Not a Single Story

I recently watched a TED Talk given by Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist from Nigeria. Seeing the title, The Danger of a Single Story, I expected the talk would be along the lines of saying how powerful even just one story can be. Although this was part of the talk, Chimamanda talked about how having only one story is harmful to those who are exposed to the story and those who the story is about.

For me, that is the most important thing to convey about my experiences talking with Syrian refugees. For us as Americans, even though there may be more than one story about refugees, there is one narrative. This is not necessarily our fault; after all we cannot fix a problem that we barely even know exists. We should, however, seek opportunities to add new stories to the narrative we are familiar with. I was fortunate to go on this trip to Germany where I was able to truly destroy that narrative for myself. By that I mean that even though I felt I didn’t subscribe to the narrative we have of Syrian refugees, it now no longer exists for me. Through meeting and talking with people, the narrative has been replaced with countless stories.

I have hoped this blog can destroy the narrative for you as well. Nothing I could write would have the same impact as being in Germany, but I hope that at the very least, this blog complicates the narrative so it isn’t one viewpoint conveyed as the only viewpoint.

While in Germany we had so many conversations, with many overlaps in topics between the different people we met. Together, their responses alter and add detail to our existing narrative. Here’s a bit of what some of the refugees we met had to say. Some names have been changed at the individual’s request.

What people should know about Syria and Syrians

“That Muslims also wear pants and get their hairs done. We go bowling and go to movies. It’s not a bubble as many might think. We’re not narrow-minded as others might think. That’s not the reason we have war.” –Nouri

“People ask me if we have microwaves in Syria. Like, of course we have microwaves! We’re not some backwards country shut from the world.” –Ahmad A.

“My uncle got taken that day… and that was like 2011, so the army base was not so full with people to torture… After 15 days we tried like to pay a lot of money to the regime to get my uncle out. In Syria you can do anything with money; if you got money you can do anything you want.” –Waseem

“Yes, we have smart phones.” –Mohanad

This comes from a photo series by photographer Grey Hutton. He asked refugees to show him their phone backgrounds and comment on it. The phone’s owner explained the image: “This is my daughter who’s still in Syria. We chat everyday, morning and evening.” Many refugees rely on their phones to navigate and get in touch with family and friends.

ISIS

“I think ISIS was created by governments. I’m sure about that. I believe that. For example, at some time, Aleppo was bombed every day every single building from the Russian. And then the Russian the American, they say they fight ISIS. And ISIS, they travels through the desert; there is nothing above them, there is no forest. They were in the desert they were traveling 400km, and nobody touched them. And in Aleppo, there were hundred thousands of people and they were bombed every day every single night. Why you are bombing the people in buildings and you are leaving ISIS in the desert? There is nothing.” –Ahmad D.

“I think that’s why these extremists had success. There were people feeling oppressed because of their religion, like they weren’t welcome in a place because of their religion. They saw a way out, but it was the wrong way.” –Nouri

“I also would accuse [the regime] of building the idea of ISIS. I would say that it’s totally built by our government with the help of other secret services…Another question is when ISIS controls a place, they come and fight the free army, take the place from free army, free army then goes back in lines. And then just somehow, it’s back without any reason it’s back with the government. So just like wait a second: army fought free army, got him out to take this territory, and then gave the territory to the army the government. It’s obvious that ISIS is working with our government. So all these lies, everything, just ISIS is a part of our government.” –Ahmad A

Almost all of the Syrians I met talked about how various governments support ISIS.

Emotional impact of the Syrian Civil War

“At first when we heard like a person died today we were like whoa, it’s like it never happens you know. In Syria, we never heard like today a person got shot. And then like year after year, it’s kind of like, oh today it was like today 150 person died, oh okay so we know the number… Like we still think like it’s a horrible thing and it’s like you can’t get used to it, but it’s like you can do anything or else you’re gonna die too.” –Waseem

“Everyone’s there, we can’t tell who’s right or wrong. The ones that are suffering don’t bear arms.” –Nouri

“We hear about it on the news but we couldn’t imagine that one day we’d hear about our families.” –Mohanad

“As long as I’m here I can’t see my life in Germany. I’m just a refugee.” –Jefferson Camp resident

“We love Europe. Europe is great. But homeland is homeland.” -Jefferson Camp resident

Syrian flag of revolution being carried at a protest in Tahir.

There is so much more. I hope this adds to the narrative we are commonly used to in a way that shows nothing can be as simple as a single story.

Kylie Bowman
Kylie is first and foremost flattered that you have read this far. Thank you for doing so! A 2017 graduate from the University of Wisconsin Stout, Kylie looks forward to finding a job that fits her passions for creating content, editing, and working with interesting topics. In the meantime, she is grateful to be involved in this Digital Refuge/e blog and have the freedom to pursue her creative endeavors.

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