People must have laughed when they saw our boat. What was this poor, broken down thing doing, sailing the beautiful canals of Amsterdam?
Small, blue and white chipped paint, rust crawling over the sides in random patterns. It had clearly seen better days.
Or had it?
The cushions that softened the austere brokeness of this boat made for fifteen were not there when 75 people fleeing Africa crowded onto it, risking their lives in the hopes of finding better ones.
What thoughts went through their minds as the boat made its way though the open waters towards Italy? And what became of those people? Did they survive? Were they granted asylum? Or were they forced to go back to the very places they fled?
No one knows the answers to those questions. But we had the opportunity to learn about Amsterdam through the eyes of its refugees and immigrants. And we had the privilege of sailing with the captain, a Syrian refugee, who was very open about his story and experiences.
From leaving friends and family behind, to living in refugee camps and being conned by smugglers, it is a journey that I simply cannot imagine.
I have the fortune in my life to be living in Spain but because I choose to live here. I have left friends and family in the States but that is because I decided to move here. And as stressed as I’ve been with my move to Cordoba, I have the freedom, flexibility and resources to make this move voluntarily.
As the refugee crisis continues to be one of the main headlines across the globe, and people are being turned away when they have nowhere else to go, I felt a profound importance in taking this simple canal tour and hearing the stories of refugees firsthand.
Our boat sailed through the canals, our eyes drinking in the sites of Amsterdam, but the contrast between what we saw and what we were listening to was stark. From rickety boats sailing the open ocean crammed with over 130 people as they try not to make a sound, to having to wait in that boat for two weeks until the coast was clear…I wondered with amazement at the openness and honesty with which these stories were shared.
Stories have been told for generations upon generations because the power they yield runs deep. And while it may not seem like a concrete action, by listening to these refugees and asking them questions, I left the boat having seen Amsterdam with different eyes and having connected to the human beings who are so often painted as “the other.”
For more information on the tour or to make a reservation check them out at Rederij Lampedusa.
Have you met or dialogued with a refugee?