By Abdourahman Waberi*
Jeffrey Gettleman will not run the risk of being seen as ‘a nobody, a cockroach, a gangster,’ unlike the Somali pirates he depicted in the columns of the New York Times Magazine last weekend (‘Taken by Pirates‘, Oct 5, 2011). In that particular piece of reportage, a totally asymmetric treatment is set from the beginning and accepted as an indisputable truth. The Chandlers, a British couple taken hostage by a group of ‘scruffy’ Somali pirates, are the real people the journalist is concerned about. But in the process, we the readers are, in our turn, taken hostage by the journalist’s asymmetric vision.
We know from the very first lines that he is the omniscient eye and ear of the most powerful newspaper in the West and that he is reporting from the worst places on this earth. The fact of being there constitutes a badge of honour and a privilege he will not easily give up. Thanks to people like Jeffrey Gettleman, who continually shed their own kind of light on the tragedies and injustices in the Horn of Africa, my native region is routinely misrepresented. And the world has grown tired of the Somali story; Brave Jeffrey has not. He deserves my admiration. Better, I should thank him immensely for his courage and his dedication and praise his sense of observation. Even when the latter is more often than not approximate, if not fuzzy: ‘It wasn’t really a pretty night’, Rachel Chandler recalled… ‘There was no moon, and the stars were shrouded by clouds… Within seconds, eight scruffy Somali men hoisted themselves aboard’.
Jeffrey Gettleman seems to be a failed novelist (mentors’ list may include Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene). Having read and re-read his piece, I am tempted to give him some old-fashioned advice : ‘Shoemaker, stick to thy last… Better do supremely well one thing than many badly!’