There have been a number of books written about how Syrian girls have fled their homeland because of the war and described their treacherous journeys across the sea towards freedom, peace and hopefully, a better future. In this book, ‘Butterfly’, you’ll read the story of how sisters Yusra and Sara escape Syria and make their way to Germany. The climax is when the inflatable dinghy (built for 8 passengers, but forced to carry 20) starts to sink out at sea after the engine dies. The girls, together with some of the male passengers, get into the water so as to lighten the load and keep the boat and everyone else afloat. *Though a lot of the credit has to go to Sara, Yusra is the one who eventually gets all the fame. I really would love to read Sara’s account of events. 😉
By the age of 12, Yusra has already made it into the national team, swimming for Syria. While the sisters are equally talented at swimming, Sara’s shoulder injuries mean she cannot fulfill her dreams of becoming an Olympian. But Yusra can, and she has.
This book, ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph’ is impossibly well-written. I think a lot of the credit has to go to co-writer Josie Le Blond, whom Google tells me is a British freelance journalist in Berlin.
It seems almost incredible how a swimmer in Syria who survived a bomb blast and fled to Germany would eventually landed a Visa commercial, a sponsorship deal with Under Armour, become the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, get named in People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World (2016) and TIME’s The 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016 too!
Indeed, Yusra’s story grips the imagination such that it even has journalists spinning tales, such as one about how Yusra, with a rope around her waist, pulled a boat with 150 people to safety.
Here are a few thought-provoking parts of the book:
#1: Without Sara, would Yusra even have made it to Germany?
My hunch is that without her more decisive older sis, Yusra would not have made it all the way to Germany. But, of course, this is just my guess.
#2: If war breaks out here in Singapore, would we not be leaving our homeland just like Yusra and Sara did?
Unlike a soldier, I can’t fight. And unlike Yusra and Sara, I’m not even a good swimmer. I hope there are enough planes, buses, boats and motorized sampans to get us all out of Singapore.
#3: Why people would dehumanize or think any lesser of these folks whom we term ‘refugees’. The people at a restaurant in the island of Lesbos refused to sell them water. In Belgrade, hoteliers refused to serve customers with Syrian passports. Smugglers are also out to make a quick buck from helpless Syrian refugees, even keeping large numbers of them prisoner in Hotel Berlin. In Hungary, they are treated like vermin by the police and given food probably unfit for human consumption. They are also treated like animals when they are transported in cages.
#4: Yusra and her family and friends are a different kind of ‘refugee’. While on the run, they are “posting selfies on Instagram and chatting online with friends back home”, checking locations and getting directions.
#5: While some Europeans treated the refugees poorly, the Germans were quite the opposite, giving them a warm welcome. There are donations, housing and even monthly allowances.
#6: At the Rio Olympics, Yusra was part of the Refugee Olympic Team, or ROT for short, which seems quite an unfortunate acronym.
“…Steven asks me what I learned on the journey. That’s easy. I learned perspective. Back in Syria I wasted time worrying about petty things. Now I know what real problems are. My eyes have been opened.”
“It’s just easier to laugh than to cry. If I cry, I’ll cry alone. But if we laugh, we can do it together.”
This book is definitely a very good read. You’ll enjoy it though at the end, you might find yourself wondering, like I did, how much of it is fact and how much of it is embellishment. Unless the author has a phenomenal / photographic memory, it’s unlikely that a person can remember so many details from being on the run (from the war, from the police, from the bad guys, etc). And after the numerous rounds of retelling of the story to so many journalists, it’s not impossible that some things may not be entirely true / accurate anymore.