I am Amira: A storytelling experiment
Week 2 – Finding our feet in Turkey
by Anna Austen
Setting the Scene
Amira is a 13 year old girl from Aleppo in the North of Syria. The country had a civil war for four long years. Aleppo has seen some of the worst of the fighting. Part of the town is now under the control of ISIS – the other part is under the control of the government run by Assad. Both sides are bombing and causing casualties every day.
Ninety-five percent of the population of Syria are not involved in the war but it is affecting every part of their life. Many no longer know which side to support. Twelve million Syrians have had to leave their homes. Some are still in refugee camps in Syria, but by September 2015 over 4 million have left Syria. Many are in Turkey, Jordan and Palestine. However in the first part of 2015 many thousands have started making a longer journey towards Europe. This story tries to take a look at the reasons why this is happening.
Last week Amira and her family escaped through the border of Syria into Turkey by cutting through the barbed wire with the help of “guides”. It was a scary journey. They are now staying with some family friends on the coast about an hour away from the border.
Day 8 – 8th September 2015 Near Iskenderun, Turkey
– The first day of the rest of my life –
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I don’t ever have to live in a war zone again. I am not saying that I don’t want to go back to Syria. I would give anything to be back home with a nice stable government. But the nightmare that has been our life for the last four years. No I never want that to happen to me or my family again.
Mum is feeling worried about her mother, she really wants to persuade her to come and join us. The place she lives is currently very vulnerable to the militia. My mum’s brother is with her. She and Dad have been explaining to her exactly how they arranged to get out. Uncle and grandmother are thinking about it.
We won’t be able to stay with our friends for long. The space is limited and they have family of their own expected in the next few days. Mum and Dad has been out looking for work and somewhere for us to live. I hope Dad remembers that we have a trip to the sea planned.
Dad’s friend explained that generally Syrians get paid a third of what Turkish people do because we have no legal rights. Right now I think he would take any sort of money.
News from Europe is mixed. The situation in Kos is still bad. And in Hungary people are having trouble with the police at the borders. However thousands are still making it into Germany every day. My parents would very much like us to stay here. But if we cannot find anywhere to live and my parents cannot find work then that will be a problem.
This afternoon Elias, Zeinah and I walked to a field near the house and we managed to fly my kite. It was really fun – what a contrast to our life in Aleppo. I can’t believe it is only a week since my birthday. So much has happened. Elias was pleased that the kite he had made for me worked so well. It made me a little sad to think of uncle still trapped in Syria. I hope they come soon. When he comes we must fly the kite with him.
Zeinah and I have been watching a video of Hungary that was taken when the march of hope started. The people of Hungary were really good to the refugee marchers. And the journalists helped by recording the situation so that everyone was as safe as possible.
Elias is pretty happy there are lots of little kids for him to play with on the street where we are staying. It is amazing the freedom we have here. I am not yet used to it.
Day 9 – 9th September 2015 Near Iskenderun, Turkey
– Palm trees –
Mum and Dad came back too late last night for us to get to the sea front. They spent the evening worrying because they could not find any work. There are hundreds of other refugees doing the same as them. There a few flats to rent, but the rents are very expensive for us. Dad thinks we could maybe stay in a one bedroom flat while we decide what to do. He is going to look at one today.
Many of the refugees that we meet are feeling that there is no future for them here in Turkey. There are too many of us and not enough resources. The refugee camps are full to bursting.
We are still awaiting news from my grandmother. We think they are waiting by the border to cross. Mum keeps her mobile by her all the time, anxious for news.
Even if we find a flat it is unlikely I will find a place in a school straight away. Today mum is going to put our names down at the local schools. I would love to go back to school it has been too long.
We caught a bus to the sea front this morning. There are palm trees. The Mediterranean looks so big. It makes me a little scared to think of all those countryman embarking into the sea in little boats. We all ran down to the waters edge and dipped our toes in the sea. I am glad I am a good swimmer. I would never ever have thought that my life might depend on it before though.
I feel ready for us to find our new home here in Iskenderun. Our friends are kind but it is obvious that it is a strain for everybody. Zeinah and I just try to keep out of the way.
Lets see what tomorrow brings
Day 10 – 10th September Near Iskenderun, Turkey
– Studying –
Dad thinks he may have found a flat for us to move to. It is very expensive. But they think they can rent it for a short while just to get us settled. My parents are particularly keen to have somewhere safe for my grandmother to come to.
As she promised Mum went to see if she could find places at school for us. We have been put on a waiting list. The man was very hopeful he said that some of the Aid Agencies have put some funding into education for Syrian students. So it maybe that there will be place at the school soon. Mum has managed to borrow some books from a refugee centre near here. She told Zeinah and I we had to study for three hours before we did anything else. It is so hard to study without a teacher or any classmates. Zeinah and I take turns teaching Elias. We quite enjoy that.
It is such a long time since we were last able to have a normal school day. At first school shut for emergencies after particular incidents in the the city … when bombs dropped near the school or when the water was cut off. But those days got more and more often and eventually there was just no more school. All the while people were leaving Aleppo. I had to say goodbye to one friend after another. They are now either in refugee camps in Syria itself or spread around in the nearby countries.
Many from Aleppo are here in Turkey because the city is so close to the border.
Some of my friends and family have headed to Europe. We haven’t had much news from anyone. I so hope I can get in touch with some soon. I particularly miss my friend Maya. We’ve known each other for such a long time. She and I enjoy doing projects together. We once wrote a whole play and acted it out for our families. She left over a year ago. I wonder where she is now? She could be here in Turkey in just the next town. Maybe I will be able to find her through Facebook.
I haven’t seen anyone we know from home here. The family we are staying with have been living here for 10 years. They are well established but even they are finding life hard at the moment. There are limited resources to go around so food and work are hard to find for everyone. Especially if you are Syrian.
We had a very brief phone call from my uncle this evening to say that they are at the border waiting. I hate to think of my poor grandmother getting upset, waiting at the border to cross. She is so weak. It is so unfair that she has to go through this.
Being a refugee seems to involve a lot of waiting!
Day 11 11th September 2015 Iskenderun, Turkey
— A new home —
Yes we have a new place to live. It is very small, just two rooms: a sitting room/kitchen and one bedroom. At least it is a stable place for us for a while. It is up on the 4th floor but there is a lift. Mum is really happy because we will be able to welcome grandmother here. We got it just in time because our friend’s family were arriving just as we were packing up our things.
And then we had the wonderful news that my grandmother and uncle have made it across the border. You should have seen mums excitement. Apparently there are a lot more refugees at Reyhanli now and they have had to spend the night sleeping on the street waiting to try and get a bus. Grandmother is too old to walk here. I hope she ok. I hate to think of her sleeping on the street but Mum says she is tough and that she will be fine.
There are a lot more refugees every day here in Iskenderun. Everything is just getting busier and busier. There are people sleeping in doorways and yesterday we saw a building site where people have constructed homes using plastic sheeting to create walls on the yet unbuilt floors of a new build. It will be fine while it is warm but those homes won’t be much fun if it starts to get colder.
Dad is still looking for work every day but with more and more people coming it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will find any. It would have to be a miracle he says. You can see that he is looking worried. So many decisions to make all of which could have such difficult consequences for us.
I overheard Mum and him talking over options. He was suggesting that perhaps he should go to Istanbul and try and find work or even that he should try and get into Europe. Mum can’t bear the thought of our little family being separated. We have survived four years of war together. I really hope that whatever we do we all do it together.
The flat is quite cramped with all of us here. It will be worse when grandmother gets here. But it could be so much worse. We could so easily be out on the streets with so many other Syrians.
Zeinah, Elias and I went for a long long walk this afternoon. We walked all the way down to the beach and found an old bottle, some seashells and some wild yellow flowers.
Mum was a bit worried when we got home. She said we should be careful and not walk so far. She says there are many desperate people around who might harm us. But compared to Syria this place seems so safe to us. It is hard to take her seriously.
I decorated the window with the flowers and shells. It felt good to make a mark on our new home. It is so empty in the flat just a few rags on the floor to sleep on – no chairs or tables. We don’t even have a cooking pot. Mum is going to the refugee centre to see if she can get one cheaply. We are trying to save every little bit of our money because we just don’t know where our future lies.
Tomorrow Zeinah and I have promised we will make a concerted effort to study.
Day 12 12th September near Iskenderun Turkey
– A good day –
It was so wonderful this afternoon when Grandmother arrived. Uncle Sami called from the bus to say they were on their way, Mum and Dad quickly rushed off to the bus station to meet them. We were hanging out of the window looking for them when they turned the corner of the street. We all rushed down and it was like a little street party full of joy and exclamations. Grandmother looks as tired and dusty as we were last week. maybe even worse. She has had a much harder journey than we did.
Uncle Sami was his usual smiley self. It was so great to see him. He has news that he managed to make contact with their sister last week and they are also on their way out of Syria. It has been almost impossible for mum to make contact with them for months as they were living on the other side of the frontline. But Sami assures us that they are now near the border too.
Mum is so happy. The news of her sister and family is just too good to be true. It is hard for Dad. His parents were lost in the second year of the war. They were killed in a bombing attack. I know it is still difficult for him even two years later. His two of his brothers have gone to Lebanon and are in refugee camps. He knows from them exactly how hard life is there. His sister is still in Syria but where she lives is relatively safe so for the moment they are staying where they are. Before this war we were quite a staid family not great travellers. Now we have family spread all over the place.
One of my mum’s cousins has made the journey to Europe. We think they may be close to germany. My mum looks at quite a lot of videos of the journey to Europe just to see if she can spot her. Mum knows everything there is to know about getting to Europe. I think she is quite keen to go. She knows that we could have a much better future there. No one wants us here in Turkey and Syria is going to take a long time before it can welcome us home safely.
Once Uncle had had a wash we dragged him out to our favourite field and flew the kite with him. He ran round the field with his arms outstretched shouting “freeedom freedom” It was so funny. It is so good to have him here. I know he will cheer mum and dad up with his good humour.
It is going to be a tight fit tonight with everyone. But there is still some space on the floor. I guess Auntie, Uncle and their three kids will be here next – that will be interesting.
We have to be quite quiet when we are in the flat because we don’t want the neighbours to realise quite how many of us are staying here. We don’t want to be reported to the landlord. Although some are definitely turning a blind eye at the moment.
Today has been a good day
Day 13 September 13th 2015 Near Iskenderun, Turkey
– Homesick –
I heard Dad and Uncle Sami talking long into the night in the other room last night. They are starting to make plans. I think the biggest issue they have is what should happen with grandmother. She is not very well. She was coughing all night. Like mum, Uncle Sami is also keen to go to Europe. He says the sooner we do it easier it will be.
Sami says that maybe he should wait here with grandmother for auntie. Auntie and her family do not want to go to Europe. They are hoping to stay with some of her husband’s family. When they come then Sami can follow us and try to meet us in Greece. He is so positive it is the right thing to do. He has many friends who have done it. Some of them are already in Germany. I can see my Dad is beginning to think it might be the only way for us to get a stable life. Without work life is going to be very difficult here very soon.
Mum has spent most of the day queuing up for medicine for grandmother. We took turns to sit with grandmother and talk. She did not want to leave Syria. And she is very sad. We are all very sad I guess.
However the news from Europe is not good. In Hungary people are being placed into camps and prevented from moving in. The Europeans says that they are going to take 120,000 refugees. As Sami points out there are over 4 million of us in the countries bordering Syria… so if we want to go to Europe we really have to go now. This is not going to get easier. Things in the neighbouring countries are just going to get worse. There are 12 million refugees waiting inside Syria itself.
Many Syrians will not have the money to go to Europe. Many would never dare. You need to have a certain understanding of the world to be prepared to take such a huge jump. But then when you are desperate many will do anything.
Mum has managed to get hold of some paper from the refugee camp. I am worried about Elias. He is doing a lot of drawing. All his drawings are of bombs dropping from aeroplanes in the sky. This war has marked us all.
We have a few bowls now and a cooking pot. Mum managed also to get me some new shoes from the refugee centre. They are red and and very comfortable. Many of the Turkish people are kind. They feel sorry for us. It must be hard to have your town overrun with refugees. Syrians have a long history of taking in refugees. In 2008 we housed the second largest number of refugees in the world. We welcomed the refugees from Iraq into our homes.
I am feeling tired today. I wish I had somewhere quiet to go. I just curled up in a little corner in the bedroom and had a dream about flying an aeroplane. It was a funny dream. I’ve never really thought about what it must be like to be in a plane. It was quite interesting looking down on the world.
I do hate it when our plans are uncertain. This feels almost as bad as waiting to leave Aleppo. I wish I could go home now.
Day 14 14th September 2014 near Iskenderun, Turkey
Well I have big news.
The news that Austria and Germany have closed there borders again has come as a shock to my family and many others thinking about taking the journey towards Greece. For my father it made him decide that we should act.
Mum and Dad have agreed that Dad, Zeinah and I are going to head to Bodrum and arrange a passage over to Greece for the family. Mum, Elias and Sami will follow when we are sorted. Grandmother is too unwell to move and she really would not want to go even further away from her beloved home.
I can’t quite believe that we are on our way. Mum is fretting terribly over our bags. But to be honest we have so little stuff that there really is nothing to worry about. She managed to get new shoes for Zeinah today. It was almost impossible to get shoes in Aleppo once the war started. People handed on shoes when kids grew out of them but you had to be lucky to get the right size.
She also managed to find us some sleeping bags. They are quite light so will not add to our load too much.
Uncle Sami reminded me to take my kite. As though I would forget it. I am wearing my birthday scarf for the journey.
Dad has booked us bus tickets to Izmir for this evening. I am feeling sad to say goodbye to Grandmother. And of course I would love to see Auntie and her family but Dad needs my help. He says Zeinah and I can be company for each other if he is doing business. I guess it also makes space in the very crowded flat.
I think secretly he is still hoping that he can find work in somewhere in Turkey so we don’t have to do that crazy journey across the sea. But it is looking increasingly like our only option. Of course Greece is not in a great situation itself but at least then we are in Europe.
It is a little nerve wracking leaving Elias and Mum behind. We are such a unit our family. But I guess I can see the logic. Trailing a little chap around while we are trying to sort things out will probably be difficult. I am feeling a little better than I did last night. Somehow action is better than the sitting around not knowing exactly what is going to happen.
Goodbye Iskenderun. Who knows where we will sleep tomorrow!
To be continued
A bit of background
I am Amira is daily story telling experiment. It is a FICTIONAL Facebook diary by Amira, a 13 year old girl from Aleppo, Syria in the latter part of 2015. The account is informed by comments provided by the community and information found on the web. “I am Amira” is a facebook storytelling experiment which aims to use the internet to create positive outcomes. https://www.facebook.com/I-am-Amira-1…
The “I am Amira” Facebook page is updated on a daily basis with the day’s entry which is informed by events from articles and video found on the web. Links to these sources are posted under each days entry. In this way we hope to build up a useful resource base for understanding the refugee crisis which is accessible to all.
The episodes will be published on a weekly basis as long as the experiment runs.
Week 1 of Amira’s diary is now available as a podcast:
On Apple itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/i-am-amira-podcast/id1039350513
Youtube version of the podcast: https://youtu.be/xwbI9oJ8xOM
Web Page: http://iamamiraaleppo.com
© Anna Austen 17th September 2015
Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial copying, hiring, lending is prohibited.