Where Were You, When Men Were Men?
One immigrant’s 25-year journey reaches from Sierra Leone to Spain, through piracy at sea, terror on land, the allure of adventure and the shame of a family left behind.
Photos by Wil Sands
Engines whir as the plane flies south over the Sahara Desert. Ernest Joseph Thomas rests his head against the window. He watches the sea of sand pass below. A ray of sunlight reflects off the beads of sweat on his forehead. Ernest is dressed in a white linen suit, with faux snakeskin loafers. His ten-gallon red felt cowboy hat sits on his lap; his polished lion-head ring decorates beaten hands. The Brussels Air flight is like a bus route. It stops every few hours unloading and picking up passengers and baggage: Madrid to Brussels, Brussels to Casablanca, Casablanca to Dakar, and finally Dakar to Freetown. Ernest left his home in Freetown, the Sierra Leonean capital, more than 25 years ago. While his return will take many hours, his original journey from Freetown to Barcelona took decades.
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