I am still in the water with the dying of SIEVX
By Amal Basry
1 November 2004
(This is Amal's story in her own words as told to me. At the time of writing, we had never met, but had conversed regularly over the phone for the best part of a year. Amal Basry is a patron of JANNAH. Mary Dagmar Davies, Founder, JANNAH, THE SIEVX MEMORIAL.)
Amal means hope in Arabic. That was why my father gave me that name and maybe it was why I survived SIEVX. 146 children, 142 women and 45 men died in the tragedy of SIEVX. I was one of the 45 survivors I saw it all. I saw so many people die and I have to tell the story.
It has been three years since the sinking of SIEVX but I am still in the water. I can still feel the dead woman whose body I clung to so I could keep afloat. I never saw her face, it was in the water but I talked to her all night. I prayed for her soul and she saved my life.
I still see what I saw when I first opened my eyes under the water. I saw children dying. I can taste the oil and the salt of the sea, I feel my fear and I smell death. Little children, dead babies, desperate parents, families dying one by one and I was alone believing all the while my own son was dead.
I was in the water for 22 hours waiting for my death. I was like a camera I saw everything. When the sharks circled I prayed for my death and suddenly a whale rose up beside me it was as big as an apartment block it blew water from it's blow-hole all over me and I thought it would suck me and the woman I clung to into the deep. But the whale also saved me. It saved me from the sharks.
Sometimes when the pain wakes me in the night, in that moment between frightening dreams and the shock of reality, I think the sharks are feeding on my body, tearing parts of me away, and ripping at my soul.
On the second anniversary of the sinking of SIEVX I knew I was ill. On October 27, 2003 I lost my left breast to cancer and now the cancer is in my bones and is eating away at me.
The cancer eats like a shark. My doctors are kind and try to manage the pain but there is a deeper pain, the pain of loss, the pain of rejection. In those hours when I cannot sleep l see the lights that were shone on us as we fought to live in the water.
The lights came from ships, I could hear the voices of the men on board so safe and so dry but I could not make out the language they were speaking. I screamed to them to help, we all cried from the sea but they went away. The pain of SIEVX will not go away.
I cry so often. I cried and cried when I saw the Australian families in Bali mourning their friends and relatives, I knew how each of them felt. That is how I feel. I cry when I see the families of the American soldiers who have died in Iraq. That is how I feel. And like them I need to talk about the things that have happened to my life and my family because of tragedy.
I cry when I think of my beloved Iraq the land of my birth reduced to rubble and my people dying and I cry when I think of my father who is still in Baghdad so ill and so poor. When I was a child we spoke English in our house and my father took me round the world and I learnt so much and met such wonderful people.
Our family was torn apart by Saddam Hussein. My mother died hungry. My husband and I were forced to flee to Iran with our children. But we knew we could not stay there and we believed in Australia so my husband went ahead. He was waiting for us for when SIEVX sunk.
When we were rescued I spoke English again. I said "I want to go to Australia and learn very good English and then I want to go on Larry King and tell the world what happened to us."
In all the months we waited in Indonesia and were questioned over and over I still believed in Australia. And I still believe in Australians because they do care about us and they are kind and loving friends. But none of us from SIEVX feel safe; we cannot be safe until we know we belong, until we can be citizens.
I may not have long now but I speak English well enough to give evidence for Australia in a court of law without a translator. And I can speak in public without notes and I want to tell my story. The Australians who have spoken up for us are my angels and I thank God for them. And now I want to spend what time I have left telling people what it was like to be there, awaiting my death, there in the water being kept afloat by the body of a dead woman and seeing it all happen.
We still need help. All of us from SIEVX still need your help. On the eve of the third anniversary of the sinking of SIEVX I pray to God for the people who died and for all the people who loved them and I pray too for the survivors. We are all in different places and our lives will never be the same but now I know Australians will never forget. I don't have time to write a book but I want to talk and I want to talk now.
My name is Amal. It means hope. And I will not give up hope until the day I die.
Copyright © Amal Basry October 16, 2004