First prize - Nguyen Thi Thu Trang, 15 years old (Viet Nam)


Heaven, January 1, 2016


Greetings to my forty-five-year-old self,

It has been nearly four months since I left the mortal world. Perhaps such an early departure has made me more mature, mature enough to write this letter to you today. I, Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who has been known worldwide for my eternal sleep on the Turkish Bodrum Coast, am writing to you, the forty-five-year-old me who is still among the living. Does it sound impossible? If I am gone, you should not exist! But why not, when everything is a dream: both you and I, my forty-five-year-old self. Angels will help me send these words to you.

My beloved self! Now, I am in Heaven. What a shimmering, fantastic world it is. There is neither day nor night. The sun, the moon and the sparkling stars shine together through an atmosphere as clear as crystal. My mother and brother are smiling along with many others. We have no nations, no borders, no migration, no religious discrimination, no terrorism and no violence. Everybody is equal; we are all souls living in harmony and serenity.

It is New Year’s Eve now. From this enchanted place, we can see the whole world, watch the splendid fireworks like flowers blooming in the night sky and listen to the ringing bells. Below us, Earth is full of contrasting colors. Some places shine in brilliant light, while others drown in silent darkness. The joyful sound of ringing bells mixes with that of gunfire, happiness is accompanied by sadness, hatred joined hand-in-hand with love. Alas, what a life! Yet, everything has become so far away.

My forty-five-year-old friend, you still remember our story, do you not? We followed our parents to flee from the war and violence of our hometown in Kobani, dreaming of a “promised land” in the European sky. Yet that dream ended only twenty minutes after the ship departed. Immense waves came rushing in, the boat capsized, and my little hands let go of my mother’s. I shouted, “Father, please do not leave me!” I struggled in the waves, trying to hold onto a fragile ray of hope, striving in hopelessness. But what could a three-year-old child do in the vast sea, in such blinding darkness? And then, the ocean opened her arms and embraced me gently. The ocean was very kind: she brought me to rest on the sandy shore instead of giving me to the depths. Surely, you remember me that day: small, in a red shirt, blue pants, and shoes; my hands laid down naturally; my face buried in the comforting shore as if I were sleeping. The waves pampered me. It was an everlasting sleep.

My photograph was widely shared on social networks and media channels. And what did people say? “A global humanitarian disaster?”, “A symbol of the pains that Syrian people suffered as well as the desperate attempt to escape”, “Make the world silent”, “Awakening conscience”. They also drew angel wings for me. This, of course, was not to exaggerate or romanticize the dead. This was empowerment, resulting from death. This was how they soothed their pain. However, the unshakable truth remains: a life has ended. The boy is forever a three-year-old. My family and I have survived through rains of bullets and storms of bombs in unrest in Syria, but lost our lives on our way to find a more peaceful land in which to live. This death is too painful, irrational. Alas! Three years, a lifetime. If only there was no war and violence, if only I could have gone on a more stable boat, if only my father could have afforded a life vest, if only European countries had opened their hearts and their borders, if only…I did not have to die.

Now, my body has been returned to my hometown. A long homecoming journey, but it was a journey after death, returning to the place from which I ran away, only to return so I could be buried in the ground. It is truly a drifting life, a very measly destiny.

But, my friend, at least I was known and was comforted. What of the other thousands or even millions dead and forgotten? Thousands of migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea, thousands of children have died from hunger, coldness, and disease, and hundreds of people have died from terrorism. One of my fellow compatriots said before drowning, “I thank the ocean for greeting us without asking for a visa, without questioning my religion…”. There were deaths being appeased and being remembered, there were deaths being abandoned, being forgotten. Alas, could only death end injustice? Or could it not?

From here, from the excruciating pain of the death of a child, from the relief and serenity of Heaven, I write to you, the forty-five-year-old me still living on Earth. You will ask why I did not choose a different age. My friend, I chose you, at the age of forty-five, as you would have fulfilled yourself in life. If I reached age forty-five, alive, what would I be? A father? An office worker? A character capable of changing the world? You know Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, is also a migrant. And where would I live? Would I return to our homeland of Syria or live in the promised land of Europe? How would the world be? Would it be similar to my present Heaven? Is it natural to age and reach forty-five? No. For so many, the age of forty-five is forever a dream, a dream which never comes true. Who will give me and other children like me forty-five years? Who will give us life? How could all of us live to forty-five, fifty-five, and beyond? Who can answer this question, my dear self?

With love,

I, you, from Heaven