Best Books I Read in:
Best Books I Read in:
I love this challenge, hosted by bushboys world:
Both pictures were taken within minutes of each other, on the last day of May, just past noon.
I’d been spending day after day on the couch, writing. For a break, I’d grab whatever came to hand (yes, I am that lazy). First, Evan Winter’s The Rage of Dragons, the next book on my reading list (after Matthieu Aikins’ powerful The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, an account of the year he spent living like an Afghan refugee).
The magazine is the latest issue of Sunset, which I have been subscribing to ever since I became a Californian. I took a picture of the Food page, because it featured a Filipino restaurant in Seattle, “one of the best Filipino restaurants in the country,” Musang.
The players were doing a relay race now, but Ezat’s gaze drifted into the distance, as if seeing his own road ahead — his twelve attempts, the container of diapers in which he’d made it onto the ferry, the forty-eight hours he’d spend trapped inside, the church in Italy where he would take refuge from the police, the train ride without a ticket to France, the freezing alleys of Paris, the Champ de Mars where he would stand trembling in ecstasy, Hamburg where he would be granted asylum, where after two years he’d learn enough German to start university, his past as inscrutable to his classmates as his future would be to his family in Iran, living alone in body and in mind, the cold of the River Elbe in winter seeping into his bones.— The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, p. 266
You have to hand it to Aikins. At any point, he could have said, “I give up! It’s all too much! I want my life back!” After all, he’s a citizen of a rich Western country, he has a Pulitzer for chrissake. But in dogged pursuit of his goal — to prove whether it is indeed possible for an ordinary Afghan to escape from Afghanistan to the west — he stays in the filthy refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos (He’s lucky he undertook this journey in 2016, before covid. The risk of infection in the crowding and unsanitary conditions of a refugee camp would probably have been 90%)
So, um, the bathroom situation. Here goes:
I stood outside the toilet blocks, trembling, and lit another smoke. The line was longer now, and wound its way through dry patches in the sewage. I counted seven men’s stalls in the lower block, and another twelve uphill; a third block was out of order — the camp’s water often stopped running entirely. Nineteen toilets for several thousand men, along with some porta potties. The women had their own toilets but they were unsafe after dark, as were the fields outside the fence.
I walked back uphill, my cough joining the chorus around me. My throat was raw; it felt like I was catching something. Some kind of respiratory ailment was going around — maybe influenza. The children, especially, had swollen eyes and mouths. There’d been outbreaks of scabies and varicella in Moria; our bodies were covered in insect bites and rashes.— The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, p. 203
The intrepid author and his friend Omar have managed to survive being on an overcrowded rubber dinghy and being rammed (repeatedly) by the (Turkish?) coast guard. Because of the repeated ramming, the dinghy gets pushed into Greek territorial waters (!), and the Turkish turn away. Whew! (The author: “It sometimes seemed like they were trying to sink the dinghy.” You think???)
They’re now on the Greek island of Lesbos, the one place they told their smuggler they did not want to end up in. (The author, still phlegmatic: “It had been apparent for some time that Hajji had lied.”)
At the overwhelmed registration center, the Greek authorities handed out pieces of paper ordering the migrants to self-deport, and then let them board the ferry to Athens, where they headed north through the Balkans, into Europe.
In August, a hundred thousand people landed in the Greek islands, most of them on Lesbos. A majority were Syrian, and there were unusual numbers of women and children among them, as it became apparent that you could travel safely once you reached solid ground.— The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, pp. 167-168
Self is now on p. 155 of The Naked Don’t Fear the Water (about halfway). She truly appreciates how deadpan Matthieu Aikins is when dealing with certain unforeseen situations. A few pages earlier, a companion takes him to a restaurant in a Kurdish section of Istanbul. “The police don’t come here,” the companion says. At that same moment, “a middle-aged cop walked in, his radio and pistol passing at eye level. We went quiet and looked down at our plates.” LOL
Now, on p. 155, his smuggler tells him they should get going, a ship has been found that will take Aikins and his friend Omar to a Greek island. They are taken in a white Hyundai to a nearby mosque, where they transfer to a taxi driven by “a very nervous Turk” who first takes them “down a steep blind alley” and then has to “reverse back up, the clutch burning.” They eventually arrive at a hotel, where they transfer yet again, to an empty white van. They make a stop to pick up more passengers. “Young men started piling in, one after the other, until they were sitting on each other, their heads at an angle against the ceiling.” Aikins and Omar are sitting all the way in the back, surely they are spared this undecorous seating arrangement, if not then surely Aikins will comment on the extraordinary experience. Only, he doesn’t. All he writes is: “The men were speaking Arabic; I tried the little I knew. The guy on my lap said they were from a village in Aleppo, in northern Syria — I’d been there on reporting trips.” omg, Matthieu has such presence of mind, he can’t stop interviewing people for information, and what better subject than a man sitting on his lap, lol
Finally, they join 50 other migrants in an inflatable rubber boat meant to hold 25. The “pilot” is a refugee who’s never piloted a boat before, but he’s being offered free passage so he gladly accepts the responsibility.
This is all too exciting!
If there’s one thing going for Matthieu Aikins (going for him in a big way), it’s the dreamlike feel of the narrative:
Matthieu’s friends chicken out. He goes back to Kabul, aching with frustration. His friends will try another way to get out of Afghanistan.
He then ends up making some complicated travel arrangements: Istanbul, Venice, Trieste, Llubljana, Van. He flies out of Istanbul, disembarks in Venice, takes the train to Trieste, spends the night at a friend’s house, then takes the bus to Llubljana, where he catches a flight to Istanbul. At Istanbul, he undergoes some things: he is searched by a man wearing gloves (UGH), he is interrogated and put into a waiting room. He becomes friendly with a man who tells Matthieu that he has been in the waiting room for six months (Waiting Room = Oxymoron, lol). He tries to distract himself by reading Toni Morrison (Beloved) He is sent back to Llubljana.
The author’s companion Omar is having second thoughts, only a day into the journey.
I tried to think of what I could say to rally Omar. He’d once been up for almost anything, but as the years went on, I found him less eager to take risks on our assignments together. He’d had too many close calls and seen too many bodies. Of course it was different when you were doing it for pay instead of glory, but for me, repeated exposure had the opposite effect. I understood that I was probably damaged, but at the time it seemed useful for working in places like Afghanistan and Syria, I thought I could separate feeling from reason. And it was natural, but not rational, for your fear to spike when it came time to act.— The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, p. 89
The journey is about to begin! Exciting.
Matthieu Aikins, his friend Omar, and a last-minute addition, Malik (“Malik was the shy neighbor whose father had lost his mind”) take a taxi — a taxi! — through the empty streets.
We were headed to a neighborhood on the western edge of the city called Company. It was the starting point for travel south along the national ring road, Highway 1, which curved down to Kandahar, and then back up to Herat. Company’s main drag, its asphalt shredded by truck traffic, was lined up with cheap hotels called mosafarkhana. Behind them were feedlots and slaughterhouses for livestock, a maze of mud walls by a ravine running with offal.— The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, pp. 80 – 81
This book, which I began reading a few days ago, is about a Western journalist, Matthieu Aikins, who accompanies his Afghan translator on the refugee trail from Afghanistan to Europe.
They set off in 2016.
When the news came on, the headlines that summer of 2016 was no longer about people in boats, but about the British voting to leave the European Union, about the Republican Party nominating Donald Trump as their candidate, and about a truck crushing people in the boardwalk in Nice.