Homesick

syria-guernica-gargalo

Image: Vasco Gargalo de Portugal

by Martina Losi

David* is a Dutch citizen who was born in Syria in 1986. He has been living in the Netherlands since the age of twelve, when he and his family arrived fleeing from their homeland, even if there was no war at that time.

When the civil war broke out in Syria six years ago, David was studying Middle eastern studies at the university of Groningen. Hung on the wall of his room there was a caricature of the President Bashar al-Asad, portrayed while torturing civilians. At that time, David was convinced that Assad was not only a cruel dictator, but the worst of Syria’s enemies.

Today, after David’s native city, Homs, has been ruined in a war where powerful nations have been trying to call the shots, David is certain that the war has been nothing more than a bloodshed “to sell weapons and get oil”. He does not trust the Western media anymore, preferring to follow less-mainstream media, mainly websites and blogs written in arabic language.

“The best thing that could happen to Syria now is that Asad takes control of the country again. After all, it was not Asad who destroyed the country” he tells me.

Before the war, under the government of Hafiz al-Asad and his son Bashar, Syria had known forty years of economic development and tolerance between the different religious groups. Being an Orthodox Christian himself, it seems very important to David that the government supported religious minorities, in a country where the majority of the population professes Sunni Islam. Unfortunately, as David says, the same tolerance was not granted to those who professed a different political creed.

David’s father, Atif, was a mathematics teacher at the university. An easygoing person, says David, showing me a black-and-white photo that captures a man in his thirties. David winks at me “He was young here”. Standing in the foreground with his skinny jeans, Atif smiles under his mustache as if he was going to live forever.

When David was twelve, suddenly Atif was accused of issuing propaganda for a prohibited party. They found books praising communism at their home and he was arrested.

“They don’t want you to think, because when you think you will not accept the system and you will make some noise” David explains.

“Sometimes, when you are too clever, they don’t want you, they just kill you.” he continues. His father was released, but after some time he got in troubles again. “They came home twice. The second time, he was dead.”

Some months after her husband’s death, David’s mother decided to leave Syria with four of her children. The fifth, 18 years old, was already in prison for political reasons. They flew overnight with fake passports, directed to Canada, where she had relatives.

When you are flying for the first time, says David, you feel a clear sensation in your stomach. “You feel something going up and down, and you can’t help feeling it all the time, until you put your feet onto the ground again. I was confused.” They were leaving everything they knew behind and David did not know anything about the place they were going to. “This sensation has never left me” he continues “Even when I am trying to relax I feel it, it is in my stomach even now.”

The family never saw Canadian soil. When the plane made stopover at Amsterdam Airport, the police found out that they were travelling illegally and they were confined in Schipol detention centre, where they stayed over one year. They were not recognized as refugees for lack of evidence and lived illegally in The Netherlands for years. “It was just as being in prison” says David about that time.

Today, the thirty-year-old David has a Dutch passport and no contacts with other Syrians aside his family, neither in Groningen, nor with his relatives that are still living in Marmarita, a Syrian village in the “valley of the Christians”, along the border with Lebanon. He says that to him, Syria was dead with his father and he cannot find any reason to come back, even if sometimes he thinks he would like to.

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Homs from the roof of Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque / Photo:  AFP

When I ask him to tell me something he liked about Syria, David reflects for a second. “The smell. Everything, even the wind had a different smell. Even tomatoes…even people.” After almost twenty years of living in Holland, David still does not feel at home in The Netherlands. He craves to find another place, more similar to what was his home, that for him, and many others since the war, does not exist anymore.

“Life here is not what i had expected for me. I don’t have any problems, but it does not feel like home. One day I will go somewhere else, somewhere that is similar to the land I have been raised.”

 

*David is his second name. The man from Homs did not want his full name to be published.

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