Shoes from hell (4/6), by Laurent Gaudé

Country : Irak

Tags : Literature, Refugees, Kurdistan

The fourth chapter of Laurent Gaudé’s travel journal from the Kawergosk refugee camp—in the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan.

When refugees first arrived at Kawergosk in August 2013 the temperature was over 45 degrees. We can imagine them waiting in this treeless, shade-less place. Pregnant women. Exhausted children. The risk of dehydration. There are no reminders of that ordeal here today. Quite the opposite. The refugees now have to cope with the cold. In just a few months they have experienced the most testing of extremes. Kawergosk is built on thick, clayey soil. Now, in early December, it rains torrentially. In a matter of minutes the camp turns into an absolute field of mud, mud that clings to your soles and streams into your shoes if you accidentally step in a puddle...  And yet we keep coming across women walking along holding barefoot children by the hand…

Shoes. We ought to talk about shoes in Kawergosk. They are everywhere. We see them in their pairs outside every tent, lined up next to each other or strewn pell-mell. People systematically take off their shoes so as not to dirty the inside of their tents. When the mud dries, these shoes look like fossils trapped inside a thick grey coating.

"On the one hand mud that gets everywhere, on the other people pitifully coping with makeshift shoes."


When it rains in Kawergosk the camp’s alleyways are deserted. The wind blows. An icy wind. Inside each tent the sounds of dripping water and canvas flapping in the wind become mesmerising. Darkness comes early. Winter is on its way with its retinue of respiratory complaints and fevers. The cold will have these families in its grips, and it will be vital to have good shoes. One of the refugees’ daily struggles is right there, crystallised in simple concrete terms: on the one hand mud that gets everywhere, on the other people pitifully coping with makeshift shoes. For months now the people here have been suffering because of their feet. Icy cold is descending on Kawergosk. I look at all those pairs of old trainers and flip-flops outside the tents, and I could weep because these shoes are a perfect metaphor for the refugees’ circumstances, for their struggle and perhaps even for their fate. 

Last modification the 31 December 2017