The metro is unusually crowded. Faces still seem strange even after four months. I pull out my phone, turn the music up, take a deep breath, and dive into Facebook, I am keeping up with what’s familiar… the new habit that I practice while wandering the city. Suddenly the music stops, the phone screen turns black, the battery is dead. Voices around me start to get higher; conversations, chitchats, vague words that I don’t understand. Someone enters the metro, speaks loudly, he seems to be drunk, it’s obvious that he is repeating the same sentence, at least that what I thought. A young man helps him to set, talks to him, their conversation turns to a group conversation as more people participate, and I still cannot understand anything of what they say except few words I learned. A guy turns to me, he said something, I looked at him, he pointed to my hand, it seems that he is asking me about time, its three o clock, my tongue almost pronounced it, but I couldn’t, I don’t speak German, I pointed to my hand and raised three fingers, he rectified and said in English “you dropped your keys”..
My tongue couldn’t help me with anything, social interaction in its verbal state was completely void, I don’t have the ability to communicate verbally anymore; despite of being able to understand by gestures and signals, as if I am three months old, it is baffling that I’m facing pronunciation problems in my thirties. Dysarthria with heavy difficulties in understanding what is being said… some of the symptoms of exile and its repercussions.
It’s not a metaphor that human beings are born more than once, both in the particular and general meaning. I was destined to be born again at the end of 2012, after I got out of my natural solitude, the first exile, the first feeling of individualism. It was a difficult birth, weak, very anxious and fearful. The first separation from the group that shared with me my childhood, adolescence, and youth wasn’t easy, we used to wear within a specific dress code, speak in certain frames, act, learn, live on certain customs and mutual culture, dream within our small available choices, we had to look like each other, we learned that a group means belonging, and it’s the source of security, satisfaction, and power, therefor the growth of that individualistic soul was slow, walks baby steps, until I faced my second exile, the real one, here I became an individual instead of being part of a group, but I knew that I was still at the verge of growth through a long personal path.
In the evening, while being submerged in my new exile by forcing myself to adapt, to integrate, to separate, I get a message from a friend telling me that the Syrian regime arrested my friend Lana Maradani in Damascus for her work in children relief. I rushed to the street, the foreign street, I walked a lot, not to any specific destination, I picked up my phone and checked the message, read it over and over again, looked around… I am in a far place, completely helpless. Returned my phone to my pocket while someone said in English, “Doha, how are you? What happened with your asylum papers?” I turned toward the sound, a new friend, I replied: “they arrested Lana!!” “Who’s Lana?” he asks, I smiled, “forget about it… my papers are good, I have to go, we will talk…”
I have been displaced from my social, political, and economic environment that I grew up in, into another place, a place that I don’t share with its people any social or cultural history. We have no common language. They realize, think, feel, act, and decide, in a completely different way, which sent me in a relative coma of cognizance.
I was separated from my region enough to almost lose my ability to write. I became less excited and enthusiastic, more than that; this exile almost banished and eradicated my memory. I felt that my deep attachment to the contents of my personal memory or our collective memory is in some of its symptoms a fundamental reason for my fierce feeling of foreignness, and an obstacle as important as the other obstacles in the face of my integration in the new place, or the attempt for so at least.
Exile has many faces, as those who were carried by it, and as those who carried it with them. Exile provokes writings about it and about the homeland, what we have lost, and what we have gained, what we thought we lost, and what we falsely thought we owned. Anxious and fearful questions never end in exile, as those I published in the file of “the republic” about it, and what in fact raised in my head more endless questions, of which the answers are themselves other questions revolving around “us” before anything, and before everything, about exile and the inner homeland in each of us independently.
Erich Fromm says in his book (the sane society) “the birth of a human, to be described as human, means the beginning of him/her leaving his/her natural habitat, separated from the natural connections. This separation is frightening, if man lost his roots where is he then? And who is he?”
The general case has overwhelmed the personal in writings about exile, that case that supplies individuals with feelings of belonging to the group through memory and collective experience, a belonging that resurrects the lost security in the new situation, the unknown, as if there is nothing certain in the present except what’s related to the past and its memories.
I stick my face to the mirror, back off a little, like visitors of museums in their deep contemplation, I repeat the same move again, and it seems that the thirty years that I reached recently started to leave its marks resembled in front of me in a clarity that I am not used to. I had already made clear decisions about my private life, career, beliefs, stances and expectations for what I will be when I reach my thirties, and that was addressed to a certain extent… while in fact I barely reached the first five months of life.
Who am I? The question that imposes itself insistently in exile, when the expatriates realize the loneliness and isolation, themselves gets dissociated from others by nature in a state that hides a sudden change resembling the first older change, from the closed and isolated embryonic existence to the open and public humane existence; exile cuts the umbilical cord of many adult selves.
“Since I came to Europe I decided to start a new life, to achieve this I have to be like them, learn their language, think, act, live like them, I was forced to be here, I can’t go back to my country, therefor I decided to forget it, turn that page, I have to be realistic” Mahmoud, an ex-prisoner in the prisons of the Syrian regime.
While Mahmoud tries to adapt with the necessities of his position, he practices a severe oppression toward all the feelings related to the pre asylum stage. He refuses to get involved in discussions related to his country; he mocks the feelings and nostalgia of family, friends... however, it seems that the suppression process turned Mahmoud to an antisocial young man, aggressive, suffers an insomnia that he constantly complains about, based on that we can say that the suppressed material is not in a static form, it gathers its contents constantly, to show its influences clearly in the personality of the expatriate both on the psychological and physical states, these repercussions that he ignores; an attempt to protect himself.
“I met a group of Syrians, we stay together, I don’t want to integrate in a new place and I don’t want to learn their language, because I know that this is just a phase until we go back” Sara, a Syrian refugee that moved to berlin last year.
Sara disregarded her individuality to stay in a group, with her original ties; it looks like that the helplessness, anxiety and fear in an unbearable far wider, complicated arena than what she ever got used to, suppressed her to be part of a familiar whole, with which she can relate and emerge into.
My phone rang, interrupted me while myself and I were preparing lunch, “where have you been hiding for 3 days?”, “3 days?” I answered amazed, “yes 3 days, what are you doing? Is everything is okay?” I looked around, stopped talking for a minute, I answered the question “no, everything is alright”, my friend laughed “are you isolating yourself?”, I stopped talking again, “no, I am reading, writing, going out, and walking around, I am very pleased”, he asks me “did you see anyone in the past 3 days?”, I answered “no one…”.
After I finished the call, I had a hysterical laugh frenzy, I actually didn’t pay attention to the passage of time, I didn’t feel lonely in those 3 days, I shared my daily activities with myself, for a moment I felt empowered, I felt an inner peace that I never knew, I felt free, a kind of freedom that you get when you reconcile with your solitude apart from the social environment, at that time I realized myself as a whole.
But my severely injured “whole”, is still in its first developmental stages, which makes it vulnerable against constant panic attacks and fear, intense bursts of nostalgic breakdowns, yearning to what’s familiar, ordinary, a desire to surrender to disability, to live life in its automatic necessary limits, a desperate attempt to escape a reality its detachment is an unchangeable fact.
Ten o’clock in the morning, I have to pack my stuff again to move to my new house, today I will sign my new rent contract for a whole year. I get a message from a friend with a copy he received via mail, I stared at it for long, words, a lot of incomprehensible words, I sent it to a friend that speaks German, she called me right away, “congratulations, you are officially a refugee in Germany now, no one can take you out of here”. In silence, I looked at my computer screen, news are coming from the other part of this planet: 86 decayed bodies of Syrian refugees were found in a truck in Austria; 50 killed in Douma by the hands of the Syrian regime, thousands of Iraqis are out for demonstrations in Tahreer square middle of Baghdad; Lebanese police used gas bombs and water hoses to break up demonstration and arrested a number of the protesters.
I asked her “Am I able to travel now?”, she laughed, “you can go wherever you want, but you need a visa to go to the middle east, and it’s nearly impossible to get the visa”, I looked at the screen, thousands of Lebanese people protesting in Beirut against the corruption of the ruling class, she says “forget about that place, now you are a citizen with a residency permit, rights, and new life”.
The decision of new life wasn’t a personal one, and based on that I will start a new life in a country I didn’t choose to live in, learn its language, laws, culture, a journey I have to take, even if exile nowadays is different than exile in the old days, different than the experience of that completely isolated asylum, a difference that does not negate the fact of exile for the new expatriates. The number of Syrian refugees has reached approximately 4 million refugees now, injured individuals, carrying psychological and physical wounds as a result of oppression, destruction, killing and displacement… all of them are obligated to build their new life in a stranger harsh reality, forced to adapt, as if what they lived through and what happened to them is just a dream and a nightmare, as if nothing happened and nothing is happening in their country, as if they were just born in another world.