My Name is Harnza Salem and I am lost.
My name is Harnza Salem. I am lost. I am freezing. I am a man, not a bundle of rags. One day I am going to be a doctor. I promised my father. My father is a university lecturer in Tripoli. He teaches about the might of the Berber and is a guide to the foreign tourists. He is a much respected man, a leader. I too am going to be a much respected man.
I am eighteen years old and I come from the town of El Azizya. For most of my life I have been so hot that I thought that I might shrivel to a fried husk; now I would give anything to fry in the sun. My mother Aabira cooked and wrote. Her stories fill shelves in libraries and fired the imaginations of many thousands. Her cooking filled the house with the scent of rich spices. My mother nourishes souls. Tables and shelves creak. Laughter echoed off the walls as my brothers and sisters bathed in the warmth. Now I am hungry and I have never been so cold. I did not know what cold was. I know now.
I made up my mind on my seventeenth birthday. That year the temperature reached 57 degrees. Even the air conditioning could not cope. Outside the sand shimmered, lizards hid and the desert plants dried to a crisp. The goats found nothing to eat. Our world was dying. All the local families had fled to the city. All that was left were the multinationals with their massive circular oases of crops and their robots. My two older sisters worked in the desalination plant. They were engineers. My older brother Tareq ran the computers for the foreign companies. The money was good but he was bored. There were no prospects.
The town was dying.
The air was oppressive. We could not go out in the day and in the evening sat inside and, despite the air conditioning, sweated, or we walked through the town feeling the slight breeze off the sea. But now the town was empty, baked to death.
My father taught me to be a guide. There was much to see, much of our heritage, much to be proud of – once these dunes were fields; once the fortress of Qasr al-Haj was the centre of a mighty Berber kingdom; once we were proud to be Berber. Now I feel like I am living in the embers of a mighty fire. We are melting into the desert sands. Our very dreams are incinerating. But I do not want a life raking through the ashes; I will be a doctor.
On my seventeenth birthday I sat down with Tareq and we spoke of our hopes and the burning sands of our lives. We looked into the future. Tareq was twenty three. He had been to university in Tripoli. He was adamant that tending computers in Azizya was no life. I told him I was going to be a doctor. He laughed and ruffled my hair.
We talked of the future, of Europe, the land of opportunity, of warm suns that did not scorch, of careers and pleasure, of green fields and dreams.
Tareq had saved his money. He told me that he would see that I became a doctor; that we would both realise our dreams; that we would both be respected. They would all be proud of us.
The sea was rough. We were scared, terrified, but we arrived and joyfully waded unsteadily through the surf to paradise. For months we walked and begged lifts; for months edging closer and spending little. Cradling our resources to get us through, cradling our dreams. We huddled together in our little tent with our damp sleeping bags, seeking an elusive future. We found that the green fields were soggy with mud. We learnt to hide well. We learnt that paradise is paved with ice and that ice has entered into the hearts of the people who live there.
I am Harnza Salem. I am going to be a doctor.