Viewers across the country were moved by recent BBC coverage of Amar Kanim being reunited with his family, 30 years on from the conflict which nearly killed him. However, with life bringing further challenges for the “boy in the photo” since then, the Angling Trust and Fishing Megastore felt it was also important to reunite him with his favourite pastime of angling. Dominic Garnett went to meet him.
While I’ve crossed paths with plenty of colourful characters in the angling world, it’s not every day you meet someone like Amar Kanim. His life story, which featured recently on a recent BBC Panorama special, brings such a rollercoaster of emotions, from the human tragedy of war to the power of hope and redemption. To say that I’m intrigued to meet the man himself would be an understatement.
A sleepy village not far from Dartmoor could not be further from his roots in war torn Basra. And yet having surviving injuries that would have killed most children, this rural idyll became his home from home. Indeed, speaking to Amar on the phone, you might think you were conversing with a local lad from Devon. It was here where he made a new start and found his love of the English countryside and fishing.
It takes me a little while to find Amar’s place, such is the typically Devonian little maze of lanes where he lives. He’s excited about going fishing after a fair lay off and in no time we’re chatting away like old pals about bass, mullet and carp.
When you stop and reflect on Amar’s life, water is a recurring theme. Apart from the rocky beaches and quiet lakes of his adopted home in Devon, it is a river that literally saved Amar’s life in 1990. Caught in a napalm attack and severely burned, it was only his leap into the Shatt al-Arab River that quenched his severe burns and gave him the faintest hope of survival.
It seems fitting, therefore, that water would later come to hold a more peaceful significance for his new life and the process of healing. Growing up in Devon with MP Emma Nicholson, the woman who campaigned to save him, it was she and her husband who would take Amar outdoors, where he’d discover fishing.
“I grew up running free in Iraq, I was a real wild child,” he tells me. “I was always exploring. We’d find snakes and all sorts! I always loved being out and about- so that’s maybe why fishing connects me to being a kid.”
In more recent times, however, life has been hard for Amar and fishing has been put on the back burner for some time. In fact, he was forced to sell what little tackle he had last winter in order to pay the bills and keep his flat warm. Which is exactly why I’m here today, on behalf of the Angling Trust and Fishing Megastore, to put this right and get our wild child back on the bank
New tackle, fresh start
As we make our way down winding Devon roads, you can sense the anticipation.
“I missed my fishing a lot” says Amar. “It’s so peaceful. It gets me outdoors, out of my flat – it can be pretty noisy living in a communal block! And it stops me from worrying about things.”
He’s done a bit of everything in angling, especially sea fishing in Devon and abroad, but hasn’t had a freshwater licence or tackle in a while, which is where we come in. Amar’s local friends are into carp fishing, which is something he’s keen to pursue further, hence the generous supply of new kit from the generous folks at Fishing Megastore, who were quick to offer help when they heard of his situation.
“Wow!” seems to be the main reaction as we unpack rods, reels and kit that will cover him for carp and coarse fishing. As a coach, what comes across immediately is how thoughtfully and comprehensively the folks at Glasgow Angling Centre, aka Fishing Megastore, have put everything together, going above and beyond the call of duty.
“I’m so very happy with the new gear!” says a delighted Amar. “This will keep me going for years! This is brilliant – and I’m really grateful to Fishing Megastore and the Angling Trust. I can’t thank these guys enough.”
Tackle aside, I’ve also been entrusted to sort out a fishing ticket for today, along with a new annual EA rod licence. The latter is a not entirely a formality, though, as Amar actually has two dates of birth!
“In the UK I was registered as being born in 1982, but I’m actually a bit older” he says. This is because when he was taken from a hospital in Iraq to the UK as a child fighting for his life, he had virtually nothing beyond the clothes he wore. Having finally been reunited his immediate family after three decades, however, his original birth certificate finally showed up. It transpires he’s actually a 1979 baby, now at the grand old age of 40, like me. Hard luck mate!
A crash course in carp fishing
After parting with a tenner for our day ticket, it’s time to head for the carp and catfish lakes at Anglers Eldorado, where I hope there’s a fish with Amar’s name on it. He’s done a little of this fishing a while ago, but is a bit rusty, so I’m only too happy to show him the ropes again, with a few new skills.
With a little guidance, Amar is casting like a pro! Well, casting a bit too expertly, as it happens, because his first shots go a bit further than expected! “Woah! These new rods are pretty powerful!” he says.
With the wind licking into the east corner of the lake, I suggest we follow it and try fishing one rod in the margin and another further out. He enjoys using the catapult to pepper the area with a few free baits, while we also set up his new landing net and padded unhooking mat.
Conditions look good. Overcast skies and a misty start look spot on for a run, but even I’m surprised just how quickly we get a screaming bite. Judging by the bend in the rod, it’s a decent carp, too. “The rod feels really good!” says Amar, bracing himself as the fish decides it isn’t ready for the net just yet.
At around seven pounds or so, it’s the perfect way to christen the new gear. Just seconds later, however, an even better fish takes off from the margin on his other new rod. At this point I’m slightly torn between grabbing the net to help, or trying to capture some footage on camera; an all too common dilemma for your digital age angling hack!
This fish is indeed a better one, at perhaps ten to twelve pounds and also in lovely condition. It’s not so much the fish that cheers your heart, though, so much as the grin on Amar’s face as he holds it up for a quick snap. Result!
Casting into the future
As the sun gets higher and things slow down, there’s time to show Amar another trick or two and chew the fat for a while. In between teaching him how to tie a simple carp rig, our conversation moves between fishing and the next chapter in his remarkable story.
I’m especially pleased to hear how Amar is back on good terms with Baroness Emma Nicholson, his adoptive mother, and talk of future involvement in the Amar Foundation (www.amarfoundation.org) that bears his own name and helps refugees rebuild their lives in several different countries.
“The foundation does a lot of good and the people there work extremely hard. Some of them have been there for years and years, and are still going into their 70s and 80s” says Amar.
Following his incredible reunification with his birth family after nearly 30 years of separation, he also hopes to do more with the foundation. He certainly has his own experiences to share and a message of hope to bring the current generation of refugees and orphans. He is already making plans to go back to Iraq to visit his family again, too, which he is also excited about.
As for fishing, the future looks equally bright, and surely few people deserve the enjoyment and relaxation our great sport can offer more than our friend Amar. I wonder where it might take him next?
“Well, for one thing this means I’m not going to have to borrow rods and other stuff off my mates now!” he says. “It would be great to beat my biggest carp, of nineteen pounds- and I’d like to explore some new fisheries, so who knows? Maybe I’ll take a roadtrip?”
For now, though, right here seems as good a place as any to reignite that fishing spark, as three more carp come our way and we chat away like old pals. Besides the specialist tactics, perhaps the best battle of the day is the final encounter, as we rig up a simple float fishing outfit for the last hour and another new rod is bent double!
It’s a great way to end our session and talk of future hopes and fishing adventures continues on our journey back home. There is that disctinctive stink of success in the boot of the car; that new net will need a good hose down and dry off in the back yard! Even after dropping Amar home I can’t stop smiling. If ever there was a day that reinforced that old saying that angling is so much more than just catching fish, it was today.
The Angling Trust at 10 Years: Join us today!
Celebrating a decade of progress for fishing in 2019, the Angling Trust has fought tirelessly since 2009 to get a better future for fishing. From huge wins against polluters, through to recruiting 1300 new coaches and almost 500 voluntary bailiffs, the trust has achieved some huge wins for angling in our first ten years! However, the future of the sport depends heavily on anglers coming together to give their support.
Whether you decide to take a newcomer fishing, volunteer to help your local club or fishery, or simply become an Angling Trust member this sunmer, why not make 2019 the year you make a difference? Find out more about our huge range of campaigns and activities at www.anglingtrust.net