by Wasan Abu-Baker
Palestinian Tales from Wasan Abu-Baker & Syrian Tales from Iman Akroum
“Once upon a time, in the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, one of the most beautiful cities in Syria…” this is how Iman Akroum started her conversation with me. Iman and I can both understand each other, missing home is not easy for both of us. When we first met, we shared our own private stories; we shared our tears and talked about leaving our home.
For Iman, this is a fresh pain still recently away from home, I tell her, my dear friend, it has been 13 years since I left occupied Palestine, The Land of The Honey and Milk. I came to the United States by choice, I met my husband, Asim, in Palestine. We fell in love and married, and I moved to this country. It is not the same as my friend Iman’s story who moved to the United States to escape war and to seek safety. For her, her husband, and little girl it wasn’t a choice. Her escape from Syria was more for her daughter, Malak, than for her and her husband so that Malak, then 7 months old, can have a safe future.
Me as a Palestinian immigrant, Iman as a Syrian asylum seeker, both moved to United States for a better future, that’s what was missing in our home countries. A refugee and an immigrant are both different terms, for Iman and I both terms are about home.
I lost hope when I was living in my country and going to school. A new war started in Palestine when I was in my second year of getting my Bachelors Degree in Medical Laboratory Science. The first year at college for me was easy: going home to Tulkarem each evening after classes, taking the bus home from college which was in a different city one hour away just like many other college students. In 2000, the war started, life changed, students like myself were forced to live in Nablus, this is where An Najah Univeristy was. Being forced to live away from my parents and siblings was very hard, but many students had to face this new reality. I lived with my grandmother for almost five years during this time of war and uprising and life was not easy for anyone. I lost friends, professors, relatives, and neighbors as a result of the war. My dreams were almost gone, and the future that I imagined as a healthcare provider was shattered.
Then, in my last year of college, I met my future husband Asim at my grandmother’s house in Nablus; it was love at first sight. We made our plans, and I stayed behind to finish college, he went back home to the U.S. until I could finish and join him. We stayed connected with daily phone calls, and then six months later, Asim came back again so we could get married. This showed me that war didn’t stop, but people still had to live their lives and celebrate their happy moments. I told Iman this is how I got married.
* * *Iman met her future husband, Said, at the Bank where she worked. Said was a regular customer; he was a developer in Aleppo and a successful businessman in Syria. Life was easy and luxurious for both of them. They loved each other and married fast, just like me and my husband. Malak was their first child. She had a difficult pregnancy, but Malak was born in 2010 in Aleppo. After a few months in 2011 the Syrian war started. Said, Iman, and Malak fled Syria to Egypt. They stayed there for a month and then left to Jordan. They applied for a visa to the U.S. from Jordan. They came to Fresno where Said had some family; and that’s how they arrived here.
* * *
Iman and I both moved to the US to seek safety, a better future, and a new life without the threat of war. Iman and I sought peace and found it in this country, but we always hope and pray for peace for those still living back home. Our hopes are to reunite with our families. We miss our countries, homes, and friends. Sometimes we dream that we can see each other in our countries, for her to visit me in Palestine and for me to visit her in Syria.
I wish I had visited Syria before the war, it was my dream to visit such a beautiful country with so much history and culture. But there are other reasons I couldn’t visit such a beautiful country because of the occupation of Palestine. Many Palestinians are not able to visit many places. Now with my American passport, I am able to go where I wish, but it is sad that it’s too late to visit Syria.
This story of my relationship with Iman has made me a strong advocate for my Syrian brothers and sisters. I always want to help them because I see myself and my struggle in them. When I see Syrian children, I see myself as a child struggling to survive war and chaos. These children have lost their childhood, and I want to try and make a life for them that is worth living where they can have fun and grow up as kids.
Check out more immigrant and refugee stories in KRL’s Tales of Diversity category. If you would like to help other Syrian refugees in the Fresno area please visit Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM)’s special webpage.