Last week I met a 22-year-old young adult, Mamadu; He has a hard to believe story…
Mamadu always dreamed of leaving to another country and find a better future for him and his family.
At the age of 15 he had the opportunity to go to Canada with a scholarship from an NGO school run by Canadians. He was one of the top students. Unfortunately, his father did not allow him to go since Mamadu is the only male in his family. Mamadu’s father was a farmer and he needed his son since he was the only labor he had.
At the age of 16 Mamadu had decided that it was time to leave his home in Guinea, Africa; Mamadu had made up his mind. He was convinced and determined to leave. It was only a matter of when and how.
Since he was not allowed to go to Canada, he managed to convince his father that he should be able to at least to visit his uncle during the summer in Senegal. Once there he “borrowed” $1200 from his uncle's convenience store. With this money he was able find a smuggler that was willing to take him to Spain. Mamadu would have to catch a boat, a “Patera,” to cross the ocean to Spain.
In his first attempt he did not get too far, he and a group of 100 people were taken to the north to a makeshift camp in the middle of the jungle where they had to wait hiding in the jungle until it was time to take the Patera. They were frightened of getting caught by the military, which was always searching for migrants. This lasted for several weeks where they lived under dreadful conditions. People got ill and one of his new friends got and infection and did not have the strength to make it; he passed away. Mamadu and a handful of the travelers had to bury him at night, hiding in the shadows, afraid of being caught. This was the 1st casualty in this journey!
The boat never arrived and the smugglers disappeared. They had taken the money and abandoned them in the jungle.
The first attempt ended in failure and now Mamadu had to return to Senegal. Despite everything, his resolve and pride was intact; which did not allow him to go back to his family. He could not go back with out succeeding in this venture.
He had lost all his money to the smugglers and now he was stranded in a foreign country; a tough situation for anybody and more so for a 16 year old kid. Despite that, Mamadu, a determined kid had decided to find another way to leave Africa. He was not ready to surrender.
While searching for another chance to get a ticket to travel on a Patera, he found a group of people that were willing to negotiate. He would be able to get a ticket by working on a farm, a cannabis farm. He would have to work in the fields cultivating weed until a new Patera was ready to leave.
After a few weeks on the field the news of a new trip arrived…
Upon arriving to the port on the night of the departure, Mamadu learned that priority for boarding was for migrants who had paid for their trip in cash. Mamadu waited anxiously for the possibility of a space becoming available!
While waiting anxiously for his turn to board, an altercation started, one of the smugglers did not forward all the money to the operators and kept it for him self. The operators denied boarding to 3 migrants. These 3 disheartened migrants had experienced a cruel environment to be able to catch this ride and now, they have lost all their life savings and the opportunity for a new life. They were angry and decided to settle their debt right there on the spot; with machetes they slaughtered the smuggler. This was the 2nd casualty of this journey.
In Mamadu’s case, the Patera was so crowded with migrants that he could not embark. He was left at the port with no hope of leaving.
At this point Mamadu thought to him self, “maybe it is time to go back home”. At the age of 16 Mamadu had experienced more than some of us have in a lifetime. He was almost ready to give up and go back home.
While trying to decide what to do with his life, Mamadu stood next to a group of healthy and strong men. By luck or just being in the right place, he was standing next to the captain and crew that were going to take the Patera across the ocean to Spain. To his surprise, a small boat came back to pick up the crew. At that moment the Captain glanced at this skinny young man and asked, “Who are you?” “I am Mamadu,” he answered. “Mamadu” the captain said, “ come with us, we will take you to Spain.”
Wow, he made it! After waiting for hours, he was able to get on the boat…
The Patera was 3 to 4 meters wide and 25-30 meters long; where 157 people had to board where there was hardly any space to sit. Imagine they had to cross the ocean in this overcrowded boat! The trip was scheduled to last 8 to 9 days with no drinking water and only wet, uncooked rice as food. After the 3rd day Mamadu fell ill. He could not eat and he had been drinking his own pee and ocean water.
On the 5th day, the captain died; the 3rd casualty of this journey. Mamadu could not believe that this healthy, muscular man did not have the strength to finalize the journey. How was he supposed to make it?
On the 7th day of the trip, they ran out of gas so they began to drift, with no knowledge of their location. They were now under natures will. Almost unconscious, Mamadu could hear people praying for their unavoidable death.
After drifting for a day or so, in the middle of the night, a Spanish Coast Guard helicopter was able to find them and was able to call out for help. Finally a vessel from the Red Cross arrived and took them to Spain.
Mamadu did not realize where he was, but he had finally managed to arrive to Spain where he was hospitalized for a few days. Once released from the hospital, Mamadu was transferred to a detention center. There they waited until the underage kids were divided in groups and taken to different cities: Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid.
Mamadu and 2 other kids arrived to a shelter in Madrid where they had a “tutor” and guardian. A guardian that would ensure their access to shelter, education and legal advise. There he was able to learn Spanish and attend a culinary school, where he learned the basics of working in a kitchen.
After 9 months of having a stable life and excelling in all his activities: math, Spanish, soccer and cooking, he received terrible news. A court order required him to leave the shelter. Mamadu’s bone measurement showed that he was already 18 years old and could not be considered as an underage child.
Mamadu was asked to leave the shelter where he would loose his education and legal support.
He refused to leave, arguing that he was only 17 and most importantly, he was the only hope for his family in Africa. He could not leave the shelter. What would happen to his parents and sisters without his support?
Mamadu had no other option but to leave. Without food, shelter, access to education or legal papers, he became homeless and had to sleep under a bridge.
While coping with his new reality, he met a sympathetic young gentleman from Africa. This kind young man introduced him to Father Antonio who was in charge of a shelter.
There, Mamadu was hopeful to find shelter. However, an apologetic Father Antonio gave the bad news to him: the shelter was completely full and there was nothing he could do about it.
Father Antonio’s response did not dissuade Mamadu. Intuitively he knew that this priest was his ticket out of the streets. Mamadu remained persistent and kept returning everyday, inquiring for a space, he was not willing to concede.
Father Antonio realized that this young man was not going to give up and that there was something special about him. So after so much persistence, he finally agreed to find Mamadu a space at the shelter.
Mamadu’s determination had finally paid off!
Mamadu was correct about Father Antonio! Once Father Antonio got to know him, he offered to be his tutor and helped him to enroll back to cooking school. Father Antonio was also able to find a lawyer that was willing to take on Mamadu’s case at no charge.
Cuqui, a good-natured lawyer, grew to like Mamadu and decided with her husband to invite him to stay as a guest at their home. With Cuqui’s assistance and generosity Mamadu was able to get his technical diploma as a cook. With this diploma, he was able, through a nonprofit organization, to find a job as a cook, and then as an assistant chef. And most importantly with Cuqui’s support, he was able to obtain his working visa in Spain.
Why am I writing about Mamadu?
Mamadu is the perfect example of what I write about in my blog, I Love Failure.
He managed to cross the ocean at 16 to live on to the streets of Madrid and today, at 22; he is in charge of a kitchen of a hotel in the best neighborhood in Madrid. And today he is convinced that his future is as bright as he decides it to be!
Mamadu had a dream, to leave his home! He was determined! Nobody was going to stop him! He acted on it and was able overcome many failures along the way but finally succeeded.
It was the most difficult journey of his life!
Many of us would have quit long before, but Mamadu was resilient, he was able to recuperate quickly. He was always in survival mode!
Today Mamadu is in a position where he is able to provide for his family and they are extremely proud of him. His father always tells him, “I am so proud of. You are a better man than all of us. If I had the guts to do what you did, you would not have had to go through all that!”
Recently I gave a speech where I used Mamadu as an example. I told my audience, when you are ready to complain, think about Mamadu and realize how easy we all have it!
To complain is easy; we all could find a reason to feel sorry for ourselves. However, if before whining we stop and think about people’s misfortunes or difficulties, we would realize how easy we have it and will feel foolish complaining.
Mamadu should be added as a new word in the dictionary. It should be an adjective that describes determination, guts, resilience, persistency, and tenacity.
Who I am today as a person is largely due to my failures!