Welcome To Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird
I found this novel in the adult section at the local library, although it is written for adolescents. That said, it’s still an enjoyable and thought-provoking story about those caught up in the bloody conflict currently playing out in Syria.
As much as I am tempted to rant about the causes of said bloody conflict, I will desist, as Rebel Voice has a Geo-political section that deals with such matters. Instead, I will tell you that Welcome To Nowhere is well worth the little time it takes to read, if you want to better understand some of the repercussions for ordinary people caught up in any armed conflict.
Omar is almost thirteen. He lives in Bosra and dreams of becoming a successful businessman. He shares his modest home with his mother, Leila, his father, Hamid, his older sister, Eman, his older brother, Musa (who has cerebral palsy), his little brother Fuad and their baby sister, Nadia. Life is busy and normal. The family are doing ok until Hamid, a government employee, is reposted to Daraa in the south of the country.
They stay with Omar’s paternal grandmother who is a severe and unhappy old crone. It is during this time that the first stirrings of public discontent about the government emerge, which leads suspiciously quickly to all-out war. We then follow the family as they flee the hostilities which seem to move steadily across the land consuming both lives and peace.
Omar’s small domestic band makes it to a farm belonging to a relative but they get little respite as trouble follows soon after. So it is that they are forced across the border into Jordan where they join hundreds of thousands of others in the UN refugee camps there.
Welcome To Nowhere is somewhat sanitized as befits the target demographic. Yet it still manages to put a human face upon the statistics that pour from Syria. As we become intimately acquainted with the struggling family, we can better understand the small things – and not so small things – that are often overlooked when such facts are recounted.
For example, Eman fights against an arranged marriage; Leila fights to assert herself in face of traditional male dominance; Musa battles to gain respect and acceptance from those around him because of his disability; Hamid tries to come to terms with his own loss of control over his family, and Fuad and Nadia suffer from both trauma and serious physical health conditions.
There are scenes of great humility between those who suffer, as well as depictions of cruelty and a callous disregard for the rights of the individual and their life. The chapters set in the refugee camp are as heart-rending as the author could allow when writing for those who are still children themselves.
I must confess to a high degree of ignorance with respect to the conditions that are to be found in such places as UN refugee camps. I’m glad that Elizabeth Laird has opened my eyes to the circumstances suffered there. Laird was, herself, in a number of camps helping with educational programs and will have observed much. She states in a letter at the end how she was inspired to pen Welcome To Nowhere by requests from refugees who wished their story told. Laird’s experiences give her great credibility.
The author does appear to take an anti-Assad stance at the beginning of the story, but this is expanded upon to include the so-called ‘rebels’. Eventually, all the combatants are blamed for the increasing death and destruction across this ancient civilization.
It’s extremely sad and nauseating to think of all the innocent lives that have been lost in this brutal war. I would like to think that whoever is responsible would be wracked with guilt. Sadly, I doubt if such people have a conscience. No conscience, no guilt, no remorse. It’s a shitty world at times.
In Welcome To Nowhere, the cities of Europe are the Utopian destinations for many. Rumours, fables and fabrications abound in the camps in which western nations are believed places of Paradise. I suppose if you have just come from a city where shells destroy residential buildings and children’s corpses lie scattered around, then Berlin or London would seem like an Eden.
For Rebel Voice, the leitmotif of the carnage in Syria will always be the small, lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, the beautiful and angelic 3 year old boy who washed up upon a Turkish beach wearing blue shorts and a red t-shirt. That image will haunt many minds until our time arrives. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of Alan Kurdis who drowned trying to flee the conflict in Syria. They also streamed from across Africa determined to escape the violence there as well. There are thousands more who never made it out of Syria. Every single individual one of those children should matter immensely. To those who started these wars, they don’t.
Elizabeth Laird’s touching and gentle story is one that deserves to be told. It should be included on school curriculums everywhere so that the adults of the future might understand today.
Welcome To Nowhere is a damning indictment of the all-too-present inhumanity extant in our species. It is also a tribute to the gritty instinct for survival that we, and most especially our children, possess. It is an instinct that the children refuse to relinquish easily. They are all the more admirable for that.
Where there’s life, there’s hope.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. A very good read, and informative about a terrible event that we all would be better knowing about.