Estrangement

"But it makes an immigrant laugh to hear the fears of the nationalist, scared of infection, penetration, miscegenation, when this is small fry, peanuts, compared to what the immigrant fears - dissolution, disappearance."

-Zadie Smith.

My estrangement began when I traveled to Gaziantep in Turkey, when I left everything I knew for the unknown. Fugitive from all my memories and my sufferings, carrying my luggage as if I already knew that I will not come back anytime soon. The first months were difficult, as I moved with my bags to several places and met new faces. But soon enough I got used to this new place, especially as the city became a harbor for many Syrians. It was also very close to Syria and made me feel that I can go back or visit at any time.

After more than two years, I decided to move to Europe, like many other Syrians had done, and it was then that my second and toughest estrangement began. I did not know what was waiting for me there and no one amongst those who preceded me told me what it means to be a refugee: that my pride would be scratched every step of the way.

I was one of the lucky ones who got a visa, and so my asylum journey only started in the Netherlands, in Ter Apel camp. I waited for hours before my turn came,  allowing me to enter the camp. We were then put in a big hall to fill out papers asking detailed information about our lives. I answered those questions and waited for another hour before my name was called to take my finger prints. For the first time I felt Panic: I will be a refugee!

I printed with my ten fingers, repressing my tears. They took my passport that had never left me and they asked me about my personal identity card but I quickly denied that I had it. I wanted to keep it for myself so that it prevents me from losing my identity. I went back to the hall. It was about ten o'clock in the evening, and people started talking about the possibility of sleeping in the hall if they did not finish today. I was lucky that I was chosen to receive blankets, and some personal hygiene products and they let me go to room number five to share it with six other girls of different nationalities.

I surrendered to sleep quickly and woke up at six o'clock in the morning, because of loud knocking at our door and a voice shouting "Come on, wake up". It took me several seconds to understand what is going on and why all this noise. Then I hurried to get ready. That day was the pulmonary clinical examination, so they can make sure that we are not carrying any contagious diseases to the new society. We were taken to a small dark warehouse, and in the middle of it, there was a big medical car. I tried to accept everything that happened with leniency. Indeed, they finished in three hours and it was time for food. I could not know what it was, so I ate a small jam sandwich. The dinner was no better, and I began to starve. But with the help of some Syrians there, I got a gift: a thyme sandwich with cucumber.

We were woken up the same way the next morning too. On that day, they took photos of us and sorted us to be sent to another camp. This mission took ten hours to be accomplished. We were given boxes of cheese sandwich that I did not like and cans of milk which I had stopped drinking when I was a child. I ate only the bread and drank a lot of hot chocolate to not fall down from hunger as had happened with an old woman who fainted because of fatigue and lack of food.

I ran out happily with many survivors from these long- drawn procedures: it was the time to move to the first camp. When we arrived in front of the bus, someone shouted "step back." I began crying like a lost child who is looking for a familiar face. I barely prevented myself from screaming.

I was moved from one camp to another several times and each time, I received blankets, some personal hygiene products, a food ration card and a lecture on how to respect the system, how to use bathrooms, etc. One of the camps consisted of two buildings. The first building was a former women's prison and the other a former sanatorium. I waited many weeks before my lawyer called to tell me about the investigation appointment. Oh my God, I will finish my procedures soon and I can go back to Turkey to attend my sister's wedding and to meet my brother who had been recently released from detention. But unfortunately, the lawyer gave me the wrong date for the appointment and the employee I went to meet the next day told me angrily about the importance of respecting punctuality in this country. And that my investigation appointment has been delayed by another two months!

I waited a long time before I got the residency permit and was transferred to another camp in Oisterwijk. At this stage and because I did not want to stay in the camp, as I am lucky enough to have two sisters in the Netherlands, I traveled every week for four hours and back, to get a stamp to prove that I am still living in the Netherlands. I tried to convince them that it is a long trip and I cannot come every week but their reply usually was "I do understand, but you have to". The problem with staying at the camp was that I would be expected to get a residence near the camp and I would be far away from my sisters, and I would feel more estrangement. Therefore, I continued trying to convince them, for the next three months, to transfer me to the camp near my sisters' city, but they said that it is not permissible and my sisters are second degree relatives, not first!! However, after I told them that I am tired, exhausted and even depressed, they finally approved my transfer.

Well, now I am in Europe that is famous for its freedoms and its laws, but I did not know that Europe will take away my basic freedom, such as where I want to live, the duration of my travel abroad, how to spend my money and other such things. During the last period I did not really like the Netherlands. I neither adapted to its cold changeable weather nor did I meet many Syrians. The cold in Europe is sneaking inside me day by day. This place does not look like me and it separates me from my country, my revolution and its revolutionaries. Only some campaigns for Syria in which I participated made me breathe a little freely.  I did not experience any obvious racist attitude. However, I always had to explain why I am here, what is going on in my country, and that I did not run away because of ISIS but from a dictatorship which is killing us every day. I have to explain that I am neither a refugee out to get money, nor a terrorist. I have had to fight daily the stereotype associated with refugees.

In my first visit to Turkey, an officer at the airport asked me brusquely "do not you intend to go to Aleppo?" "No, because it is a very dangerous city I replied and "if I went there, I would lose my right to asylum."

If you know anything Mr. Officer about my dangerous city, it has more warmth than you have. That city where I shouted for freedom and buried a lover. If I could have a “visa” to go back to my home in Aleppo, you could prevent me, please prevent me, to come back here.