Ok I only read one book this month – sue me! It’s a short month!
A couple years ago, I was extremely taken (possibly obsessed) with following the news coverage of a retired British couple who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates. I’m not sure exactly what hooked me, but I read every story I could get my hands on. The more I read, the more terrified I was for them, and the more frustrated I was with Britain for not doing more to rescue them. There were a couple harrowing videos were they talked about being separated for months and how scared they were. After 13 months, they were eventually rescued and the news stories were pretty vague.
I had so many questions: why would someone sail in dangerous Somali waters? how badly were they being tortured? why wasn’t the government doing more to rescue them?
When I saw they had co-written a book about their experience, I loaded it onto my iPad instantly. I just wanted to understand and learn more about their experience. Little did I know how much I would grow to somewhat despise them…
Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Gangsters – by Paul & Rachel Chandler: Written from their own perspectives, the story begins immediately with their sailboat being boarded by Somali pirates, being taken back to Somalia and living there in hopes of rescue. Initially, I realized that I had gotten the news stories wrong because they were not idly sailing in Somali waters. In fact, they were in a protected area of the Seychelles but the pirates mistook them for being extremely wealthy (in fact they were just a retired couple who had invested most of their savings into the sailboat). Once in Somalia, they were bounced from one area to another (apparently in hiding of being double kidnapped by Al-Quaeda), and at one point separated for several months for no apparent reason. The story gives every micro-detail of their daily lives, as they included not just a retelling, but actual diary notes. I have to admit it got tedious (how many times can you read that they had the same breakfast as the day before? or that they did yoga to stay “supple”?).
Here was my shocker: I actually felt that they were treated pretty humanely. Yeah, I’m sure it is frightening and mentally jarring to be kidnapped and taken to a foreign land. But what got me is that the pirates only resorted to violence once and it was when the Chandlers were openly defiant. Otherwise, they were given food (that was often described as “tasty”), water, shelter, personal items (like books, radio, etc), and medical supplies. The pirates knew that they would be of no value if they died, right?
The Chandlers gave very detailed narratives of who the pirates were and what their lives “guarding” were like…and frankly I thought the Chandlers had it better. The pirates often asked to use their radio or chair or have some water because they didn’t have any of their own. I found myself often sympathizing with the pirates because their lives sounded so pointless, and completely lacking options. When the pirates handed over the phone so that negotiations with their family and/or government were possible, the Chandlers drove me absolutely insane. Since pleading or sounded desperate would be shameful (in their minds), they played off their situation like it was no big deal, and they were incensed that the pirates made them act so desperate on video. Essentially it was all an act. Those videos I saw were totally staged.
That being said, I feel like I have a much more complete picture of what Somali pirate life must be like…total boredom, with bursts of exciting gunfire, and getting drunk. Once I was done, I was compelled to watch the movie Captain Phillips (which I just wrote a post about) and let me tell you that true story made the Chandlers look like enormous whiners.
I’m glad they made it out alive, but ultimately, I was much more sad for what I saw as the bigger picture of life in Somalia.