Imagine your dream is to go to America, to have the same opportunities I’ve been granted and given my whole life. This is Emmanuel’s reality. He prays every day that by the grace of God he might get the chance to go to America or Europe. He prays to have less harsh circumstances and to do something more with his life.
Emmanuel left Sierra Leone 5 years ago, his home in Freetown not a safe place during the civil war. He fled to Liberia, a neighbouring West African country, but did not find solace there. Emmanuel, joined by his friend Patrick, took of from their roots in West Africa with wide-eyed dreams on the Northern horizon. In Europe, they would hope to find a life away from poverty and war.
Across the Sahara desert, they were met with another harsh reality. Daesh, a militant terrorist group in Libya, enforced harsh sharia law upon their dreams. They forced the Christians to follow Islamic guidelines and identify with more traditional names. Emmanuel left Sierra Leone hopeful, with his faith in Christianity. Idris left Libya, practicing Islam as as the only escape to being killed. Emmanuel considers himself lucky, “by the grace of God,” or “masallah,” as he now has to say, to have survived this encounter. His friend Patrick, now stuck with the name Solomon, is the only branch of his roots he has left.
They came to Sudan to seek asylum from this issue. But they found one harsh life replace another. With no embassy or consulate representing Sierra Leone in Sudan, Idris and Solomon are paperless, and live in the shell of another name, with constant fear of more punishment under sharia law. They spoke in hushed tones as not to be overheard, and spent a lot of time in their room as it was too risky to be out past dark, when there are a lot of police.
They were able to tell us that in the five months they were in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, they got by with work here and there. A full day of carpentry or laying tile would get them 300-400 Sudanese pounds, about 6-8 dollars, and they’d be lucky to have work. Being from a French-speaking country, they do not know much Arabic. Emmanuel and Patrick get strange glances from the surrounding people if they speak in their native tongue. To save face, Idirs and Solomon attend mosque gatherings. They can only pray to their own God in private, making being themselves very difficult.
Fro Emmanuel and Patrick, Christianity isn’t a philosophy. It’s a connection to their way of life, and all the people in their hometown, their family back in Freetown. Being deprived of what makes them who they are, Emmanuel and Patrick are trying hard to cross into Egypt. There they would have the chance to go to an embassy and be a part of a sharia-less, religiously tolerant culture. These are things I take for granted nearly every day.
When I met these two men in Dongola, Sudan, they were caught in the middle. 500 kilometers from the border, they don’t know the safety of continuing forward. Returning 500 kilometers south in Khartoum, with semi-consistent jobs, they could remain in their fake appearance.
Every day, Emmanuel and Patrick pray. They pray for their families back home and the chance to make their lives their own.
I am lucky enough to come from, as Emmanuel says, “a different planet.” I more or less am a part of the stars he wishes upon daily.
I know I can’t grant them access to a country where they can maintain a stable livelihood they can call their own. but with $50 in their pockets now, I know they can go a lot further. I can use my 11-11 actions making their wish a more hopeful future.
Emmanuel repeatedly mentions the trial and tribulations of living in this war-torn countries. He says its frustrating watching the people that have everything they need fighting over what they don’t. He knows it doesn’t have to be this way. Emmanuel goes forth with the best of intentions and says, with a great deal of honor, “that’s all a man can do, just be his best self.”
Emmanuel and Patrick’s reality has definitely taught me a lesson in my own self-understanding, and I am grateful for the chance to have heard, and been a part of, their story. The plight of the refugee is an incomprehnsible experience. The issue lies not just in leaving the area where the conflict occurs, but battling the internal conflict of finding oneself without a true identity. In the wake of having everything ripped from your life. the woes of reassembling it run even deeper.
It takes a lot of strength for Emmanuel to keep on existing with the entire surrounding Islamic world forcing him to be Idris. Hoping that I would understand, Emmanuel would repeat his hometown’s phrase, “the good one’s the dead one.”
At first I thought it seemed like a logical cry for mercy, and that the one who has it good is the one who has escaped life’s harshness. Idris’s stories paint a picture of a tough worldly existence. But all the while telling these stories, their was one thing that remained — his faith.
Everything good Emmanuel received, and everything he prayed for, he belived could only happen by the grace of God. Everything he had, summing to a toaster-sized briefcase and an extra button-down shirt, was viewed as a gift from God. This worldview kept him tied to his roots, and received much strength trough faith.
All this made me think that he means a person can only be considered good upon final judgement of a person’s character, after death. All the actions on Earth are summed into a single comparison.
Emmanuel’s faith allows him to see his situation away from the anger toward the people who have wronged him. He does what he knows as himself and true. He won’t judge anyone else’s actions against them because Emmanuel knows that only in death can be determined as good or not. Until that point, Idris will continue to be