I spontaneously burst into tears multiple times through Butterfly. It’s impossible not to have heard of Yusra Mardini before, or not to have heard about the Refugee Olympic Team, but I didn’t know that she had released a memoir this year. I’m so glad I happened upon it at the library!
Yusra was born in Syria to a relatively affluent family, and dreamed of swimming at the Olympics from a very early age. Both her sister Sara and herself trained extensively and both swam in international competitions for Syria as teens. When the war broke out Yusra continued to train, even when bombs were dropping around the pool (even IN the pool at one point).
Yusra’s life in Syria was one of a typical teen who enjoyed going out with her friends, using social media, fashion, and of course her main passion of swimming. But in 2015 she realized that she would never see her dreams come true if she stayed in Syria, and so she set out with Sara for Germany.
The trip is harrowing, and the part that has been told time and time again by journalists, where Sara, Yusra, and a few others, swim with their broken boat across the stretch of water between Turkey and Lesbos, is absolutely nerve wracking and heartbreaking. As is the part where they are stuck in Hungary and treated terribly, thrown into jail, ripped off by smugglers, treated like terrorists. I found great insight into how each of the different countries they go through treats refugees, and I think many people could benefit from reading this memoir. Out of all of the countries Yusra and Sara travel through Germany seems to have the right mindset on how to treat people who have fled their country with nothing, well, a lot better mindset than the US has to date anyway.
Yusra defies so many odds and continues to swim, and is selected by the International Olympic Committee to join the newly created ROT, and swims in Rio for the 2016 Olympics. She also becomes a spokesperson for refugees, and for humanity in general.
We need to read these stories, especially right now, because the media and governments continue to reduce refugees to something they are not. Yusra is amazing, and there are so many others like her. We need to remind our fellow human beings that refugees are people who didn’t necessarily leave their country because they wanted to, but because they had no choice.