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Monday, 7 May 2018

We were halfway across when the sea began to get rough. The thing called snow had started to fall, the waves had become higher and higher and we were tossed about. There were terrified screams as the waves crashed on to the deck. The children, shivering from the cold, cried in their mothers’ arms, and the men shouted. Others took to praying, both Muslims and Christians, for a miracle. For the seas to calm down and let us through.

But the sea had other ideas.

Neptune’s horses were growing restless and as they pranced around, the surf and the falling snow exploded against the hull of the boat and on the deck.

We could see smoke rising from the engine as it struggled to cope with the captain’s incessant demands for more torque. He didn’t get it. After a while of putting up a good fight the engine spluttered, coughed a few times and died.

The Turkish captain was all over the place, swearing in his native dialect. He didn’t like hold-ups like this. It was bad for business. He had a cargo of contraband waiting for him in Italy, to transport back, and time was money. You could only smuggle at night.

Together with his henchmen he went to inspect the engine.

As the boat was thrown around in the waves, they decided that no amount of swearing or tinkering would coax it back to life. They had done their best.

As we watched, terrified and cold, all three of them got into a smaller boat and cast off. This one had an outboard engine and as they made off, the captain promised to return with help. It would be the last time we would ever see him. They had already taken our money. They could afford to cut their losses.

Left to fend for ourselves we didn’t know what to do. We were farmers, goat herders, students, labourers, housewives and old people. None of us were from seafaring nations. The biggest boat any of us had ever handled was a canoe on a gentle lake.

Some of the men took control. Whatever happened, we had to stay afloat. The trap door to the hold was opened and some of the men inside were tasked with bailing out water, with whatever they could find. It was no use. Each new wave crashing upon us brought more water and the leaking from the boat’s rickety structure didn’t help.

We were sinking and adrift, snow was falling and we were cold. The crying and screaming increased and so did the loud frantic praying. Mostly it was the women and children, but the men joined in too…

             Even though we walk through the valley of the….

Many of us had watched the film Titanic, many years ago, in the cinema. We had wiped away the odd errant tear streaming down our faces when the big ship broke into two and sank, killing all those people. We never knew, one day, it could happen to us.

The fear of dying, of drowning, kept us all men going. A command structure had emerged and orders were being given. Amidst the wailing, crying and screaming some men were bailing out water from the vessel. They would scoop it up, here and there, and deposit overboard. The younger ones, with good eyesight, were posted around the perimeter of the boats as lookouts. They were to look out for any passing vessel and get its attention. Those with mechanical knowledge were tinkering furiously with the broken engine. Its parts and working were foreign to them, but they refused to give up.

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