I met Ahmed last summer when I spoke with his mother about their terrible journey to Italy from Guinea. He sat on the couch downstairs watching cartoons while his mom and I talked. She told me about the violence she experienced in Guinea and how when she left in the middle of the night she didn’t know where her and her 4 year old son would go. She told me about the men who she paid to take her to Niger. And how she was tortured and separated from her son in the prisons in Libya. How she was forced on a boat and rescued in the Mediterranean.
I came back to Sardinia 6 months later to see her again but this time I spent more time with Ahmed. We sat together by the computer and looked at a map. Samantha, the project’s coordinator in Italy, told Ahmed, “Scott took a long journey, too.” She pointed at LA. “He came from here and went all the way over to here”, pointing at Sardinia. She asked Ahmed if he knew where he came from. He pointed to Africa, but not to Guenea. And when she asked where he was now, he pointed right at Sardinia. Ahmed was barley 4 when he left. He’s now 5.
He took us on a tour of his home. We played so games in the living room. We met the baby Mohamed who is the son of another young lady in the facility where Ahmed and his mother live. Ahmed too us into his room and showed us the view out his window of the other apartment building around. And he introduced us to his fish, Hugo. We all sat around while he talked about this little gold fish that he takes care of. He feeds him and he plays with him. Sometimes, he says, that he just talks to the fish. And he really likes that because Hugo just listens.
In Guinea, the common language is French, which is what Ahmed’s mother speaks and it’s how she communicates with him. But Ahmed speaks perfect Italian, especially for a 5 year old. He goes to school everyday with other Italian boys and is even learning and speaking Sardo, the local dialect traditionally spoken in Sardinia. So as we sit and talk he’s speaking to his little fish in Italian. Asking him what he thinks of all of us coming to film. Ahmed listens for a moment and we ask him what the fish says. “Nothing” Ahmed tells us with a smile.
As we started to warp up the interview/shoot Ahmed began to draw and asked that we would join him. So Samantha, Mattia (our photographer), and I sat around the table and drew. First Ahmed drew a red robot from an old tv show that he watches on TV. As he looked around he began drawing something else. He reached for the peach colored crayon and drew a little person. Then he grabbed a brown pen and drew another person. When we asked who they were he pointed at Samantha and said “tu” then pointed at himself and said “io”. You and me.
Ahmed’s new community is different than where he came from. He is different than where he came from. The longer he stays the more he changes. This is his home now. His mother and himself are protected until he turns 18, at which point she could be sent back to Guinea. They both face an uphill battle that will likely last years to secure documents that will allow him to work and eventually travel outside of Italy. According to Italian law Ahmed will never be an Italian citizen. Even his children born in Sardinia could never gain the right to citizenship. But to Ahmed, I don’t think there is any doubt in his mind that he is Italian.
Back at the map of the world Samantha told Ahmed that I would be flying back to Los Angeles soon. Back where I come from. And she showed him how I would likely fly over Europe and across the ocean and over the American continent then land right on the edge in California. He looked at her with a questioning look, then to me and asked “por que?”. To Ahmed, there is no going back. This is his life now.