Behrouz Boochani

As Shellfish As It Gets

It is clear that Laaf is shellfish. It can't relate about anything it does not relate to. And it can't be stopped once the relation established.

So here it is, the story of the day: Iranian-Kurdish migrant Behrouz Boochani, who's waves of misfortune had washed him on the shores of Manus Island and to the writing of the first WhatsApp novel in history.

And here is Laaf's reduced, mirror story:

In spring 2016 I found myself on the isle of Chios, a day after the EU shut its borders for the Middle Eastern refugees.

I was there with a medical team travelling in a MediBus, collecting the people that have ran from bombs and brutality through deserts, mountains and seas from the shores of the Mediterranean.

A week after my arrival, having assessed the situation, I wrote "The work with a field interpreter" instruction note for the use of the team. As we were a pilot project and the conditions were extreme, typing on my mobile this one instructive page seemed necessary.

Later on, when the project earned ECHO funding and from one tiny, traveling team grew up to a fleet of big "sedentary" teams in all the refugee camps around Greece; this one, phone-typed page was included in the instruction package that was handed to the hundreds of new project's members.

Few months later, when the frame of our work and social-political conditions have already changed, I felt the necessity to create a new, wider and more precise document with a similar title "A guide for work with an interpreter in the refugee camp".

This time the guide was 15 pages long and included specific notes for the team work with an interpreter within a Refugee camp and precise recommendations for the concrete positions in the now expanded teams.

These 15 pages were also written on my phone, because this was the easiest and most immediate tool that I had as an interpreter of a medical team within a refugee camp.

Once ready, I sent the document to the headquarters in Athens. The result was the least expected one.

The headquarters’ psychological team was sent over ! (Not that our team was lacking psychologists with whom I was working on a daily basis).

Their main concern being:

"Where did you write this document?"

"On my phone"

"You wrote 15 pages on your phone?"

"Yes, I did"

"Why did you do that?"

"Because I think it is necessary for the efficiency of the team work"

"But why did you write it on your phone?"

"Because this is what I have. I didn't bring my laptop"

"But was it so important for you, so that you spent all this time typing on your phone"

"I obviously think it is important."


The psychological team had two concerns with:

A) that writing 15 pages on one’s phone is manic ("Isn't typing a document in your phone a bit manic?". "I don't know, is it?").

B) that I am delusional as to insist that it was me who wrote the first instruction guide.


All my efforts to convince them:

A) that it was shear necessity that inspired me to produced the document and not manic compulsion.

B) that it was me who created the first set of instructions.



I couldn't convince them that I am the author of the original document because:

One, all the headquarters were parachuted once the ECHO money kicked in and the new “leaders” knew nothing of the creation and development of the project.

Two, when one gets into an organisation like this one signes a contract that says that all the intellectual fruit that one may produces belongs to the organisation and won't carry personal signatures.

Three, headquarters in general, and specifically headquarters' psychologists, don't expect a field interpreter to create a grounding documents.


The psychological team spent hours reading through my new document, showing me how it contradicts my old document.

According to them, they were showing me how “my” document contradicts the “official instructions”.


It is clear that my elaborated guide didn’t go anywhere near being handed to the teams’ field-coordinators for application. 


Thus the project spent two more years working on guidelines made for different people in different context. 

Luckily, I wasn't there anymore to witness.


So yes, on writing on mobilephones in refugee camps I have a clue.

Only on a little, five minths lomg clue.

And only as me, the author, being “a part of the establishment”.

Imagine what it is for a refugee.

For seven years.

The necessity.

Imagine the necessity that have created a novel.

It must have been immense.


"The interpreter is a part of the team" point one of the my "new" guidelines was saying.

"The refugee is a part of the human kind" is what the mere existence of No Friend But the Mountains is saying. It is surprising how the most obvious of evidences are the most easily neglected.


“Don’t be shellfish” was what social worker Khara would tell you while biting on your sandwich in the scorching heat and dust of the refugee camp. "Don't be shellfish".