Le tombe dei naufraghi

35°30'13.8'' N 12°37'17.1'' E

Le tombe dei naufraghi

35°30'13.8'' N 12°37'17.1'' E

What world lies beyond this sea I do not know,

but every sea has another shore, and I will reach there

Cesare Pavese

It is not easy to spot them all, not because they are hidden, not at all, but because they are graves among graves. Scattered among those of the residents of Lampedusa, with the same decorative elements, lie the victims of the crossing. A Spoon River hill of the children of the sea and of those who in the sea have tried to be born again, far from war, hunger, poverty.

From the cemetery of Lampedusa you cannot see the sea, but you can feel it and read it in the stories of the graves it hosts. Some have names, such as Eze Chidi-Ezequiel and Ester Ada, who are buried side-by-side. The first name was discovered thanks to the deputy parish priest at the time, who asked the survivors of that journey for news of the boy who died during the crossing. Ester Ada, instead, 18 years old from Nigeria, in 2009 was recovered at sea already dead by the crew of the Turkish merchant ship Pinar together with other migrants. Her name is certain because her brother was also with her on that journey.

Others are just a memory, a place where to commemorate not only that nameless body, but a whole world, the world of migrants, travellers, people of sea and land that every day conquer their lives with effort.

Some are just a story. “It seems that his name was Yassin, that he came from Eritrea, that he was arrested for no reason and locked up in one of the many Libyan lagers. Apparently, he had a child and a wife in a shelter in Sweden and wanted to join them. What is certain is that his body arrived lifeless in Lampedusa on September 7, 2015,” reads a tombstone of an unnamed body, but it tells much more: it tells of people who on a boat, perhaps in the middle of the night in the Mediterranean, whisper names, stories, contacts. So that if something bad happens, someone can tell their story, warn their relatives. After all, the graves of migrants on Lampedusa are also the graves of many hopes. And thanks to the work of these years of the Solidarity Forum Lampedusa today they have a place where to rest.

Only the children have a dedicatedspace, tenuous, like a special garden, for those little ones and those little travellers that we will never know what they could have become if they had had a chance. Their little crosses are made from pieces of the wooden barges that for so many have meant hope, but for too many have become a grave.

Like Yusuf, from Guinea, who was only six months old when he died in the arms of rescuers in 2020, after falling into the sea from the hands of his not-yet-18-year-old mother. Next to his tombstone, coloured with his photo, someone left two little blue shoes and a note. “I could not extend my hand, but you are with us.” On the day of her funeral, a woman from Lampedusa placed a shawl on her mother’s shoulders as a sign of comfort. Since then – in Italy and all over the world – there has been someone who has been crocheting a square of what is now called “Yusuf’s blanket”. Each square is a piece of memory. And by now they are one hundred square meters of fabric. The cemetery of Lampedusa, in Cala Pisana, is a whole world, on a small Mediterranean island. Among the tombs any difference vanishes, of origin and language, culture and customs. On the tombstones of the shipwrecked, according to an ancient tradition of Lampedusa fishermen, are drawn shells and starfish, small colourful boats, fish and sea fauna, turtles and all that to them means the sea, aimed at accompanying the deceased.

To add to the charm of the small old cemeteries, today, between the old wing and the new one, works are in progress to create a shared space, for recollection, prayer or reflection, which will be an area of meeting and memory, as much as Lampedusa is, where stories and lives, but also too many deaths, have always met.

Podcast: History of Lampedusa - 8^ episode

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