My parents crossed the desert barefoot to get to Spain – Inaki Williams

The striker tells of his parents’ remarkable journey, rejecting Ghana and playing a record 203 league games in a row.

“We were at home one day in Bilbao watching the television when something came on – I can’t remember exactly what – and I asked her again. My mum turned it off and said: ‘OK. The moment’s come for me to tell you. Sit down, I think you’re ready to hear the story of papa and me now. When she told me I was left cold.

Hearing that leaves a deep impression. Wow. It’s like something in a film and my parents lived it.” Iñaki Williams stops and takes a breath. He was 20 that day, already playing for Athletic Club. Pushed into the public eye, he had been asked his story but couldn’t tell it properly because he didn’t know. Parts had been written wrong, but he didn’t really know that either. He too had asked, desperate to find out exactly where he was from. “It ate away at me,” he says.

Until, at last, Maria told him. She told him how they had left Ghana and crossed the Sahara without food or water, about those who didn’t make it and how that could have been them. How they hid things the only place they could. How, pregnant with him, she climbed the fence into Melilla, Spain’s north African enclave. And how she and Felix were arrested, a lawyer whose name he still doesn’t know and, to his regret, never will providing a lifeline, a way of reaching the city where he was born.

His place, where he has made history. Last Friday night, 28 years on, Iñaki Williams played his 203rd consecutive league game, a record and the culmination of a journey that began before he was born. “Hearing my parents’ story makes you want to fight even harder to give back everything they sacrificed for us. I couldn’t ever repay them – they risked their lives – but the life I try to give them is the one they dreamed of giving us. And, in some way, we can say: ‘We’ve done it.’ “You’d watch the news and see boats arriving from Africa, people climbing the fence [into Melilla] and I realised I didn’t really know how we got to Spain.

It’s something I always asked but my mum avoided it because I was just a kid. And maybe she then thought if she’d told me when I started at Athletic at 18 it would have been a weight on my back. I knew my life was different to my friends’ and I could imagine, but when you hear the details …

“Details like: I didn’t know they had crossed the desert by foot. I knew my dad had problems with the soles of his feet but not that it was because he had walked barefooted across the Sahara sand at 40, 50 degrees. “They did part in a truck, one of those with the open back, 40 people packed in, then walked days,” Williams continues. “People fell, left along the way, people they buried. It’s dangerous: there are thieves waiting, rapes, suffering. Some are tricked into it. Traffickers get paid and then halfway say:

‘The journey ends here.’ Chuck you out, leave you with nothing: no water, no food. Kids, old people, women. People go not knowing what’s ahead, if they’ll make it. My mum said: ‘If I knew, I would have stayed.’ She was pregnant with me but didn’t know.

“They reached Melilla, climbed the fence and the civil guard detained them. They didn’t have papers and came as migrants, so you get sent back. When they were in jail a lawyer from [the Catholic aid organisation] Caritas who spoke English said: ‘The only thing you can try is tell them you’re from a country at war.’ They tore up their Ghanaian papers and said they were from Liberia to apply for political asylum.

Thanks to him, we arrived in Bilbao.” Migrants sit on top of a fence as they attempt to reach Melilla, the Spanish enclave on the north African coast, in October 2014.

Bilbao, of all places. “Destiny,” he calls it. Born there, the doors opened to Athletic with their Basque-only policy. His club. “My friends and I talk about it: bloody hell, incredible. Everything happens for a reason.

If I hadn’t been born in Bilbao, I could never have played for Athletic. My parents crossed the desert and were taken to the Basque country. That doesn’t feel like chance.” Maria and Felix moved to Pamplona, 150km south-east, getting state housing in “a humble, hardworking barrio with lots of races where people made ends meet however they could”.

Source: TheGuardian

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