A Refugee’s Story Part Two: Resilience

A continuum following Part One. 

Following the Free Army’s new presence in Aleppo, Ahmad explains the terror and hardship that soon crowded the divided city.

“During that time, Aleppo was really the most terrifying city,” Ahmad says. “Imagine two armies fighting each other in a city filled with people – it’s dangerous every single second.”

Ahmad sitting in front of a bombed school in his neighborhood in Aleppo.

“I lost a friend. He died from a rocket that came from the sky, and I don’t know where it came from, because nobody ever knows. He was just walking down the street and he died. I heard ‘Mohammad is dead,’ and then I saw the photos on Facebook.”

Ahmad explains that names, pictures, and videos of disasters, injured or dead people are all always put on social networks to potentially identify victims. This is done to identify a victim whose face is perhaps no longer recognizable or someone may be posting to notify people of bombings or other dangers so they know to avoid certain neighborhoods or to not leave their homes that day.

“I’m sad to tell that, but Aleppo is really a messed up city right now.”

A residential block reportedly hit by an explosives-filled barrel dropped by a government forces helicopter on March 18, 2014 in Aleppo. (Photo: AFP-Khaled Khatib)

“They [the Free Army and the regime] are always fighting, and it sucks. You can’t fight in the middle of a city. You know how many people lived in Aleppo before the war? Four million. So, you put four million [people] in danger because you’re fighting. It doesn’t matter – I don’t care if the regime is right or the rebels are right, but you can’t, with logical reason, fight in a city with four million people because it’s really dangerous. If you do anything, people will die. And that’s what happened. People did die. Every single day.”

Ahmad explains that up until he left Syria in 2015, the war was making life harder everyday. It wasn’t just the fighting and danger uprooting their lives, but also the serious power and water shortage they had to live with too, he says.

According to Ahmad, neighborhoods bought generators to solve the power crisis, but families had to walk to retrieve water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and other basic needs everyday.

“It was really dangerous and exhausting. Until now, I’ve had very bad back pain from carrying water everyday. Because it was so heavy, I didn’t want my mother, sister, or little brother to get back pain like me, so I would do it on my own. My father would help sometimes, but he was 50, so I couldn’t let him do that, so I was responsible for that.”

According to an August 25, 2015 UNICEF report, Syria’s water availability was about half of what it was before the crisis began in 2011, and the ongoing violence caused severe damage to pipelines and other water infrastructure, making it very difficult to do repairs.

Children filling tanks of water in the streets of Aleppo, on September 26, 2012. ALESSIO ROMENZI

In addition, at the time of the report, UNICEF estimated that up to five million people were impacted by water shortages including in Aleppo (2.3 million), Damascus (2.5 million) and Dera’a (250,000).

Ahmad explains that everyday he would walk a quarter of a mile to retrieve water for his family of five, wait in a line with the rest of his neighborhood, bring as much back as he could, and then walk back and repeat as many times as needed.

On top of that, Ahmad had recently graduated college, which meant he no longer had a valid excuse not to join the military, which he feared greatly.

“If any checkpoint suspected me, I could go to the military and in the military you have to kill and fight and I didn’t want to do that, so the only solution was to leave.”

While still awaiting his student visa acceptance to the University of Dortmund in Germany, Ahmad says leaving was becoming increasingly urgent.

“It took so much time. I was waiting and waiting, while friends were going and going. I thought that I was losing the opportunity. Maybe they wouldn’t accept me anyways, so I decided that it was enough, I should leave, and I would go to Germany in one week as a refugee.”

Photo taken by Ahmad from a castle in Aleppo.

Ahmad stuck to his new plan and left a week later. After setting off on the long and unpredictable journey traveling from country to country, he made it to Germany and was sent to Darmstadt where he sought asylum.

Depressed, impatient and frustrated

In Darmstadt, Ahmad lived in the Jefferson Refugee Camp for four months while awaiting his interview to officially become a refugee. Although Jefferson provided him the safety and security he didn’t have in Syria, Ahmad admits being in a very dark place there.

“When I first got there, I was fine. The apartments are really not that bad, they weren’t tents, so it was good. But, I hated the place. My roommate smoked everyday, I couldn’t really talk or get along very well with the people living with me, I didn’t have internet connection, so Jefferson wasn’t great. I wasn’t happy there.”

It’s also worth noting that while you wait for your refugee status, which often takes up to two years, you aren’t able to do much other than wait. That was particularly hard for Ahmad, especially since he already spoke decent German and desperately wanted to start school again. He felt his life essentially be put on hold until he was officially classified as a refugee.

“It’s very slow and I told them a million times I can speak [German], so let me at least work, let me at least study, let me at least do something!”

Ahmad emphasized despite the frustration he once felt, he is incredibly grateful and indebted to the German people for their kindness and for accepting him into their country while he, like so many others, was in desperate need of help, humanity, and hope.

“It’s all part of my history”

After recounting his past for nearly 2 hours – sharing his deepest and most personal thoughts, stories, and experiences – Ahmad’s outlook was remarkably upbeat.

“Every bad thing that happened to me is an advantage. Like [spending] 15 days in jail, I consider that as an experience, not as bad. Why is that bad? Okay it was bad, of course, it was horror. But right now, I’m out of it. I lived it, I remember those emotions, so it is like the story of me. Why should I be depressed from that?” 

Ahmad during a visit to Heidelberg, Germany.

While many of us in the West have this image of a plight of refugees making this treacherous, miserable journey that left a young boy facedown and dead on the beach – although still accurate – Ahmad describes a different story with a different ending.

“At the time, it wasn’t very fun. You don’t know what to do, you don’t know how much time you have to get to Germany. Sometimes I slept on the street, sometimes I slept in the middle of the ocean traveling, and sometimes there were thieves and criminals. It was really dangerous, but right now [looking back], it was the most exciting experience of my life. Why should I be sad for that?”

In some ways, Ahmad’s story is unique. He speaks for many of those that made it out – the lucky ones – and even looks back at his journey with a what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger mentality.

“It happened and it ended and I’m good right now. I don’t need help anymore. I have my apartment, I have my job, and I study at the university. I’m just like any other person here. It’s all part of my history. So, I will remember that and I will tell my children that.”

Jacqueline Barba
Hello readers, I’m Jackie. I find excitement in meeting knew people, exploring the unfamiliar, and sharing my thoughts and experiences with whoever’s interested in listening to my saga. Music, my Dad’s advice, and dictionary.com are three things I can't imagine my life without. I’m simply an open mind who’s curious about the world and hopes to make it even the slightest bit better, or at the very least, a little more entertaining.

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