The screams of children and women drowning in a shipwreck off Malta have dictated Hamad Alroosan’s nightmares for a year.
Talking about the migrants’ tragedy, which killed more than 50 people in October 11, 2013, imbues the 10-year-old with sadness.
Instead, the Syrian/Palestinian boy drew his teacher a picture of what he described as the “scariest moment”.
The drawing shows a green helicopter hovering over the sea and, below it, some stick men and women are raising their skinny arms for help. Five figures are seen floating in the water.
“My parents didn’t tell me we were leaving Syria – they just packed and we left. There was no time to explain. It all happened really fast,” Hamad tells The Sunday Times of Malta.
Sitting next to his parents in their St Paul’s Bay apartment, Hamad speaks of the tragedy just before the family relocates to Germany.
“The scariest moment was when we were on the boat that had just left Libya. If I get to be a 100 years old, I will never forget it,” Hamad says, a year from the rescue that a captain of the Maltese army vessel described as one of the toughest in his career.
Once, my friend pushed my head in the water by accident and I remembered everything
“When the boat started sinking I just heard children and women screaming. I wasn’t near my parents... I just heard my daddy and my mummy calling my name.
“I was very tired, I just raised my arms and tried to scream. But my throat hurt because of the salt water and my head hurt because I had hit it against the boat,” he says, wide-eyed.
“I first found my daddy, then my brother Molham and finally I found my mummy,” he adds, reliving the relief just before they were scooped from the waters by the Armed Forces of Malta.
He does not recall the details of their arrival in Malta, but Darrin Zammit Lupi’s haunting picture of the fair-haired boy staring into thin air through the window of a Maltese police bus, captured the world media’s attention.
Hamad did not know how to swim, and the shipwreck made him hate the thought of swimming. He was eventually convinced to learn how to swim in Malta, but the horrific memories of that fateful October day remain.
“Once, my friend pushed my head in the water by accident and I remembered everything and started crying. Sometimes, my mummy wakes me up because I’m crying as I have nightmares about it,” Hamad says, glancing at his parents Lina and Iyad.
“All my friends died,” he replies, when asked whether he ever spoke to them about the incident.
Once in Malta, however, Hamad made friends wherever he went. With the help of Samira Jamil, a Libyan resident in Malta, he was taken in by St Michael’s School in Pembroke where he also learnt English.
During the past week, his schoolmates gave him a teary farewell as his family prepared to leave for Germany.
“I will keep the farewell card forever and I will never forget them... all of them,” he says smiling.
And what will he miss most in Malta?
“I will miss my teacher Miss Sue Gregory because she’s the best. We met when I went to see the school for the first time with my mum.”
Hamad is now hoping to make new friends at the family’s next stop in their pursuit of a better life in Germany, where they will be reunited with the third and eldest sibling Yamin.
They have not seen Yamin, 23, since October last year when the family was boarding the boat in Libya and the traffickers demanded more money. Since they did not have enough for all five, the eldest chose to stay on shore.
After the family was separated and the parents arrived in Malta together with Hamad and Molham, they were relieved to hear Yamin had made it to Germany safely.
This is the third consecutive October the Syrian family is packing its life in a few bags and moving on to another country.
Driven out of Damascus in October of 2012, the family of Palestinian descent travelled all the way to Libya, from where in October 2013, they boarded the nine-metre fishing boat. The survivors of the tragedy, mainly Syrian and Palestinian, later claimed they came under fire as they left the Libyan coast and the vessel capsized some 120 miles south west of Malta.
The exact number of those who perished has never been established.
Hamad does not believe he will return to Syria anytime soon.
“I don’t want to go back to Syria. Why should I go back? My home is not there any more,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Although he has no plans for Germany yet, Hamad is optimistic about his future.
“I want to do a lot of things, but I’m still thinking about what I want to do when I grow up.”