Student, 2000, Damascus, Syria.

My biggest wish was to fit in and not be just the "Syrian refugee"

October 16, 2016

 

I was born in Moscow

At that time my father was working in Russia. Me, my parents and my little brother used to live there. Each summer, my mother, my brother and me used to travel to Syria to see our family and friends while my dad had to stay in Moscow for work. My father would join us for a week or two. Though I missed his company a lot, summer in Syria was amazing. I remember counting the days until summer vacation would start.

Even though it wasn’t the most luxurious way to spend a holiday, spending summer in Syria was all I wanted.

I remember my favorite thing was waking up early in the morning with all of my cousins (and there was a lot of us) to go picking apples. We would spend hours in the farm creating new games, playing cards and trying to cook for ourselves until the evening when we would all dress up and go for a walk. We would hear the music playing from the restaurants. We would dance, sing and take pictures. Still, the best part of summer was visiting our other cousins in Tartous. It was our favorite city because it was close to the sea and what is better than going to the beach with your whole family?

My childhood was great and it got even better when my parents told us that we had to move to Syria forever.

 

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I was so happy even though the reason why we had to leave Russia was the financial crisis that happened in 2007-2008. My dad lost his job and we had no money left. To me that wasn’t an issue at that time. Even though I was born there and spoke Russian better than Arabic, I never felt accepted in Russia.

I was 7 years old and all I wanted to do was leaving Moscow and go back to my country. Russia never felt like home to me. I used to feel so left out and I hated my dark black hair and big brown eyes that showed everyone that I wasn’t from there.

So the day we moved was the greatest day ever. We bought a house in Damascus and I started going to school. My mom quickly found a job. My dad wasn’t with us. He had to stay in Russia to try and find another job and even though I missed him a lot and it was very hard without him, I still remember telling my mom that “Syria will forever and always be the best place on earth and that I never want to leave.”

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My father, my idol

I love each and every one in in my family but my idol and the one I look up to the most is my dad. We have a very close relationship. I can tell him everything and ask him all kind of questions, he would never get mad.

My dad is my hero for sure. Long before I was born, he spent 7 years of his life in prison in Syria for just standing up for his beliefs.

I might sound crazy to people here in Europe but yes, my dad was put in prison when he was 18 years old just for reading books that were considered “illegal” in Syria. My dad is the most open minded, accepting and forgiving person I have ever met. He is scared of nothing and would do everything to stand up to what he believes in. He knows so much that sometimes I really wonder if there is something he doesn’t know.

While a lot of Syrian families are scared of questions and they live by the saying “the less you know, the better”, it was never like that in my house. My dad would talk to us about everything, he used to tell me stories about his experience in the dark walls of the prison, share his opinions about politics, religion and just life in general.

He never forced me to believe or do something that I didn’t agree with. His stories had a lot of impact on me, on the way I think and talk.

Injustice is the thing I would never agree with and freedom is the thing that I would do everything for. My dad taught me to stand up for what I believe in, even if it means standing alone.

 

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My mom and me have different dreams and hopes for the future

And then there is my mom. She is the most generous and beautiful human being I have ever met but she is the opposite of my father. Just like a lot of Syrians, my mom hates the political world and is very scared of it. We always argue about that.

I want to become a human rights lawyer to fight for those who don’t have a voice, for the hungry and the poor.

One day, I will go back to Syria and help rebuild our country. When I tell my mother, she stays silent for a couple of minutes then she looks at me and replies: “You are very smart girl. Why do you want to ruin your future and end up in prison just like your dad? That world is very dangerous. why can’t you just become a doctor and help the sick?”

I understand she just says that because she cares so much about me. My mom and me have different dreams and hopes for the future. She has the most beautiful soul and the biggest heart I know.

We are very different and sadly, I will never be the girl she wants me to be and for sure not a doctor.

My family isn’t a typical Syrian family

I think my little brother could do that. We have the kind of relationship all siblings have. We fight and then we laugh. He is my other half and my support even though we have very different personalities. He is more like my mom and I am more like my dad. We get along just fine. My family isn’t a typical Syrian family. I can’t describe it but we have our own little world and as my mom says:

“We take the best of the western culture and the best of the Arabic culture and mix them.”

 

I have always felt left out

I have always been a little bit more mature than the people of my age. I used to wonder about things that a normal child wouldn’t care about.

Maybe because of growing up with a father like mine, you just get introduced to the ugly side of our world. Or maybe it’s just because I am born that way.

 

I was never the girly shy girl

I am a very curious and outspoken person. My friends were always older than me. I was never the girly shy girl. I do like clothes, make-up and all of this things but it was never really my main focus. I knew since early age that there are just a lot of more important things in life.

One of my main problems was the feeling of not belonging anywhere. I always felt left out in Moscow.

Then, as a little girl with a very different view of the world, I never felt like I had a place in any kind of social group. I wasn’t the girly girl or the tomboy. I wasn’t the geek and for sure not the sport fan so I always had the question of what I am. I always wondered why I had very different interests than all other 10-year-old girls. And why no one shared my opinions. But one thing I knew for sure: I liked being the center of attention. So I did everything to be that. I studied hard to get the best grades. I was friends with everyone but it never felt so right.

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Leaving Syria

In 2011 my dad came back to Syria to join us. Living in Russia was very hard and he wanted to be with us. In 2013 my family and me had to leave Syria because the government was spying on us and especially on my dad.

They wanted to have him under control since he had been in prison for “political reasons”.

Knowing my dad, he couldn’t just sit and do nothing. He is a Christian Syrian. He used to go to pharmacies and buy all kind of medicine for injured people but even that wasn’t ok. He became a threat to us and since being around him started getting dangerous for us, he disappeared from our life’s hoping that they would stop following us everywhere. Unfortunately, once he left it got worse.

I started feeling their presence everywhere I went even though I never really saw them. I could tell that we were being followed, even to school.

One day they came to our home, scared us and broke everything we had. They told my mom that she had one week to find my dad otherwise we would have to face the consequences. My mom talked to my dad. We decided to leave. Of course, the war, the bombs all of that had to do with our decision to leave.

Syria just went from being the most welcoming country to being called the most dangerous place to live in.

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The truck – I still miss the piece of the puzzle

Our journey from Syria to Luxembourg was long, scary and confusing. Long because it took us 7 or 8 days to travel from Syria to Luxembourg. We travelled in a huge truck. We were around 15 people inside.

To be honest, I don’t remember very much of our journey in the truck. I think they put some tranquilizer in the water we drank. So we would just sleep the whole time.

I just remember once going out in the forest for some fresh air. I remember a lot of darkness. I don’t even remember how or what we ate. It’s like a missing piece of a puzzle that I can’t find. I have no idea of the countries that we passed through. I am just sure of 2 countries: Turkey and Germany. I could have asked my father about it but I just don’t want to know or remember anything. I was and am still very thankful that I can barely remember anything. It is a painful part of my life. It was tough to move on from that. I still tell my parents “You put your children in a truck. We could have died. How do you justify that?“ and they always say “It was safer in that truck than on the ground.” That is a powerful statement in my opinion. It takes a lot of courage to risk one’s life and the life of the people one loves. And it shows how bad the situation was.

 

When we got close to the Luxembourgish border, we got out of the truck and hitchhiked. A car stopped. The man who took us to the Don Bosco Foyer was a former Balkan refugee himself or related to Balkan refugees. That was quite awesome. My mother exchanged some words with him in French.

 

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My life in Luxembourg

It has been 3 years since I first arrived to Luxembourg. I arrived on the 8th of July 2013.

We were the first Syrian family to ask for shelter in Luxembourg.

We stayed in the Don Bosco Foyer the first two months. Then we left for the Marienthal Foyer.

I had so many issues with myself, I didn’t care about the housing situation so much. To be honest, the first 6 months were not easy. I was dealing with a lot of personal problems. I felt lost, scared and confused.

 

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My biggest wish was to fit in and not be just that “Syrian refugee

I was ashamed of my situation and of the fact that I lived in one small room in a camp with my parents and brother. I tried hard to hide that side of me and for a long time, my biggest wish was to fit in and not be just that Syrian refugee. I felt I was so much more than that.

Especially the word “refugee” bothered me a lot. In Syria we had refugees from Palestine and Iraq. They weren’t well treated or integrated. They lived in the streets, barely surviving.

That was the idea I had of a refugee: a neglected poor person at the margin of society. When I became a refugee that was how I thought of myself.

Until I learned a lesson: if you are lucky enough to stand out why try so hard to fit in?

I learned the real meaning of the word refugee: a person who has been forced to leave its country in order to escape war. That was and is exactly what I am.

The war is not my fault so why hide who I am? I have so much to give to this society and learn from it.

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Today

Today, 3 years later, I am a student in a 4IIF class in LTC (Lycée technique du Centre). It is an IB class (international baccalaureate). I speak French and English. I am learning German and Luxembourgish.

I was part of Karolina Markiewicz’s and Pascal Piron’s documentary Mos Stellarium.

Taking part in that great movie helped me a lot. Just talking to a camera and telling my whole story was a huge relief and a big step for me.

 

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Since then I try to be as productive as I can

I am talking about Syria, the refugees and share my story everywhere I can just to get people discussing the refugee’s issues.

I have a lot of dreams.

One of them is acting. Actresses have such an influence on our society. They have the power to change people’s opinions and perspectives.

More realistically, I would like to be a human rights lawyer and maybe work for the UN to try and help people all around the world and not just refugees. Our world is pretty messed up and we have a lot of issues to tackle.

I want to enter University. I hope that one day I’ll get the chance to solve at least a small part of our messed up society.

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Luxembourg has been an amazing support to the Syrian refugees

I believe it is important to support projects like iamnotarefugee.lu and films like Mos Stellarium. They try and actually do change people’s perspective on the Syrian refugees and all the refugees in general. We refugees are shown in such a horrible way in the medias that some people are actually scared of us.

I am proud to live in Luxembourg

I feel safe here. I obtained the refuges status on the 20th of February 2014.

My firm intention is to apply for the Luxemburgish nationality within a few years. Because that will mean no one can ever force me to leave this country. A small part of me will always be the refugee.

There is a quote that I like so much and that I live by “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.“

 

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