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Q&A with Elika Ansari - The Five Stages of Moria


The Five Stages of Moria

By Elle Summers


We are thrilled to introduce Elika Ansari to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Five Stages of Moria.


The voices of Moria Refugee Camp are unified in their grief. Homes, hope, and dignity are lost in amongst squalid living conditions and the omnipresent void where the illusion of salvation once lived.


Based on true stories, The Five Stages of Moria, resurrects the largest refugee camp in Europe and allows readers to bear witness to the monolithic trauma held within. In this blend of autobiography and fiction, readers not only meet five distinct characters who must grapple with the five stages of grief, but also the reality of a camp, and a world, in which they would otherwise be forgotten.


The Five Stages of Moria

Hi Elika! Thank you so much for speaking with the Reading Corner about your novel The Five Stages of Moria. I found this such a thought-provoking and eye-opening text, providing me with insights into human experiences that I have never been shown before. Can you please tell us a little bit about the background of this text and what inspired you to write it?


Sure. So I have spent almost 9 years working with refugees and asylum seekers in different countries and different contexts, and five of those nine years in Refugee Camps across Greece. In that time, I came across a number of interesting characters and stories, and I always had it in the back of my mind to write something about it, but I never had the time or energy to do so while working in the camps. Things always happened so fast there, and there was always so much to do, that I felt I had no space to properly reflect on everything that was happening and all the injustices I was witnessing. At the beginning of 2020 I was on lockdown, staying with family, when I had the idea to write the Five Stages of Moria. Moria was one of the most infamous and largest camps in Europe, at one point hosting over 20,000 people. I began to reflect on everything I had witnessed so far working in the camp, not only in people in situations, but also in myself. The experience, after all, had been a very protracted, psychological one, as if Moria was this monolithic traumatic that drew everyone, regardless of the backgrounds or histories, together.


I would love to hear more about your own experiences of being an aid worker. How did you secure this role and what made you want to provide support and help in this way?

I was in Brussels, working Foreign Affairs and volunteering with refugees when the EU-Turkey Deal was signed in 2016. In essence, what this meant was that a transient camp like Moria became a much more long-term residence than it was intended or built for. So instead of days, people would have to remain there for months and even years after this Deal was signed, meaning living in precarious conditions, with very poor access to sanitation, shelter, hygiene and food in overcrowded and inhumane conditions. I know I could help as I spoke the language of many of the asylum seekers (Iranian, Afghan, French African) and it was a cause that was close to my heart as I was already volunteering with refugees in Belgium. So I applied to a few NGOs and I got a starting role in the Danish Refugee Council in the field of Protection Monitoring. It was originally meant to be a temporary thing but I ended up staying in Greece in different capacities and organisations for over 5 years!

The Five Stages of Moria follows the structure of the theory of the Five Stages of Grief. I found this so compelling, intertwining the character voices with this theory, to show all facets of human emotion and how this alters over time. What made you choose this structure?

As mentioned, perhaps the most harrowing thing about Moria camp, was not its precarious, unsanitary conditions, but that it became such a protracted psychological experience after

2016 - an experience that gradually wore you down. I began to see this wearing down and

roller coaster of emotions in people. For example, after a while, it was easy to tell they had

just arrived in the camp -as they were in an utter state of shock because that’s not what they

were expecting to see once they’d put their perilous journey behind them. Or I could tell who’d already been there a few months, experienced all doors shutting in their face because

they were angry, but did not know who to direct their anger towards. And so on.


That’s why I modelled the book around the 5 Stages of Grief - to demonstrate the psychological patterns and stages people with any experience of Moria would be expected to go through - and that includes humanitarian workers like myself.


One of the characters you explore in your book is that of Maryam, an aid worker. Through

her voice the reader can feel connected to the refugee camp, as in some way, Maryam is an

outsider too. Why was it important for you to include this perspective in your work?


Because I went through the five stages as well, and so do many humanitarian workers. We talk a lot about compassion fatigue, burnout, or even depression, but we don’t really flesh out the severity of these issues among aid workers. I had a lot of feedback from colleagues saying how much they identified with the Maryam character and that her experience is something that should be addressed more as well. I wanted people to see that as an aid worker, you are both an insider and an outsider - you experience the camp in a more restricted way of course, but you are also privy to its injustices and on another, the feeling of guilt comes across very strongly for this character, precisely because she is in that in-between space where she is there to help but realises there is really not a whole lot she can do.


Among other characters, you explore voices of single female and young male characters and

the struggles they face in the refugee camp. How do you think your text sits in the wider

canon of refugee literature, and how does your text help provide a voice for those who would usually go unheard?


Well, I tried to explore the camp from all perspectives, including males and females of all ages and circumstances, in order to portray the overreaching effect of the camp - to say, in a sense, that no matter who you are or who you were, the camp is an equaliser in that no one is immune to its impact. And the reason I chose to write it as fiction was indeed to give that voice back to the residents, to tell the story from their perspective, how I originally heard it myself rather than telling it from my view point. There are many other important texts that give voice to refugees, particularly those written by authors with lived experience. ‘The Displaced’, edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen, comes to mind, among many others, but I can think of few that are purely fiction.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for people wanting to help and aid the refugee movement?


I would advise them to start volunteering in their vicinity just to become acquainted with the type of problems you’d be dealing with if you were to decide to continue in a more prolonged sense or to go abroad. I would also advise to keep some distance and avoid getting too sucked into the issues - the world is unjust, and nowhere is this injustice clearer than in policies that force human beings to risk their lives and that of their family for the mere chance of being granted protection. You can’t solve the overarching problem, you can only help in a very limited way - but sometimes, for one person, even that limited help can be enough.


What has been your experience of the publishing industry with this novel, was it received in

the way you expected and how did you find the journey from putting pen to paper, to holding a physical copy of your text in your hands?


Loads of rejections at first, loads of people telling me to write it as non-fiction without really comprehending my motives for wanting to write it as a multi-POV novel. But in the end, I found the best-suited charity publisher, Arkbound, and an amazing editing team who helped me shape the text into what it is today. Holding the book in my hand for the first time came with mixed feelings, on the one hand it was really amazing to finally see the test copy in print, but on the other hand it was funny as the camp’s name was misspelt on the sleeve of the book!


Where can people find your amazing book?


The best place would be either the publisher’s website, Arkbound, or Amazon!

 The Five Stages of Moria

Elika Ansari is a writer, social scientist, and humanitarian professional. She has been working in NGOs in refugee camps for the past two years, including what has been recently described as ‘the world’s worst refugee camp’, and as such she has had the (mis)fortune of hearing many touching stories about hardship and perseverance. She tries to focus her writing on globally relevant issues with the hope of one day making a difference through the stroke of the pen (or click of the keyboard), however small that may be. She loves writing anything from essays and articles to children’s fiction, and she does not shy away from the occasional rants about society’s downfalls.


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