Marion – Border crossings

Border crossingsMédecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is not just an inspiring organization they have an inspiring name, too. It reminds us there are no limits to their service, no lines they won’t cross in order to help people. It doesn’t matter whether you live on this side of the divide, or on the other: either way you deserve to be helped.Some borders are borders in name only. There are resorts in the European Alps where you can start a ski run in one country and finish it in another. This fluidity exists throughout the European Union where Germans are used to driving across the border to France to shop in a supermarket, and vice versa.Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’ve crossed into another country. It can be as simple as going across one of the bridges in Istanbul — unless you look at the sign welcoming you to Europe or to Asia, you probably wouldn’t be aware from the surroundings that anything has changed. This last week a British tourist behind me on the tram at Eminnu quipped to his wife, “This is Europe and that’s Asia — chips over here and rice over there.” Of course, the culinary divide is not so clear-cut!Other borders are so firmly closed that there are guards and dogs and barbed wire to stop those with no right to cross from crossing. Israel often closes the borders into Palestinian territory when they feel threatened by terrorist attacks. North Korea is almost totally sealed off from the outside world and the demilitarized zone between it and South Korea is effectively a tightly controlled closed border.It is leaders, not people, who insist on closing borders. Few of us will ever forget the scenes of celebration when the Berlin Wall came down. Similar scenes of emotion and excitement followed the opening of the Ledra Palace crossing in Nicosia in 2003, enabling Turkish and Greek Cypriots to cross to the other side of the city and the island for the first time in 30 years. Today there are a number of crossings open: One of my friends crosses daily to go to school. What was once a demilitarized green line is now a routine crossing for him. Who knows what the future holds? Political talks could lead to this border being as flexible and free as many others in the world.My friend crosses daily to study: His is a legitimate border crossing, with the authorities’ approval marked by an official stamp. But many hundreds of people each day attempt a crossing in fear and trembling. Stowed away in a truck, hidden in the trunk of a car, or sitting motionless and silent in a passenger seat, their border crossing is illegal and risky. Fervent prayers to remain undetected accompany their progress.We normally think of these illegal migrants as those seeking economic aancement. But what of those running from unspeakable horrors back home?“The Walking,” by Laleh Khadivi, will challenge your prejudices and take you deep into the psyche of one who has had to run. In this gripping novel she explores the journey of two Kurdish brothers from Iran in the months following the Iranian Revolution.Saladin has always been dazzled by the West, ever since his mother took him to see a film as a 6-year-old boy. He often dreams of obtaining an air-ticket to Los Angeles, and the glamorous going-away party that his modern friends would throw for him, replete with American pop music and pretty girls. His older brother Ali is more down to earth. They both work with their father, who is an Agha Captain in the security forces.But the last of Saladin’s dreams leaves him when political upheaval leads to an Ayatollah being in charge, and his Revolutionary Guards quickly come to install order and to test the loyalty of the security forces in the Kurdish region. Rounding up 11 Kurdish men, they submit them to a kangaroo court trial that lasts less than half an hour before they pass the death sentence. The Revolutionary Guards require the boys and their father to take the condemned men to a quiet place, and then insist that they should be the ones to carry out the executions. The brothers are begged by their father to do as ordered for the sake not just of their family but for all in the region. “If you love this land, do as they ask. Do it to tell the new Ayatollah that the Kurds are loyal, or put us all in danger.”Called upon to take part in this atrocity, Saladin decides he must not think. But his older brother snaps with the horror of the execution he has just performed and turns his gun on the Revolutionary Guards. Now the brothers must run for their lives. Saladin’s send-off party consists of the murdering guards, who have now been murdered themselves.So begins the long walk. They are helped out of Iran by villagers who risk their lives to shelter them, even donning sheepskins (including heads) to fool aerial patrols. “Wait here for a Datsun truck. The driver’s name is Ali Reza. Make sure he’s Ali Reza. Anyone else is the authorities.” Saladin is set on a course for America. Ali just wants to go a little way to safety, and then return once the heat has cooled off.This story throbs with the heartbeat of fear, of love between brothers, of loyalty and betrayal, and of love for one’s homeland. After the initial escape the storytelling splits into two parts. We see Saladin alone in America, and his experiences as a vagrant illegal immigrant in a country that is struggling to come to terms with 52 American hostages being held for 444 days in the Tehran Embassy siege. Through flashbacks we trace the brothers’ journey across Turkey and then its continuation westwards.We live and breathe the tension between a brother who longs to return to his homeland and one who believes in Hollywood’s dream world, and the suspense of knowing how, when and why they separated keeps us riveted. What happened to Ali? Is he still alive? We also suffer the agonies of Saladin’s realization that LA is no paradise if you have no papers and no money. But once Ali’s fate is revealed, the final part of the story is an anticlimax that cannot be rescued by Khadivi’s wonderful lyrical prose.This book speaks to the heart because the author has lived the journey she describes from Esfahan to California. She has shared many conversations and endless cups of tea in Iran with people deciding to go or determined to stay. She describes this as “not a lone decision: we meet in groups to talk it over, to look into the eyes of family and dear friends and ask do we go?” In the same way she has sat while cigarettes are smoked and tea drunk in run-down boarding houses in California.This realism shines through. But above all she does not romanticize the journey. She helps us feel what it means to be the welcomed, or the waiting, or the persecuted. And there is no judgment between the brothers: This book is a love song to Iranians both those in Iran and in the diaspora, for it is dedicated “to those with the courage to leave, and to those with the courage to stay.”“The Walking,” by Laleh Khadivi, is published by Bloomsbury (2014). 8.99 pounds in paperback ISBN: 978-140884267-6 Rating: three stars out of five

SOURCE: Todays Zaman

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