Life is a journey through reality that is filled with our emotions.
Exile is the feeling of being without land, even though we were born on Earth.
Borders are fake lines arranged to polarise our human race and to create a reason to fight.
When we were born, we had neither nationalities nor religions; we were not categorized. Those ‘qualities’ appeared later on because we lived within a group of people who once created its language to find a way to communicate within a particular group. we adopted some of that group’s habits, rituals, and beliefs, and we also took certain roles in order to provide ourselves with the necessaries.
After a while, we became accustomed to our group and, somehow, our genes also became accustomed to those people of the group.
However, it happens that some of us are forced to leave that well-known group. There are many reasons why we leave our groups such as wars, injustice, or the absence of free speech.
It is a big challenge to become part of a completely new living environment in a new region and a new language. Even getting used to a new type of food is sort of a test for us since the bacteria residing in our bodies are connected to the food in our previous place of life. Thus, both our physical bodies and our minds go into shock because of the new food, new language, and new way of life.
It could take two to three months until we are able to calm down and start to feel familiar with our surroundings; at home. I would say this first period in exile is like living in a dense fog that slowly, slowly disappears and, finally, we recognise the real world around us. However, every step in our life is closely related to our feelings. Therefore, facing the new reality emotionally makes the challenge tougher, especially as our expectations towards new places outweigh the reality of what we see. This is why our bodies and minds often fall into depression.
A life in exile begins when people are assigned to specific categories: refugees, migrants, country of origin, faith. Then, the labels in these category adhere to them, which means that the real name of the person, the one given to them at birth, fades. So, the loss of identity becomes more visible and, thus, more painful. We could compare it to a tree that grows in normal soil and suddenly is moved to a block of ice where it tries to grow. Likewise, in the beginning, exile is a sort of struggle to not lose your identity and, also, to adapt to a new environment and engage in society. Despite these challenges, life is always strong.
The first generation (parents and children), i.e. the people who escaped from injustice, will have to cope with all the challenges of living in exile.
The next generation, the one born in the new land, will be better adapted. The third generation will be completely different and will have forgotten the trauma of their grandparents.
At every stage of our life, we need friends to build up our personalities and to continue with us in the journey called life. Unfortunately, across the world, there are governments that caution their citizens against foreigners, which is why it is hard to build friendships with people in radical countries.
It is a tremendous responsibility to be part of the program for writers. I personally faced a lot of problems only because I was a holder of a Syrian passport. The fact I am Syrian almost immediately raises the border officers’ suspicions at the airports. Several times guns were even aimed at me at these airports, and even some writers have attacked me physically and mentally. They are writers, similar to me, who should understand what it means to be a writer, to struggle for the rights of others and not to fight with people. Those writers fought with me just because I was Syrian.
It is quite difficult to live in a world full of people waiting for a hunt. They victims of their racist games.
I heard others calling me: you, Syrian victim! This was only because I was Syrian and I came from a war zone.
When the police bullied me at the airport, I got so terribly frustrated and hopeless. I was a guest and they treated me very badly only because I had a Syrian passport.
What about other Syrian travellers?
How do they treat them?
The airplane landed. I was inside the plane when the border police entered the plane and called my surname. Then, they surrounded me and made me go with them, in front of all the other passengers. One of them told me that my passport was fake. I wondered: “How is this possible?? I travelled with my passport throughout Europe and in other places and nobody noticed it!”
He answered, “We are the best, that’s why”.
The police wanted to lock me down but I resisted. “I have done nothing wrong to be locked down.” They did not let me call anyone nor get the Internet connection to contact anybody via it. They did not let me know their names. They treated me like a criminal even before they checked my name only because they knew my nationality. I did not let them violate my human dignity so I asked them to deal with me as with a human being who had to be respected in any situation.
The Foundation, which invited me, helped me a lot and I am deeply grateful to them.
It is strange how a uniform can change people and deprive them of their humanity! How do they deal with others without thinking, as if they are simply playing a game and entertaining themselves by bullying someone?
Our lives matters, we are not numbers.
Life teaches me: “you alone can’t make the world a better place but you can solve the problems under your control. You have to try to step up for a better life and not just watch and do nothing.” One good step creates a circle of goodness.
Being a true writer means writing in order to protect other lives.
Despite all of this, what I have learned during my short journey through life is that love can solve everything. As long as I am in the care of the Foundation, I can ask them for help.
As a writer, I must not hesitate to contact other writers who were new residents here before me, just like I am now. I need to be in touch with the people who are trying their best to make my life easier. I believe it is alright to make mistakes because I do not know the language well enough nor the culture, etc. However, it is not alright to repeat my mistakes when I can fix them by learning the language and culture of the place where I love.
The language will water my soul in the foreign zone, and it will help me open new doors in my life.
No one can understand that when I came as an adult I had a child. This child was born inside me the moment I arrived. This child speaks a new language and belongs to the new environment, to new habits, new regional celebrations, and a whole new country.
I have been teaching this inner child myself, for I wanted it to be a real human being who can accept others, and be friendly and kind. As a writer, I feel I am accountable to this child in the same way I am responsible to others.
On a plane, there is a rule during an emergency: first of all, put your mask on your own face, then start helping others.
During every period of my new life, I gained something from others and, at the same time, I lost a bit from my past and walked away from my distress in order to live, as much as possible, a normal life.
I left the past in the past, and I started to experience the present more than the future, especially since I have no house and no family here.
I wanted to help others and to help myself by making friends and creating a family.
However, it is not that easy to build a family in any place when you don’t have documents to proof that you are not a number, that you are a human being. It is always difficult, even if you have been recognized for your achievements and are a talented and well-known writer.
The challenges will not stop here. I will confront the biggest problem ever in my life – renunciation. First of all I will have to deny myself. There is a heavy struggle between my best self and who I am now.
Next, I will deny the others in a situation similar to mine. There is a voice inside me saying I do not belong to them, I am different. Probably, this is because I had very bad memories with people who spoke my language in my homeland.
Subsequently, the people older than me may ignore me or turn me down because I belong to their memories from our homeland.
Then, some of the people I may meet will treat me with prejudice and racism.
Well, this is life. I have to develop as fast as I can. Life is so short, and I believe love will solve all problems. I have to be strong and pass this message of love to others. We, fellow human beings, are passengers on the road of life.
We have an Arabic proverb: “even the intestines got to fight each other” and, then, they have to share one place in peace and for the benefit of the body.
I have a right to protect myself, but I have no right to fight with others for I need others to give me birth and to bury me someday. It is impossible to clap with one hand. I have to live for our mother Earth, for a new healthy generation, and for a world without wars.
Kholoud Charaf is a poet, art critic, and social activist from Al Mujeimer, Syria. She worked in the medical field for over ten years, where she witnessed severe human rights violations. For trying to bring such practices to light, she was threatened by the authorities. Her poetry has reached an international audience and has been published in Arabic, French, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, and English. In 2018, she became an ICORN guest writer in Krakow, Poland.