Wish I Knew How

A year ago this morning I woke up in a filthy house in central Somalia, feeling weak and miserable. I’d been captive for two and a half years and had no reason to think my status would change. The Somalis fed me a sullen porridge of beans, the way you might feed a goat or a horse, and a few hours later they put me on the phone with a negotiator. The good man had no time to tell me a thing before one pirate grabbed the phone from my fingers — “Proof of life, only!” — and ended the call.

My blood pressure rose and stayed up for hours. I didn’t know what was about to happen. My heart just thumped with anger and grief. In most respects it was a normal day.

By the afternoon I was on a single-engine plane for Mogadishu. Twenty minutes after that I was on an Air Force transport plane for Nairobi. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of my family, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a number of US and German publications, members of the FBI and their German counterparts (the BKA), an unending nightmare had come to an end.

I wish I knew how to thank everyone.

For several months in Somalia the Nina Simone song above had dominated the part of my mind that responds only to music. I’d caught a snatch of it on my shortwave early in 2014. It still wrenches me like no other song.


Michael Scott Moore is a journalist and a novelist, author of a comic novel about L.A., Too Much of Nothing, as well as a travel book about surfing, Sweetness and Blood, which was named a best book of 2010 by The Economist. He’s won Fulbright, Logan, and Pulitzer Center grants for his nonfiction, and a MacDowell Colony fellowship for his fiction.

He worked for several years as an editor and writer at Spiegel Online in Berlin. He was kidnapped in early 2012 on a reporting trip to Somalia and held hostage by pirates for 32 months. The Desert and the Sea, a memoir about that ordeal, is out now from HarperCollins.

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Speaking Events

January 31, 2019

Hermosa Beach Historical Society

On the history of surfing, and Sweetness & Blood

6pm

710 Pier Avenue
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

April 03, 2019

University of New Hampshire

Current Issues Lecture Series

7pm

Memorial Union Building

Strafford Room
83 Main Street

Durham, NH 03824

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VIDEOS

My review of Ingrid Betancourt's first novel, The Blue Line, is up at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

While I was in Somalia a man called Geoff Carter wrote about a picture of Indian men surfing on stand-up boards around 1800 off Chennai, which altered the known history of surfing a bit, even though the picture was hiding in plain sight at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The men from the Naham 3 are all friends of mine — a crew of 26 sailors from southeast Asia who worked on a tuna long-liner flagged in Oman but owned by a company in Taiwan, which abandoned them after Somali pirates hijacked the ship in 2012.

A version of what happened in Somalia is available as a Long Read at The Guardian, and, in somewhat shorter form, for German readers, in Der Spiegel. It’s not even near complete. Enormous parts of the story have been left untold.

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