October 6, 2016
“School is what’s going to make you happy in your life and make you a great person like me”, that’s what my dad used to tell me (yeah, my dad was kind of a bit arrogant sometimes but I liked the confidence he had). So I pretty much spent my childhood being obsessed about school. But that idyllic image I had built in my mind only lasted a couple years. Actually, till I discovered that I was just a stupid kid with a naive innocence. School turned out to be literally hell on earth. School was more like a psychological slaughterhouse for the little me and I spent my late last years in school trying to escape from it. The pressure of studying, getting punished in school, and not getting full grade meant that I wouldn’t have a pleasant night. The morning would also be filled with my mom threatening me with the punishment I would get when my dad would come home. I remember my two younger brothers laughing at me for being punished.
School raped my innocence.
Still, I couldn’t really be angry with my dad because I knew he was just very concerned about me.
It was his way of loving me. It was a kind of hardcore love I think.
I tried to get full grades since I liked the feeling when my dad proudly smiled at me.
Another main aspect of my childhood was my grandfather. He was my childhood best friend. New toys, old stories, laughing at his cheesy jokes, even just sitting next to him was a pleasure for me. On the other hand my grandmother was a kind of an angry person but still she was nice to me. I used to take advantage of her anger against my dad when he would punish me. My dad would be like a little boy in front of her…
Strong, independent, stubborn, very strict in his guidelines, and caring in his own hard love way. “You are my friend and my son” is what he used to tell me. But still… I had to be very disciplined with him. What he said was right, was definitely right. He introduced me to most of his friends; so most if his old friends became my buddies. I wasn’t allowed to have friends from school since he didn’t trust them.
Good food is what tinkles my stomach when I remember my mother; she was a good cook. Reading was her hobby although I didn’t really liked what she used to read. She used to force me and my brothers to read her books. My brother would manage not to read but I would have to read first anyway because I’m the oldest son. “You need to be the “good example” for your brother” was what I used to hear often.
My two younger brothers fit this title perfectly: stupid fights, long hours of forced board games and the psychological pressure of them copying a bad habit from me.
“I don’t wanna do that, Hadi doesn’t do it” was the spicy annoying sentence that they used against me. It felt like blackmailing. But that power of annoyance taught me how to have patience, how to put others before myself and how to have huge fun with small tiny things.
I started working at an early age, usually after school and all day long in summer. Electrical networking, plumbing, cashier, fixing PlayStations, selling socks…
I used to like working more than going to school, what I learned from work was more than what school would teach me and more practical for real life as well.
In 2009 I managed to get my first official job in a ceramic corporation named Balkis. They hired me as an IT technician, it was a very nice job. I had good relationships with my colleagues and learned a lot. Of course my dad wasn’t happy about me working since he wanted me to focus on studying.
Another benefit of work in that company was having Internet in my office. I wasn’t allowed to use or have Internet in my house. My house was more like a small version of North Korea, so having internet in the office was pretty useful to download books and tutorials, sometimes my download speed would affect people in other departments, lowering their speed. Many times they asked me “Hey Hadi! Do you know why the internet is slow?” and I would answer “The network server is currently very pressured and we are trying to get it back” or “Try to turn your PC off an on again” were my popular responses. For the record, Internet was mainly used in the company for pleasure only, not really for work.
Meanwhile working in Balkis, I started to teach myself graphic and web design on my free time when I got back from work. I had bought some graphic design books and downloaded some tutorials from the internet to learn it.
Colors, shapes, print, typefaces, illustration, drawing, web programming… and many other subjects, these were like an orgasmic flow in my head.
Except web programming… because this subject used to really turn me off, but I studied it anyway. After a while studying, I had the chance to work for Balkis as a part-timer in the graphic design department along with the IT work. Afterwards, I managed to get some freelancing contracts with some agencies in Damascus.
In 2011, Syria started producing a high budget reality action movie named “The Syrian Crisis ”. It was my last year of high school. I used to live in a neighborhood in Damascus called Barzeh. “Why are we still not doing anything ?”
“Shame on us if we don’t make a move”
“Let’s move and start it here”
“It’s time… It’s time to knock that giraffe neck dictator donkey down”
“Okay… next Friday we start after the prayer”
… these were the words that were floating in the air of my neighborhood.
My father was one of these people as well… he wasn’t really a big fan of the regime. Soon enough after couple months the situation started to heat rapidly. Random shooting, kidnapping, random arresting, even civil people started fighting each other as well.
It got chaotic and overwhelmingly muddy to comprehend what would happen, although that wasn’t a new thing about Syria.
We have a history that is full of revolutions but not as brutal as the one that’s happening now. I mean… in the last 70 years our flag changed for more than 5 times.
« In this rotten country if you don’t bribe you won’t get what you want” that was the last word I heard from my father. Not so bad for a last word. It was November 2011.
I came back home that day to find out that he was arrested by the regime.
My uncle was arrested before also. “Get ready fast! We need to leave the house”, I told my mother and brothers. Once someone got arrested the regime, soldiers would usually come to his place to steal, arrest or even kill the people inside. So I decided to take my family to my father’s friend house in the center of Damascus. We stayed there for until we know what to do.
“Your father is in that place.”
“Don’t worry he’ll be out next Thursday.”
“Next Monday for sure.”
“Pay me and I’ll get him out very soon, you can count on my word.”
“Your father’s case is bit difficult so… it’s gonna be a bit expensive.”
“Well… try asking about him in that military section.”
“The department 987 has him for sure.”
… all these words got repeated over and over in my head more that I can manage to count.
I did try to pay someone though but guess what… he just stole the money. After that I decided to forget about my father and focus on what was left of my family. I had to stop going to school (that was the only positive thing about the situation) and do extra work at night so I could afford the living expenses for my family. After a month staying in my father’s friend place I decided to go back to our house in Barzeh. Our reunion with the house didn’t last long…
I remember the sound of gun shooting never stopping during the day, the blood shedding at night. Death smell was mingling all around. One morning we waked up on the sound of our door getting knocked heavily, to find the regime soldiers pointing at us with their guns. “Come on move it, go down… all of you.” the soldier screamed at us.
They made us make a line along with many other people from the neighborhood. It was a random execution in a way: whoever gets pointed at would be either killed or arrested. My heart was bounding fast.
I was standing there next to my mother and brothers, unable to do anything, watching other people I know getting killed. “You ! Come here !” a soldier would shout pointing at somebody. “Who is it? Is it my mother or my brother he’s pointing at ?” I say to myself. “Oh, it’s that guy from the gift shop…”. Somehow we survived that day. After Barzeh got surrounded by the regime forces, rockets and bombs were our daily music composers.
We stayed in the basement of our building for about 2 weeks. Dry bread, a bit of water, and some olive were our luxury food for that period. These 2 weeks ended by having fireworks in our house… To make the story more dramatic, our house was destroyed.
Mneen was a small village near Damascus, we had a house there. The problem was that the house was still under construction. So I rented a small apartment until I prepared one livable room in our house. I started to take any part-time job I could get my hands on. At the evenings or on the weekends. On the weekend mornings I would be a garbage man, in the afternoon I would go knitting and every evening I would teach English and Photoshop. Going to the company from Mneen was a bit stressful because of our family name; my family members were kind of superstars : one of my uncles was arrested along with his sons, another one got killed, another one was one of the leaders of the free army in Barzeh (I heard that he actually got killed a month ago) and my father was also arrested… our family is moving towards extinction. I also had military service soon. So the lucky me, in every check-in border on my way would be dragged down from the bus once they saw the ID card, get couple slaps on my face along with some kicks. Sometimes I would be lucky, when they would just ask me to stand for a bit till they check my ID card and this was my daily life for about one and half year.
Waiting for a bus to get back home at about 9 pm. Shootings sounds start to emerge closer around me. I kept standing hoping that a bus would come, when a bus from another kind stops in front of me. “What are you doing here?” the man inside the car asks me. “Waiting for bus”, I reply. The man gets down of the car. “Show me your ID”… It was a military vehicle.
Then he and his partner asked me kindly to go inside the car, by kindly I mean beating the sh*t out of my ass, putting black cover on my head, then throwing me into the car. I arrive at their section. I got stripped naked to search my body. Then they put me in a solitary cell.
The cell was very tight. It was smaller than a closet, there was no way I could have moved any part of my body. The voices of other people screaming, the annoying lamp on top of me that doesn’t turn off day or night, the potato they would throw in my cell and me trying desperately to get it from the ground using my feet. I never managed to get that damn potato though.
The second day, I started smashing the potatoes with my feet to stop being obsessed since it was impossible to get them anyway.
For drinking water they would put a tube in my mouth so I could drink and stay conscious as long as possible. The first two days were the worst. The next few days were kind of very peaceful for me.
I realized that there was nothing I could do.
I also realized I still had myself. I was locked physically but that didn’t mean my mind was locked also.
I stayed in that cell for 8 days only, then somehow, I got released. I still consider myself lucky since I didn’t get physically tortured like many other people. After getting out, I made up my mind.
I had to leave Syria. I’m not very interested in getting slapped on my face or being kicked nor getting stripped naked… I’m not into these kind of things.
And I don’t want to fight for the country. I couldn’t delay my military service anymore.
As a matter of a fact, I was striving to get any visa so I wouldn’t go to Europe.
Japan was the place I was planing to go when I left Syria. But reaching that far east country wasn’t easy. I applied for a workshop in Fukuoka – Japan a month before I left Syria. I was accepted. Yet the problem was getting the visa. The Japanese embassy in Damascus was closed, so I decided to go to Istanbul -Turkey to try obtaining the visa from there.
Man oh man, trying to get this visa was one of the most tedious things I’ve done in my life.
Getting most of the required papers in Turkey was literally a pain in the ass. I realized that being a Syrian in Turkey doesn’t give any advantage at all, it just made it even much more tedious. Meanwhile trying to get my papers I was still doing freelance on the internet and studying Japanese, preparing for my anticipated trip. After 3 long months in Istanbul, I managed to collect all the wanted documents and then sent my application to the Japanese consulate in Istanbul. Surprise, surprise… my application got brutally refused. I understood another thing : being a Syrian doesn’t give any advantage for anything, it just made me feel like life was trying to test my patience.
I started to get allergic to the word “Syria”.
Yeah Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia. I mean… why not? It’s still kind of like Japan, no? Well, I mainly choose Malaysia because as a Syrian I didn’t need a visa to go there. I could stay there for 3 months without a visa. Most of the people speak English so finding a job is possible there, more easily than in Turkey. I was actually planning to study college in Malaysia while I was in high school but because of the crisis, I cancelled my plans to stay with my family.
I managed to find some working opportunities. I really started to like the country. The multicultural aspect, the many languages, the food and the nice people were the stuff that I really loved about it.
But again – surprise, surprise – visa strikes me again, deep-frying my plans.
My passport was about to expire and our caring Syrian embassy wouldn’t renew my passport, making the visa even more unobtainable. Filled with colorful joy, overwhelming satisfaction, and a strong will, I decided to fly back to Istanbul. I was taking the flight back with Singapore airlines and for some reason the attendant didn’t allow me to board. “Sir, you need a visa to Turkey” the attendant said. “I’m Syrian, I don’t need a visa to Turkey”, I replied with shaky confidence. “I can’t let you in without a visa” she says. “Then where should I go… ?” I tell her. “You can go back to Syria” she tells me. “Are you serious? We don’t have any airlines to Syria only military air force flights are allowed in our holy air, so unless you can get me a jet I won’t be able to go there.”
I was very pissed, the ticket wasn’t cheap at all. Anyhow, I lost that flight. The next day, I booked another one with Emirates airlines. They mentioned the same issue but after a small argument they allowed me in saying “You deal with the Turkish government, we are not responsible”.
Financial breakdown and emotional numbness were what passionately welcomed me back in Istanbul. So… I got back to freelancing as much as possible. I needed to save some money for myself and my family in Syria was in need for some cash. In the meantime, I got back to study Japanese also which did help me to get some contracts with some clients from Japan. After a while I was able to earn enough money to travel. I tried to renew my passport from Istanbul but it was the same crap. “Hey Hadi! Let‘s go to the Syrian consulate and try our luck with the passport” my roommate said to me. “Okay whatever… but I don’t think we’ll get anything, I know my luck already.” I told him sarcastically. At about 4am we went to the Syrian consulate. We waited till 10am but they didn’t allow anybody inside and kicked out most of the people. Basically, the Syrian situation in Istanbul wasn’t that good.
The idea of Europe started to arise in my head. “You tried almost everything you can….”, “There’s no other option”, ”You don’t have to be ashamed”, “Yeah… but…huffff, I don’t like the idea of being a refugee in Europe, getting free money and receiving the sympathy look from people… it’s kind of humiliating”.
“Put your stupid fat ass pride aside for now, it’s either Turkey or Europe!”
I was hesitant. Bulgaria, Istanbul airport, Mersin… were some of the options. In the winter of 2015 I tried some of these options but I ended up failing.
I decided to try going to Greece. To get there, Izmir was my next stop, a city on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
The vision of the Greek island was all over the coast, sending me that disguised toxic hope vibes.
There was a place there called Basmane, a neighborhood more like a black market that’s full of smugglers. As usual with me… nothing worked smoothly… just to keep the action and adrenaline level high. But to be honest I wasn’t frustrated in Izmir.
I was rather excited… I mean Holy cow balls… searching for a smuggler then trying to deal with them, failing then trying again, getting thrown by a smuggler in the middle of nowhere late at night then trying to find my way back alone, the boat engine stopping then the boat sinking , sleeping on the streets then trying to sleep in parks for about 2 weeks . Believe me, not anybody gets the chance to experience that.
“We are getting closer to Mytilini”, a man was shouting in the boat. “Finally… it has to work out this time” I was whispering to myself. A Greek coast guard ship came to pick us to the island, I stayed there for about a week then went to Athens.
Very hot weather like hell, closed banks, random graffiti everywhere, nice warm people and an impressive black market where you can get a whole brand new identity.
That’s image I recall of Athens. Getting a fake/stolen ID card or a passport was my plan. It was the only way to avoid the risk of having to register as asylum seeker in Hungary and giving them my fingerprints.
So I got in contact with a smuggler very early after my arrival to Athens.
The first partly faked passport I got from the smuggler was Japanese.
I gave it a try from Athens airport but It didn’t succeed since the birth date of the real passport owner was about 1960… I’m definitely not that old.
A week later I would be Mr. Jin Young Lee from Korea. I was kind of still stuck in Asia in a way… However, this passport was pretty good, the age was perfect and the picture on it looked like me. The thing was… in real life, face to face, I don’t look that Korean I guess.
At the same airport, I stand in the check in line, then after giving my passport to the attendant, he stares at me then calls one of the people (a Korean guy) who checked in before me to come. “Can you please speak Korean with him ?” the attendant asks the guy. I rushed to say “Annyounghaseyu (meaning Hi)” before the guy starts to speak to me. It’s the only Korean word I know and i think that it was a good chance to practice saying it…
I look at the attendant trying not to laugh saying “I’m Syrian, you caught me”, he laughs at me telling me “Step aside, wish you good luck next time”.
10 days later the smuggler calls me. “I found a very strong passport for you” he says. “Chinese… a freaking Chinese passport, do I look Chinese to you… for f*ck’s sake are you even serious?” is what I said once he showed me the passport. I was a super skeptical about this one. I mean it’s Chinese… I guess that I know how I look, my eye’s might look kind of Asian but still The passport was a stolen one. There’s was nothing changed whatsoever on it, even the picture was the one of the original owner. “Trust me, it’s gonna work” he says to me. “Okay, whatever”, I say hopelessly.
“Can you do me the hair cut with some make-up to look a bit more Asian… ? ”
“I have a play that I’m participating in tomorrow and I have an Asian role in it ”, is what I asked the hairstylist showing her an image of a random Chinese guy. Changing my hairstyle to a Chinese one, plus some make-up was the first step, then buying glasses. Crete was my next stop in Greece. Crete airport was a bit more easygoing according to my smuggler. My flight was to Rome – Italy. I opened a Chinese Facebook page on my phone, then stranded in the check-in line. This time, I tried to stand in front of the Chinese people that were in the same flight as me. My turn comes to give the passport. I hand the passport with the flight ticket to the lady without looking at her. I was trying to keep looking at the opened Chinese page on my phone to look like I’m reading.
“The ticket doesn’t seem to get scanned.”
“Oh shit… I’ll be asked to step aside…damn my shitty luck”, I say to myself while peaking at the lady. Two seconds later she hands me the passport with the ticket. “Have a save flight”, she says. “Holy mother of monkeys… It worked out… finally.” I scream it loud inside my head and keeping my same calm pace, I walk towards the flight. Then from Rome, I take a train to Milan, then from Milan to Paris and… voilà here, I’m here, in Luxembourg.
“It’s a ghost town” was the first thing I had in my mind when I arrived in Luxembourg. There were not so many people in the streets. Luxembourg city appeared to be a small modern village though I discovered soon that it was the main city. That ghost town feeling started to fade, not completely though…
Currently I live in my Dutch friend’s house. She was very nice to allow me to live in it for the current time. She is much abroad, she doesn’t use the house much.
Socially it’s relaxing here. I have more friends than I had in Syria. I get the chance to learn more than one language here, although it can be a bit frustrating to practice the languages I’m learning since most of people change to English as soon as they hear my accent. But “C’est pas grave”, it’s just a matter of time and then the language issue will fade naturally.
I obtained the refugee status on the 8th of January 2016. Generally it’s so far so good here. My life is still starting. I decided to seek for asylum in Luxembourg because I thought that due to the low monthly financial support asylum seekers get in Luxembourg, there wouldn’t be much refugees here. I liked that idea.
I didn’t care about money much. It gives me motivation to work and move on. Today, as I’m under 25 years old, I get very low financial support. That means I have to earn my living myself.
I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in Luxembourg. I met friends at the Don Bosco home quickly. Then I use to go out a lot in order to meet new people. Usually I go to bars at night.
Drunk people are more easy to talk to.
I visit webs like internations.org or meetup to get in touch with new people. I’m grateful to be here. I got shelter and food. My time in the Don Bosco home wasn’t bad at all. It’s actually super luxurious compared to the place in Wiltz I lived in later. The rooms were clean, the treatments were fine, the food was very good.
I try to stay away from other Syrians as much as possible. It takes me back to my past. And I’m trying to escape from it. I am more interested in focusing on my present life. The obsession about refugees is a bit too much for the better or the worse. I started to feel a compulsory reaction. I don’t really have a problem or get irritated by being called a refugee, it’s just the obsession that can stitch my nerves sometimes. Rather than « I’m a refugee », I would prefer to say « I’m a political refugee », it just makes it sound more sophisticated and cool. But these are just a subaltern lightweight matters. Other than that… pretty much everything else is good for me at least
My family is in Damascus, they are quite safe. My father is still in jail though there is a 99% chance he is dead by now. He was against the regime.
That’s the strongest desire I have… getting my freelancing up and running in the future is something I want to do and having the Luxembourgish citizenship would be a nice touch too.
I am looking for a job as a graphic designer. A job is what I really need the most. So I can start my life. Here’s my website:
That is how I’d put integration in a simple form: two people that are willing to live and cooperate together in order to have a balanced steady life.
Integration happens when people from different cultures, countries… mingle together, accept and understand their divergence and propinquity so subsequently they are able to reciprocity and feel each other, therefore going towards a more dynamic just society.
My story might seem a bit swarthy but I really don’t have any sympathy for myself. I’m super grateful for everything that happened in my life… good and bad. I might have left the country I was born in but for me, I’m always at home as long as I’m with myself.