desperately try to cross the sea on overcrowded dinghies every day, are ready to bear any burden to get what they want. They flee conflict, pain and poverty from their countries, hoping for a better future; and to get it, they need to cross that immense stretch of water they’ve surely heard about, but may have never seen before.

I can only imagine how it would be, to see this huge mass of water for the first time, knowing that you are about to cross it in desperate conditions. I try to put myself in their shoes, to imagine seeing the desert for the first time, knowing I have to cross it. The more I try to picture myself in this situation, the more I realise the fear that must precede the journey, and the reckless determination that it must take to make them go through with it.

I can only imagine.

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