In order to give people outside Chios the possibility to understand how it is to be in a refugee camp on the island, A Drop in the Ocean will present an alternative Christmas calendar this year. Each day until Christmas, we will post the story of 24 amazing people, that we are so blessed to spend our everyday with.
The stories are written by our wonderful volunteer Diana Valdecantos and photos will be done by our amazing coordinator and photographer Nickie Mariager-Lam.
December 3rd: Carlos
Written by Diana Valdecantos, edited by Thomas David Cocker and photos by Nickie Mariager-Lam.
How many times can you dodge death in a lifetime? Really look at the end with your eyes open? Carlos, a thirty years old Nigerian, has more lives than you can count. As the eldest of six brothers and sisters he was forced to abandon secondary school to help his parents and siblings survive. Money was needed, but his city offered him no possibilities, so he travelled abroad to find a future. He was just 18 years old.
A family accepted him into their home and he was offered food and a bed in exchange for thirteen daily hours of hard work and a promise: In five years time his boss would help him start his own business, his own future. So Carlos didn’t hesitate and spent long hours carrying heavy engines, motorcycle parts and gallons upon gallons of oil on his head.
Time went by in a comfortable way for him but surprisingly, when the five years had passed, his boss made an array of excuses and didn’t hold true to his promise. Carlos was devastated and had to return home with no money and no business of his own.
He hadn’t seen his family in all this time, but the moment he got back he started working in the building sector to pay for his little sister’s university fees. She ended up with a life-saving degree thanks to her brother’s help. Things were still calm at this point. Carlos enjoyed the company of his family in the afternoons – he loved watching movies and football matches. “I was free. I could walk wherever I wanted, sit down here, there. I was relaxed”. There is one thing you should know. Carlos is not this man’s real name, just the one he wants to use to tell his story. Carlos is fearful of being found by several enemies who want him dead.
As the eldest son he is not only responsible of helping his parents, but also the only heir to his family’s lands back in Nigeria. His own uncles, his own blood wants him to disappear in order to take those lands for themselves.
One day when he was walking around his city a group of masked men kidnapped him, took him to a house and threatened to cut his hands off. Luckily they didn’t, but they did hurt him badly. Carlos pulls his sleeves up to show the terrible scars he will always carry as a reminder. “I don’t even know what they did to me, I think they poured something in the wounds to make it worse” he remembers. He escaped this first life threatening experience, but he was really worried. He didn’t recognise his attackers but suspected that his uncles sent them.
To make everything more complicated Boko Haram’s men were starting to move South and murders started to become routine. “They killed without a reason. Maybe you were walking down the street and they simply shot at you. They went into family homes and beheaded every single member. Sometimes they used knives, other times, guns. You woke up in the morning and there were corpses lying in the street”, he explains. Staying alive got more and more complicated for Carlos and his neighbours lived in fear of being the next indiscriminate murder, the next corpse.
“Boko Haram pays their soldiers huge amounts of money. Recruiting is easy because people don’t have neither jobs nor future. They drive big cars, have good clothes and the government doesn’t really help or try to solve the problem. We have good people in Nigeria, but the government doesn’t protect us”, he says.
Following the rising turmoil in the country Carlos’ father sat down with him and advised him to run away. “Find a friend and stay with him. You’re not save here”, he insisted. The reality was that Carlos barely knew a soul that could help him. In the end however he did meet some good fortune and a friend in Lagos paid for a ticket to Istanbul and lent him 1.000 dollars. He was going to try and make a new life for himself in Europe.
When Carlos speaks about Turkey he gets a bit anxious. The moment he arrived he was robbed by fake police officers. They took all his money. “I was feeling terrible. All my future depended on those dollars. What was I going to do? What could happen to me? So I decided to go to the police and I couldn’t stop crying. I was told to relax, I was offered cigarettes, coffee, water and they tried to calm me down but it was difficult, I was in a very difficult position”, he explains.
For some magical reason, the police officers were touched by his story and they gave him 200 dollars that he could try to and survive on. He used these funds to travel to Izmir and talked with a smuggler about his personal situation and begged for a low price fare ticket to Greece. They ultimately accepted a price of 150 dollars. What seemed like a promising deal however soon turned into another life threatening experience.
The boat he was supposed to take was not boat at all. It was just a plastic dinghy with a loose engine and one paddle. With around fifty other people Carlos started the most dangerous trip of his life, which for a man raised in Nigeria is no small thing.
“First of all, some people were smoking although there were kids and women with breathing problems in the centre of the boat. This led to some of the other passengers complaining and fighting. The weather was rough and the huge waves almost overturned the dinghy several times. Then, the engine fell off and disappeared in the water along with the only paddle they possessed. One woman started shouting, then another and it was not long before a huge fight started between two other passengers. The kids started crying and everyone began to pray. I begged God to let me live, I really thought I was going to die. I don’t know how to swim and I knew if we sank I wouldn’t survive.”
Using only their hands to row and through ungovernable waves they managed to get back to the Turkish coast. If they had tried to continue, they probably wouldn’t have made it. Once he stepped onto land again he felt saved.
The smugglers on shore tried to calm them down and brought them all onto a bus until they could find another opportunity to travel. While they were driving through Turkey the police stopped the vehicle and arrested all of them. Carlos spent two weeks in a Turkish prison with no passport (he lost it) and barely any money. He was fed a small spoonful of rice and a ridiculous piece of bread with hot water everyday. He started feeling weak and he couldn’t help itching for some unexplained reason.
When he was eventually freed the smugglers found him a hotel were he stayed for a couple of days. Life in Turkey wasn’t easy. Carlos believes racism is a big problem down there and shopping for a few tomatoes, for example, became a risky task. “I asked for one kilo and the shop tender gave me only the rotten ones. When I complained, he took out a knife and tried to stab me while ordering me to leave”. Finally, this Nigerian got a new opportunity to travel. He was really scared and frightened. The first boat trip had been such a disaster and dangerous he wasn’t sure if he should try again, but he did.
This time, the dinghy was rescued by Greek authorities and after climbing into the rescue boat with a rope, he finally reached Europe. This was less than ten days ago and, since then, Carlos has been living within Camp Souda on Chios. He is happy and feels he has possibly found an opportunity that could totally change his life. “I only want to be in a place where I can relax my mind for a change, and stop being afraid. That’s all I want, to be able to relax”. Now Carlos has to wait and see if he will be given a new chance, to see if he will be able to simply feel safe.