Friday, 20 November 2015

Please help me understand -
Why are none of my friends draping themselves in Syrian flags and posting this on Facebook?

An atrocious thing happened last week.  Terrorists attacked Paris and over 100 innocent people were killed.

But I ask you, how many innocent people have been killed in Syria?  As of October 2015 the death toll within Syria was 250,000 adults and 30,000 children.  Not to mention all those dying trying to escape.  All those living without food and heat and the basic necessities of life.

Why are none of my friends draping themselves in Syrian flags and posting this on Facebook?

My Syrian student sits opposite me in the small classroom.  Sun streams in from the window behind him. When he sees me squinting from the sun, he immediately gets up and lowers the shade to screen my eyes.

Ali is that sensitive, that kind.  He is a young Syrian man who was a student in Aleppo when war broke out five years.

“Three times I almost died,” he tells me. “One time a bullet whizzed past my ear,” he holds his hand just next to his ear and smiles.  “Another time I was saved from a bomb blast by being lucky enough to be behind a large truck when the bomb hit.  And one other time… well Syrian rebels captured me.  They wanted to know why I wasn’t fighting with them. 

‘We will kill you as an informer,’ they said, thrusting guns at him.

‘I’m a student. I’m a student,’ I kept telling them.

‘Prove it,’ they demanded. 

“But how can I prove it?  I started to explain some scientific thing to them.  You must understand these were uneducated men. They looked at each other and finally let me go…but this is life there.” He raises his eyebrows and shrugs.

Ali is the oldest boy in his family of ten.  He has two younger brothers and five sisters.  His father is a doctor.

“But he hasn’t been able to work for years now.  And my family has nothing.  There is no fuel to warm the apartment.  There is no food.  As the oldest boy they sent me to Turkey to try and find a way to help them.  But here I cannot go to university even though the UNHCR has said that Syrians can attend, because I must work.  And bosses here don’t care.  I work twelve hours a day at a restaurant.  If I want to go to university and ask my boss, can I have these days and these hours off, he would just tell me ‘goodbye.’  There are so many other people waiting for a chance at a job.”

Ali is studying English.  His English is excellent.  He hopes to be able to go to university in the States.  He hopes to continue his studies. 

But now it seems that the US wants to ban all Syrian refugees from entering the US.

Because one maniac terrorist happened to be a refugee.

“My father always told us that no people are all one way.  Each person is an individual and must not be judged for anything other than who he is.”

I fight back tears of frustration and exasperation.  How can the French call all Syrians ‘terrorists’, then bomb Syria, kill hundreds, and not be considered ‘terrorists.’

“Shall we get a ‘stimulating beverage',” he asks smiling.

Last week I taught him this phrase when he found me at the coffee machine.  Now he likes using it.

Two weeks ago Ali told me he had heard from Sarah Lawrence College in the US and they wanted him to send an essay on his area of interest.  He had been filled with hope and excitement.

Today, he’s not so sure. 

“Do you think there’s still any hope for me,” he asks, his big eyes looking into mine.

“Do not give up.  There’s always hope,” I tell him.

But do I believe it? I’m not so sure anymore.