Like others, I think, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the struggles immigrants face in trying to get here. I’ve even read some about the difficulty that some face getting here, like Enrique’s Journey. But I wanted to understand the “mouth of [the] shark”* that is prompting so many to try to escape Syria. And thanks to Borri, for whom it is very important that she be writing from the heart of the battle, I do. She heaps disdain on those experts (some since discredited) who write about Syria without ever having been in the country. She is told at one point that she could just as easily (and much more safely) write about Syria from Rome. And she admits that journalism is about the right distance and that she may be too close. She also acknowledges that even with Aleppo, it is not possible to understand fully the Syrian experience. She knows she is right, though, that the media, and especially photographers, are key to this story. One girl tells her, “Don’t write useless things.” Another example:
Today is [Ayman Haj Jaaed’s] second day at the front. Write this, he tells me: ‘Assad is at the end of his rope.’ He crosses the street at a run waving his Kalashnikov, shooting as fast as he can. ‘Write, write!’ he yells at me from across the street: ‘Two more months, and Aleppo will be free.’ Only he fired to the left. And the sniper was on his right.
This is in Autumn of 2012. Ayman is 18.
The impression I take away from this book is similar to that moment in Apocalypse Now when the Martin Sheen character asks a soldier who is in charge. The soldier has no idea. “Who’s the commanding officer here?” “Ain’t you?”
The Syrian situation seems incredibly complex. Most of the rebels are not even Syrian. And there is a great deal of in-fighting among the rebels. No one from the outside knows who to support, especially with Al-Qaeda counting itself among the rebels. In the end, I don’t think Borri blames Obama for not intervening. She has no such forgiveness for NGO’s that don’t show and especially those who collect funds based on a promise they are not fulfilling. It is expensive, Borri reports, to be a refugee.
Borri’s details and insights are as powerful as they are poetic. This is apparently her first book that has been translated into English. I hope the other two find their way into English soon. For the elegance of the language here, at least some of the credit must go to her translator, Anne Milano Appel.