We rushed to hear Fabio Geda talk about how he met Enaiatollah Akbari, and my goodness but my Italian has improved! It’s almost good. Or it might have been Fabio who was good, dragging me with him, so to speak.
OK, so Fabio came with an interpreter, because his modesty is such that he didn’t want to subject us to his English (which is pretty good, and a lot better than my Italian). Whatever you might think about that, it meant we all got earfuls of beautiful Italian, which made the whole experience so much more, well, Italian.
To be fair, Fabio took most of the blame for the absence of Enaiatollah Akbari, having realised too late that England – sorry, Scotland – being outside Schengen a visa was required. So he’s been all over Europe, but not this time. Enaiatollah also appears to have been busy sitting his exams, which is why practicalities were not seen to.
Julia Eccleshare summarised what In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is about, and then Fabio told how he met the Afghan boy at an event for another of Fabio’s books (fiction), and how Enaiatollah pointed out that his story was true. They met for months, just talking, and because Enaiatollah was unable to write it, the job fell to Fabio.
They didn’t see eye to eye on everything. Fabio was furious with the people traffickers, while Enaiatollah was quite matter of fact and felt they were simply there to do a job. The same applied to the Greek woman who helped him. It’s not important who she was, only that she helped.
On the other hand, names have been changed to protect others. To share what happened helped, and Enaiatollah really wanted to tell his story. There is a saying that it’s better to learn from the experience of others.
Enaiatollah has spoken to his mother on the phone, but the two can’t meet. Well, in theory the mother could come to him, but she has two more children who can’t, and she has already had to choose once before… So he uses the success of the book to study at university and to travel, telling others about what it’s like to leave your country.
If he were ever able to return, Enaiatollah would go home to his village and take the place of his murdered school teacher, the man who stood up to the Taliban and died for it.
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is a very special story. Yesterday’s event was even more so, bringing everything much closer still. I’m with Julia Eccleshare on this; it’s a rare and moving tale that will remain with us for a long time.
Asked what it’s like to seek refuge in Italy, Fabio simply said ‘dificilissimo’. It was pure luck that Enaiatollah was accepted. It could just as easily have gone the other way.