Gorgui Lamine Sow, 20, was selling his bracelets and necklaces on the streets of Dénia, a popular seaside town on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. It was Friday, a national holiday marking the start of a long weekend to observe the 41st anniversary of the Spanish Constitution, and the city was filling up with visitors.
It was just past 11.30am when Lamine, an undocumented migrant from Senegal, heard screams not far from where he was standing with his girlfriend and their baby. He turned toward the sound and saw black smoke coming out of a two-story home on a street running at right angles to the shoreline. Without hesitating, Lamine ran towards the building and started climbing.
“I didn’t think about anything. I just heard screams and ran to help,” he said on Tuesday, sitting next to the man he saved, Álex Caudeli Webster, who was recovering from a stroke and sitting in a wheelchair, unable to escape the blaze.
“He saved my life. He climbed the wall and tore down the blind that was on fire. When I tried to go out on the balcony with my walker, the blind hit me on the nose and ear, and look what it did to me,” said Caudeli, showing the bandages on his face.
“He grabbed me like I was a sack of rice, and he really took the strain, because besides not being able to walk, I have a problem in my legs, I suffer from vertigo, and I couldn’t hold still,” explained Caudeli, 39, with his dog Luky at his side.
Lamine was wearing a Superman t-shirt that Caudeli gave him on Monday. “Isn’t it cool? The little girl has another one,” said Caudeli.
Tall, strong and with a permanent smile on his face, the Senegalese street vendor shrugged when he was asked whether he feels like a hero. “I did it without thinking,” he said.
Dénia authorities have asked the central government to give him residency papers
“A hero? I don’t know. He is a good person,” added his partner, Gana Gadiaga, also from Senegal, who was carrying their seven-month-old baby Ndeye on her back. Gorgui and Gana met a couple of years ago in Madrid, and when they had the baby they decided to move to a different city.
“There were a lot of people living in that apartment. It was not healthy for the baby. They don’t have a room here either, but there are fewer people,” noted Serigne, Gorgui’s older brother. The whole family lives in nearby Gandia, and travels often to Dénia to sell their crafts.
The residents of Port street also moved fast when the fire broke out. Caudeli says that his dog pulled off the blanket that was covering him and dragged it over the heater, which may have triggered the flames.
A neighbor named Roberta showed up with a fire extinguisher, while someone else brought a ladder to help Lamine and Caudeli get off the balcony safely. But everyone points at Lamine as the real hero of the day. As soon as he was back on the ground, he simply walked away without expecting anything in return. He had to get back to his family.
For the entire weekend, there was much speculation as to his identity. On Monday, local authorities in Dénia announced that they wanted to decorate the mysterious hero. Finally, a local reporter working for Levante EMV found him, and the city of Dénia asked the central government to give him residency and work papers (his partner and child already have long-term residency permits, Diario Información reported).
The government delegate’s office in the Valencia region is currently analyzing the request, and if it meets the legal requirements for extraordinary cases such as this one, Lamine will be granted papers.
The case inevitably brings up memories of Mamoudou Gassama, an immigrant from Mali who climbed an apartment building in Paris to save a child who was hanging from a balcony. Gassama received French citizenship and fulfilled his dream of becoming a firefighter.
Lamine said that he would ideally like to be a truck driver, but that any job will do. He hopes that all the publicity will help improve his family’s situation. He left Senegal over three years ago – “There is no work there, things are really bad,” he explained – and lived in Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina before coming to Spain. “We want to stay,” he said, picking up his goods before setting off for Gandia again. “It’s nice here.”
English version by Susana Urra.