There Are No Simple Narratives

Back Streets of Izmir, Turkey, Benjamin Gow
This is where you come if you want to meet a smuggler, who busses you to the forests on the coast, to wait for the boats to the beaches of Greece. However the story here in Izmir, Turkey, is more complicated that the ones we’ve become used to.

One man went for a coffee with me, I am not going to reveal his name for fear of his safety, he has been on a boat seven times. Seven times he has been unsuccessful. There are stories of people trying up to 15 times, but he’s personally been turned back, or the boat failed to launch, the engine broke down, or, in sight of the Greek coastline the waves were just too strong to land.

One time they sank he had taken an inner tyre instead of a life-jacket, which were fake and largely useless. He told me he hung inside the tyre, and other passengers hung off it, and off each other all around him. They were in the water for hours before the Turkish coast guard picked them up.

He was held by the police each time, they all were, sometimes the Syrians were let go within a couple of days, sometimes he was there for the full two weeks before being bussed back to Izmir. The police took their money to buy them sandwiches, sometimes they didn’t come back. He heard they were meant to be given food under humanitarian rules, but that never happened to him.

The smuggler he went with offered a one-ticket deal, he paid once and he had as many attempts as it took to make it across. But his smuggler has disappeared to Istanbul, so now he has to buy another ticket. Or think again.

He wants to take his siblings with him next time, but none of them swim.

He points out a hotel and tells me that’s where all the kingpin smugglers are, running their operations from the penthouse suites. Everyone knows it.

I don’t know if I can believe anything, or everything he tells me, but it’s his truth, it’s true of his experience.

That’s what I’m learning, there are so many individual experiences; they may not be the same but they will be a truth -until they’re not.

We are going to have to get used to more complex narratives. The police take bribes, the smugglers down the chain tell stories, they sell boat tickets saying the price is $1,500 but it includes free medical, new clothes, food and water as soon as they land in Greece. The aid that has taken thousands of individuals, hundreds of hours of compassion in an unprecedented outpouring of humanity, is sold as part of a top price package. Sometimes.

Sometimes it’s a different deal. I don’t know them all. Some tickets went down to $500, because the NATO presence, Europe’s fortresses and detention centres,  have driven the price down. Sometimes the coastguard turns the jets on boats to sink them, sometimes they turn a blind eye. Sometimes the smuggler puts only enough fuel in to get a boat of refugees as far as international waters, they save money on a gamble that NATO, or the Greeks, or the NGOs will take over anyway.

There are rumours they are looking for new routes…

You don’t have to understand the politics to know in amongst the entire situation there is a whole lot of room for individuals to differ considerably in perception and interaction. There are just degrees of people trying to navigate their own way through a situation out of their control.

There are no simple narratives anymore.

One Response to “There Are No Simple Narratives

  • I love this:

    “I don’t know if I can believe anything, or everything he tells me, but it’s his truth, it’s true of his experience”

    Even in parts of the world that aren’t filled with devastation, it’s important to understand that individual truths are true even if only to that individual. I find so much depth in your statement. It says that this man’s perspective is not devalued. It says that people all across the world, the ones in devastation, have their own valid truths, and no truth is the same as another.

    I’m from the States, and I know that over here it’s so easy to think of the fleeing refugees as one massive entity. But that isn’t true. That’s never true. Like you said, it’s so much more complex than that. People’s stories are so much more complex than that, and that’s something that should be valued, and that you seem to value as well.

    I appreciated this perspective, and while I try to seek out this kind of thinking for myself, I need pushes and reminders towards that mindset. I may know that we all have our own, complex truths, but does that mean that I apply that knowledge to the people who I have labeled as a unit? The people outside of my circle of privilege who live so much differently than I do? Reading your blog post has reminded me that there are so many connections between all the people of the world, but it’s so easy to sever those connections when you forget that people are so much more complex than we (well, “we” being people of privilege) sometimes let them be.

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