Damascus, Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany. After keeping a dinghy afloat for hours in sea, running through a cornfield to avoid being caught by the police, being held by the authorities and tricked by smugglers, Yusra and her sister, along with the rest of their group, finally make it to Berlin, Germany.
What struck me over and over in this section was that in many ways Yusra’s story is not unique. She wrote in chapter sixteen, “That first weekend in September 2015 alone, twenty thousand people arrive on buses and trains from Hungary through Austria into Germany.” So many others risked everything to leave their homes, holding on to hope for safety and a future.
But she did acknowledge the way her situation was affected by having the money to make this journey. “There are a lot of misunderstandings about money. It’s hard for some people to accept, but anyone who made it to Europe must have been reasonably well off at home. Everyone I know who did the journey from Syria spent at least three thousand dollars. Many of them sold everything, their houses, their cars, all they owned to get this far. We’re the lucky ones.”
I know many of you have worked with refugees in various places. What are your thoughts on needing to have money to make the journey like Yusra did? Is that something you have experienced in your work?
After Yusra and her sister arrive in Berlin, they have the opportunity to swim again! I was amazed by the generosity of the coaches as they found a spot for Yusra to stay and train, providing meals and swimming gear and friendship too.
Depending on where one lives or what news they are listening to, there can be many stereotypes or stigmas related to refugees. Even the way we talk about people who leave their home country can impact our views: refugee, illegal immigrant, asylum seeker. There are layers to the issues and it can be overwhelming, confusing or triggering to try and unpack all that is involved.
You all have mentioned this too, but Yusra has brought a sense of humanity to the conversations about many of these issues. She talked about how it was hard to depend on others for help or for resources, how difficult it was to understand why she and others in her group were treated so poorly or taken advantage of. Even in the direst of circumstances, we all want to be treated respectfully and given the ability to make our own choices.
Are there issues that Yusra brought up in this section that surprised you or stuck out to you? As we finished this section she said, “Getting help from the IOC is an amazing opportunity for any athlete. But to get help because I’m a refugee? It feels a bit like charity. If I compete at the Olympics, I want it to be because I’m good enough. Not because people feel sorry for me.” What do you think about her reaction?
We will finish up our discussion of the book next week!
July 27– Chapters 18-22, Conclusion
In August we will be reading These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker! Here’s a summary of the book:
Before Dan opened his door to find a wounded woman who had escaped from the tormentors in the mountain, his life had become rather quiet. He and the eight other people in the mostly abandoned town had become friends. They spent peaceful evenings around the campfire and even made vague plans to journey east one day and leave the ominous mountain behind.
But the woman’s arrival changes everything.
Who is she? How does she know so much about Dan’s brother, who is still held captive in the mountain? Why are long-forgotten memories rising to the surface? And why does Dan feel so compelled to keep her presence in his house a secret?
Visionary writer Shawn Smucker is back with an unsettling story that invites us to consider two challenging questions: To what lengths will we go to assuage our own guilt? and Is there a limit to the things we will do for the people we love?
August 3: Prologue, Chapters 1-7
August 10: Chapters 8-15
August 17: Chapters 16-22
August 24: Chapters 23-30
August 31: No Book Club, learn about the next session of Connection Groups