555 is a collection of short interviews with interesting personalities I have met so far. People who are out of the ordinary in unusual ways and that I admire for who they are.

We met at Schanzenpark Hamburg, right after Covid hit. I was looking to score some weed and bumped into Simon. We started talking and thats when we got to know each other on a personal level. We met for tea or coffee, taking walks and learning about each others lives. We are neighbours in the same city, but our lives couldn’t be more different. He truly is an incredible person. His life-story sounds like a movie script. Simon needs to deal drugs, like so many others, because they are here illegally. He came all the way from Gambia, an incredible dangerous, exhausting and traumatic journey. I am glad that we met, because we are friends now. We are the same age and have so much in common. We laugh about the same jokes, dream of better societies and I get informed about the latest football news. (For protection, Simon is not his real name.)

Hi, thanks for doing this interview. Lets dive right in. What is one of the most crazy things that has happened on your journey?

I was on a bus through the desert of Niger. Our bus stopped, I don’t remember why. A second bus overtook us and 50 meters ahead the bus drove over a land mine that was buried in the street. The bus exploded and everyone in it died. I don’t remember why we stopped, but I thanked God over and over for saving my life, while we buried the bodies in the desert.

The second time was similar. I waited in Libya for the boat to take me to Europe. After two weeks the boat was finally ready, but I was feeling very sick. I was coughing blood and was just too weak. They told me I could leave on a different night and I stayed. The boat that I was meant to be on that night sank and everyone on it had drowned.

Why did you leave home?

I came to Europe to have a better life, because I didn‘t have a future in Gambia to help my family survive. I don‘t want my kids go through the suffering I had to go through when I was a child. I never went to school, I don’t know how to read or write. Because I am the oldest son, I started to work when I was 10 years old. I know hard physical labor and I am not afraid of it. Still, there was no way to make it out of poverty. I just had to leave because it is my job to help my family. They all should have good life, have good health care, insurance and opportunities. That is why I am here.

How is life right now?

I can’t get a legal job. After I arrived, I asked my friends how to survive. They told me, they sell gras and that it is the only way to make money. At first I didn’t believe them. I am a Muslim, I don’t do drugs. I would never, but I like coffee. Soon I realized, I have no other option. I left my home to help my family and they are counting on me. If they ever find out that I sell drugs, they will be very angry with me but I really have no other option. I have to send them money and I have to survive myself. They don’t know how it really is here. In their eyes everyone in Europe has money and if I tell them that I don’t have any, they think I am lying to them.
If there only would be any other option...I hate it to be a drug dealer! But my situation just doesn’t allow anything else right now.

What is your plan for the future?

I want to live legally in Germany and find work here. Of course I want to bring my family here. My family is in Africa and I am here, this is not a permanent state for me. I don‘t know how and when, but this has always been my plan. If I don‘t manage to bring my family and live a legal and normal life here, I probably won‘t stay here forever. Maybe I will manage to take my knowledge and experience with me and open a business in Gambia. That is, of course, only if there is no other way.  But my family is the most important thing for me.

What advice do you give to people who want to go on the same journey like you did?

Don‘t do it! It is risky. It is deadly. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have buried their bodies. I‘ve lost friends. When you‘re here, it‘s everything but easy. It‘s a long, difficult process. It‘s definitely not worth risking your life for.

Thank you for your time and your trust.

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© Felix Julian Koch 2024