“Fear tends to stick around.”
Scott Carrier spends the night on a ferry from Lesbos to Athens with 500 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. It’s midnight in the Aegean Sea. He and his creative partner, Copenhagen-based photojournalist Camilla Madsen, have been on the so-called refugee trail following it forwards from the south, in a loop, back to where they started out in Northern Europe—where some of the refugees aim to arrive.
These are the coordinates that ground the piece. The scene and its characters are basic: sleeping, hopeful travelers whose worlds have been rocked by horror, by exploding reality; a rocking boat on a calm night on the dark sea. Carrier respects their respite, and maybe their literal dreams of a better life. He does not wake them for an interview, to amass their voices to tell a story (and yet the piece is not devoid of voices, since Carrier is a kind of channel for them). He’s done many, many interviews for his series of reports—more like witnessing—on his independent podcast, Home of the Brave.
This crisp episode is perfectly quiet. It could have been fancier. But with artifice might come distance. This is a witness account told in one, moderate voice. The constancy of the bass-boom of ferry engines behind it and a subtler sense of lapping waves offers minimal sonic composition in order to boost the weight of Carrier’s words. It’s not an active participation despite his riding along on the ferry to Athens: he’s awake, everyone else is slumbering. It’s a by-stander’s report to the interstice and an acute script of a long, ongoing narrative of liminality.
We feel safe, for about as long as these sleeping travelers do.
Carrier takes on the voices of people he’s spoken to earlier in the day, like a log of recorded conversations and interviews. Or maybe it’s their specter or whisper into the ear, though we don’t hear them specifically recorded. It’s alluring in its relative sound-less approach for radio. But like night and like the dark, inky sea and like immigration, there are many unknowns and absent voices that haunt this piece. This is an artifact being pulled from a watery depth, of murky and concrete borders crossed. The ferry’s engines hum. One’s own identity is in flux.
Scott Carrier is deeply within the orbit with these refugees. He’s embedded in a dark pool with relevant but grueling truths he must share and reveal to his fellow passengers. They ask him to tell them what’s going to happen next, like somehow he will know because he has a home for all his belongings or because he is a reporter and can see these things they cannot. They hang on his words.
What is a story but sequential and undeviating lines: “… this happened … and then this happened…” In the case of the interstice: … and this will happen next…
Not reading the news has meant that I’m reading what’s around me far more: pockets of woodland, buildings, people’s faces, the food on the table. —Em Strang
Sitting at breakfast with her children, poet-essayist Em Strang notices that one of the first things they experience is a list of deaths—tragic and often brutal. “How do you feel?” asks the man on the radio. We feel ambivalent about engaging with this pumping out of gratuitous reportage, she suggests.
We follow along from far away. The potential horrors unfurl or we imagine spaces of past horrors and imagine future hurdles. But now, on a rocking ferry boat, we luxuriate. It’s where nothing can be felt but the quiet rumble of the engines and sleeping bodies as they exhale. Distant waves lap to the edges of a boat moving steadily through open waters.
To listen to the entire Refugee Trail series by Scott Carrier and to view more images by Camilla Madsen, visit Home of the Brave.