Author: Fabio Geda
Countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, Italy
Based on the true story of a refugee’s search for asylum
I read this book on a train from Edinburgh to London on an aberrantly hot day. The air conditioning in my carriage was broken and, had I only the option of entertaining myself with the Spanish phrase book I’d brought along, I might have lost my mind.
Through good fortune, I’d purchased this engaging and emotive story on impulse at the station and found myself captivated immediately. ‘In the sea there are crocodiles’ tells the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari, an Afghan boy abandoned in Pakistan by his mother in an effort to spare him persecution by the Taliban in his home village.
Aged only 10 – or thereabouts – Enaiat has already witnessed the execution of his school teacher and has spent years hiding with his brother in a dug-out hole whenever anyone called at his house. Now, faced with having to fend for himself, he begins a quest to find asylum, armed only with unwavering indomitable spirit and determination to survive.
Enaiat’s journey takes him through Pakistan, Turkey and Greece, before he finally settles in Italy. Along the way, he hikes for a month on treacherous mountain footpaths, endures days of light deprivation and dwindling oxygen in the cramped fake underside of a lorry surrounded by wailing companions, and even braves the Aegean Sea in a dinghy.
‘…the dinghy made a strange movement, like a horse stung by a bee. And Liaqat couldn’t hold on. I felt his fingers slide over my shoulder. He didn’t scream, he didn’t have time. The dinghy had suddenly tossed him out…we kept rowing and calling Liaqat’s name. And rowing. And calling. Turning in circles around the spot where we’d been, or so we thought, though in all probability we’d already moved a long way from there. Nothing. Liaqat had been taken by the darkness’
The tale slips seemlessly from harrowing descriptions of tragedy and brutality to amusing incidents that transpire because the cultures Enaiat encounters are startlingly at odds with his own. Despite the fear and despair he and his new friends undoubtedly felt, there are touching moments of lightheartedness; for example, when Enaiat is conned into thinking he can apply for asylum on the grounds of ill health, only to find that his friends have sent him to a brothel!
Peppered with emotive anecdotes, Enaiat’s story is gut-wrenchingly poignant, yet humbling and heartwarming. It leaves the reader in awe of the hardships he endured for five long years in search of a chance to experience the luxuries most of us take for granted.
For the remainder of the train journey, I sat in the stuffy carriage, listening to fellow passengers complain about the ‘unbearable’ heat – a discomfort I’m certain Enaiat would have gladly exchanged for the life-threatening and illegal methods of transport he had no choice but to abide. And I wondered how many others were, at that very moment, facing similar challenges. From the bottom of my heart, I wish them all the luck in the world. Sadly, they will probably need it.