This movie was MUCH better than I expected. It was extremely real and held a depth that the truth does more than standard formulaic Hollywood story telling. I highly recommend it as some solid telling of a real person’s story.
Warning: spoilers below.
The Pirates of Somalia tells the true story of Jay Bahadur, a young Canadian trying to make a name for himself while living at home and working as a questioner for supermarket product placing. In a chance meeting with his journalist idol, Seymour Tolbin, Tolbin inspires him with some wisdom. He says that the reason journalism is a pile of garbage today is because real journalism can’t be taught – it’s innate. Tolbin says his famous war reporting (that gave him shrapnel in his back) wasn’t by using his head, but following his instincts on the story. Tolbin tells Jay that if he wants to be a big journalist, you gotta go somewhere crazy. Somewhere western reporters would consider it too dangerous to go – and write about it.
In pondering this later, Jay thinks back to a paper he wrote about Somaliland. It’s a place no western journalist would go after the brutal civil war of the 1990’s (made even more infamous by the Black Hawk Down incident). Jay then sees a news report on the famous hijacking of Richard Phillips’ ship by Somali pirates. Taking a completely blind leap, he contacts their diplomatic office via email, is accepted to come, and flies there with almost no money.
The majority of the movie is a very realistic and humble telling of Jay’s adventures. He meets the pirates – but even more so in the telling of his struggles and relationships with the people of Somalia. Along the way, Jay learns some great life lessons – lessons I think are universal:
- Boyah is a lower Somali pirate that sees himself as the Robin Hood of his people. He says he is only defending his country’s waters and just extracting the taxes due his people from illegal fishing. Jay starts shooting cans that are ‘the size of a man’s heart’ with Boyah. The pirate tells him to shoot the cans not as if at an enemy, but as if it’s his lover’s heart. When Jay finally hits one, he says the heart was that of his ex-girlfriend. Boyah is disappointed and says that it was a waste of bullets – because there was “no joy in your victory, only revenge.” While certainly not a Christian ethic of ‘turn the other cheek’ and forgiveness – he has a lot more insight than many. Even when we’re fighting for something, are we fighting for good – or just revenge? Is the aim of our activates to spread evil/vengeance/revenge – or to follow one’s heart to joy. I think it’s a something here about how one can still maintain their focus on true joy/vision/path while even in the thick of the worst evils.
- At the end, Jay is brought in as an expert to speak with various western generals who ask him what he thinks is needed to stop the pirate hijackings. Jay remarks on Somali’s amazing bloodless election in 2002 in which the minority clan won the election – yet the transition of power happened without a single shot fired. He told of the fact Somalians used to settle disputes and wars using poetry – not guns. Jay sums up that, “A fledgling democracy doesn’t make headlines like pirates do. You guys wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me if I just wrote a book on a fledgling democracy. All I’m asking is that you guys start to look at Somalia in a different way, not so much as them vs us, but rather look at Somalia as us, when we were young.” This spoke to me in several ways. First is how shallow our journalism is – and that we, nor our style of sensationalistic journalism, really cares about the everyday struggles that actually matter to the lives of most people. It reminded me never to discount anyone. Game designers have a saying, “Every winner was once a beginner”. Every great person was once broken or needed help. It’s reminds me of the way of Christ – that is to enter into the often broken realities of every person with love, respect, and dignity. And to walk that path of redemption with them. That real conversion happens when we forgive and walk with our enemy.
- If you have a natural gift, follow the innate leads it directs you towards. I found some of the lessons Jay got were the same as mine. Jay started following his dream of being a journalist. I found that I had a gift and natural drive towards computers and programming. I followed that gift throughout elementary school through college – despite the fact my pursuit of it lead me down strange paths. I taught myself to program when I was in elementary school. I bought my own computer when others were buying their first cars. I spent my money on programming books and devoured everything I could find at local libraries. Later, I entered programming contests and won more often than I imagined – even winning a trip to Japan to work with big corporations. Following instincts that weren’t the established path turned out to have opened countless career doors, experiences, and relationships I would never have had. Something I think Jay would agree with. I sure may not be easy at times, but following your instincts can be life-changing.