Jose Maria Rodriguez |
Agüimes (Gran Canaria) (EFE).- At just thirteen years old, it took Mamadou Keita seven months to cross more than 4,800 kilometers and four countries without the company of any family member, on the way to a European dream that had been around his head for a long time diffusely, with no clear goal beyond carving out a future outside of his native Guinea, being able to send money home, and perhaps one day return.
The story of this young student at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a budding Primary school teacher, sounds extraordinary on the island that has welcomed him since he was rescued from a boat with no fuel and that was already leaking when the rescue boat appeared. , in 2015, but it is not so rare in Africa.
It is shared by thousands of adolescents who are pushed far from home by poverty, wars or lack of expectations, minors who cross half of Africa before exposing life at sea or before the blades of a fence, only that of Mamadou Keita It is the story of a collective success: that of a handful of educators and anonymous volunteers who manage to make children like this become children again.
“They are taking a long time to give me the canary card, really!” Mamadou jokes about how much he has adapted to islands that he did not even know existed the day he got on the boat, because he is aware that he speaks Spanish with much more fluency than the French of his childhood and he knows that, when he calls home, his mother laughs at the Canarian idioms that sprinkle their conversation in the Fula language.
“It’s normal, I spent my childhood here,” he explains. «I arrived at the age of 13, but I feel that I lived part of my childhood here… Well, I would say all of it, because what I lived in Africa was not a childhood, I was living the life of an adult, I did not have my time, I did not play».
Like thousands of children in Africa, Mamadou Keita is crazy about football. He trained with the UD Las Palmas integration team and he wasn’t bad at it, but his sports experience helped him enter the orbit of «Up2U», a social project that helps kids with integration problems, in his Most of them are “kids” from the Canary Islands who have passed through the office of the juvenile judge Reyes Martel.
Monitor of the “Path of Values”
For some time, he has been a monitor of the “Camino de los Valores”, the self-improvement route that the judge organizes every summer with these kids along the Camino de Santiago, where his presence has helped in particular African adolescents who have just arrived in Canarias and who, as happened to him, live with anguish that because of their age they are not allowed to work, because they feel the urgency to send money home.
Mamadou knows a lot about self-improvement: with the little he could put in his backpack the afternoon he left home behind his mother’s back, he crossed Guinea, Mali, Algeria and Morocco. Along the way, he worked at whatever he had to to pay for each stage, they scammed him, he also found good people who gave him a hand, paid to be sneaked across the border hidden in trucks… until he arrived in Rabat.
In the capital of Morocco, he came into contact for the first time with those who organize clandestine crossings to Spain and almost gave up: they asked him for 4,000 euros. «In my city, Mamou, someone with a good salary earns 100 euros a month. I had never seen an amount like that together », he recounts. Actually, she didn’t even see it, because it was her mother who got her “a boat” to the Canary Islands in El Aaiún by borrowing from acquaintances a sum that she has never told her.
Of the boat, rather a boat, he remembers that he was so afraid that they forced him to get on it by force, because he wanted to go back, and also that they took everything from him, even his clothes, so he made the crossing “in his underpants.” He was the smallest of the 50 on board and, from sheer exhaustion, he fell asleep. When he woke up, they were without fuel, lost and the boat had three leaks, most of the people were crying or praying… and a helicopter appeared.
Mamadou Keita does not know in which port he landed, but he remembers as if it were today the “shock” that he had on hearing people speak Spanish on the pier, which sounded like “weird French” to him. From there, a foster home in Cardones, a public high school in Arucas, a history teacher who stung his pride so that he would never let them disregard him and his willpower paved the way for him.
The key moment of coming of age – when the boys from the boats have to leave the reception centers and depend on themselves again -, he overcame thanks to the fact that he found a place in “an emancipation flat” of the Agüimes City Council, which has been her home ever since and has allowed her to focus on college.
To the boys who ask him for advice because they have just arrived, he always tells them not to be afraid to open up to Spanish society, because that does not mean “losing their roots or their culture”, and not to try to impose anything, “because here we are guests”, but without giving up anything for “being foreigners”. “I landed on my feet,” he admits.