Excerpt “No Right Way” by Michael Niemann

Excerpt from NO RIGHT WAY by Michael Niemann
 “Where is Zada?” Rima Ahmadi said to the three women who were picking grapes closest to her. She stood up and wiped the sweat from her forehead. Her clothes were damp, too. Across the rows of grapevines, some twenty others, more than half of them women, were doing the same thing. A gaggle of children, some as young as three, hung about. The older ones helped, the little ones sat in the shade. The pickers’ arms moved rapidly, darting out to the fruit like snakes striking an unsuspecting rodent. Ahmadi was much slower. She’d only started at the vineyard three weeks earlier. Back at her home town south of Aleppo, she’d worked as an elementary school teacher after finishing university. Then the civil war arrived. Picking fruit for a living wasn’t something she’d ever had to do.

“Yesterday, Zada said that she had learned something important,” Ahmadi said. “But she never came back to the camp.”

The camp being the jumble of tents where the refugees lived. To call it rudimentary would be an exaggeration. She’d come to Turkey late. Although the war started in 2011, it had skipped her town for four years. Until it didn’t. When she made it across the border, the official refugee camp in Kilis was full. She would have liked to stay there. She’d heard people talking about the white containers repurposed for housing. They were tight, but bearable. There were places to wash clothes, shops to buy groceries, a little town just for Syrian refugees. Their camp by the vineyard only had a pump and a latrine.

“Zada was very bright and very brave,” Ahmadi said. “I wonder what she learned. Did she tell you?”

One of the women, Rahel Besher, stopped picking and said, “No, she didn’t tell anyone. You better pick grapes or the foreman will be angry again. We have to make our quota and when you don’t do yours, it hurts all of us.”

Ahmadi looked down. Rahel was right. She didn’t pull her weight and the others suffered because of it. She concentrated on cutting the grape clusters with the dull knife and filling her basket. The others knew how to empty a grapevine with the least amount of wasted effort. She hadn’t figured that out yet. She worked haphazardly, cutting here and there and then having to go back when she missed some. It was the worst job she’d ever had.

When she fled Syria, she’d brought her savings and stayed at a shabby hotel. She knocked on all doors she could find to ask for work. Anything, madam. I’m a good worker. But she was too late. Other refugees who’d come in the years before had taken the menial jobs in town that didn’t require knowing Turkish. The local school had openings but not for an Arabic speaker. And, anyway, she couldn’t have documented her qualifications. The certificates burned, just like most of her documents in the house after the missile hit.

The foreman came down the row to inspect the work of the pickers. He was a stocky man with greasy hair, grubby clothes and a three day stubble. A cigarette dangled from his mouth. When he got to Ahmadi, he started yelling in Turkish. She didn’t know what he was saying, so she kept her head down. He yelled even more and punched her in the back. She stumbled and her basket toppled to the ground, grapes scattering over the dirt. She looked up. He switched to Arabic and told her she was missing too many grapes. The anger in his face scared her almost as much as the shooting back in her hometown. She knelt, picking up the spilled grapes as fast as she could.

“You must pick all of them,” Rahel said.

Ahmadi stayed on her knees, looked down and said “Evet, efendim.” Being answered in Turkish with a polite “Yes, Sir” seemed to mollify him and he went on to the next person.

“Now you’ve made him angry,” Rahel said. “Be careful. He’s a mean man. Pull your scarf back over your hair. Don’t give him any excuses. Or he will come after you.”

Ahmadi had held back her tears until the foreman left. “How can you stand this?” she said, bursting out. “It would have been better to die at home than live like a dog in Turkey.”

“Don’t speak like that. Even a bad life is better than death. You are young. The war won’t last forever. One day you’ll go home, insha’Allah. Until then, stay away from that man.”

Ahmadi hurried to catch up with the others. When her basket was full, she went to dump it in the bin at the end of the row. She noticed the foreman looking at her, she covered most of her face with her scarf.

By lunchtime, the temperature had risen well into the nineties. It was very hot for September. The workers sat in whatever shade the grapevines offered and drank water and ate the meagre rations they’d brought, a crust of bread, a few olives and raisins. The grapes they picked weren’t for eating. They would be dried and processed into molasses.

Rahel said she was worried about her middle son. “He should be in school.” They all knew what she meant. Most of them had families at the camp. Old parents who could no longer work, or children who were too young to be at the vineyard. But it was their teenage boys that worried them. They ignored their father’s orders and hung out in Kilis instead of working. School was out of the question.

“I’m worried about Zada,” Ahmadi said. “It’s not like her not to come to work. Did any of you see her at the camp?”

“I saw her yesterday afternoon,” a man said. “She was headed to town.”

“By herself?” Ahmadi said. Kilis was an hour’s walk from the camp. Not a safe thing to do for a woman alone.

“Yes, by herself.”

Excerpted from NO RIGHT WAY. Copyright (c) 2019 by Michael Niemann. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

More About No Right Way (Coffeetown Press, on-sale June 11, 2019):

It is the fall of 2015. The refugee stream from Syria into Turkey has swelled to unprecedented numbers. Valentin Vermeulen, investigator for the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, is sent to check that the money sent to alleviate the crisis is spent for the intended purposes.

He visits a newly established UN sub-office in Gaziantep, southern Turkey. After being stood up by the local administrator, Vermeulen spends the weekend in Kilis to see if the refugees not living in official camps receive proper aid. He makes his way to a rough tent camp. None of the refugees there have received any aid.

At the camp, he meets Rima, who’s questioned by the police in connection with the murder of her friend. His decision to help her sets in motion a violent confrontation from which they barely escape. Despite her plea for help, he has to go back to Gaziantep.

His investigation into why the refugees in the camp haven’t received any aid leads to the discovery of an audacious fraud perpetrated by the local mafia. Since Rima hasn’t stopped asking questions either, both are chased by the mafia and the police. Desperate to recover the stolen millions and keep Rima safe, Vermeulen faces his toughest challenge yet.

This is the fourth in the Valentin Vermeulen Thriller series.

About the Author

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he embarked on a different way to write about the world. For more information, go to: michael-niemann.com.

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