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 literary 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 and Popmatters. He was kidnapped in 2012 on a reporting trip to Somalia and held hostage for two and a half years. The Desert and the Sea, a memoir about that ordeal, is out now from HarperCollins.

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Speaking Events

September 04, 2018

USC Center on Public Diplomacy

12:00pm to 1:00pm

USC campus; ASC 207

Los Angeles, CA 90089

October 17, 2018

Mechanic’s Institute Library
Part of LitQuake

7pm (subject to change)

57 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94104

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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.

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.

Some people have asked about the Somalia memoir. It’s right on schedule, I promise, but it won’t be out for at least another year. It’s been revised in full, twice (see above), and it’ll need a few more revisions before we get anywhere. Old-fashioned authorship. July, 2018?

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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