″I am the misery of the 21st century″
In my country, I lost all my friends; not one of them is still alive. And so I became a beggar and sought new friends in a cold country. Perhaps I am a victim who is not supposed to scream or defend himself; perhaps I am the dreams that shattered at the borders of my country, or the wound that is still bleeding, the problem that is not going to be solved and the oppression that must continue.
Syria has not been at peace for five years now. People there are fleeing death. They are fleeing with their dreams and their grief to neighbouring states and to many other countries and seeking safety. I have been living in Berlin for a year and a half. I try to create a little hope for myself in a strange, new society. I still suffer from the fact that the language is so difficult and the city unfamiliar to me – and from the fact that I have not yet found the opportunities I had hoped for.
I don′t find it all that depressing that some Germans are worried by our presence. They don′t like foreigners; that′s normal. But what does pain me is when other people speak about me and I cannot speak about or defend myself, or when I see newspaper articles and television reports that talk about ″me″ – and I am not able to respond. I can′t even correct the false information the media spreads about me. I am supposed to just listen and read, without comment. I am the Syrian who is not allowed to speak. But the whole world is allowed to speak about me.
When I see a newspaper, I′m on the front page; On TV I am the top subject for politicians and talk-show guests. Only I am not there and no one wants to allow me to speak or explain myself. No one wants to understand the hell I have come from and why I am here. And why I am causing such a debate here.
Parliaments pass resolutions on me without my knowledge, in a language I don′t speak. Maybe a friend will happen to tell me about them, but I can′t read them. I am supposed to just abide by the law and be a nice, polite refugee who doesn′t annoy the man in the job centre, eye up women, go to the swimming pool, walk around department stores or get on a bus with his friends. And if he does, he shouldn′t speak his mother tongue, or all eyes will stare at him and ask: "Why are you here?"
I am supposed to go to a language course and never miss a class, find a job quickly and greet my neighbour, who is not exactly delighted that I live here. I am just supposed to accept other people′s bad behaviour towards me, because after all they are letting me live here and I live off money from their state. I never set out to live like this. Do you know why I am doing it anyway? Because I didn′t want to be killed by barrel bombs in Syria. That′s the only reason.
It′s no tragedy to have someone from a different background move in next door. Tragedy is having to leave your country and then wait for months to be reunited with your family. And having to flee in such a hurry that you can′t even turn around for a final glance to bid farewell to the place where you once had friends.
Here, in a foreign country, I am not just the subject everyone is talking about; I am the misery of the 21st century. I am a victim of societies that want to swallow up my culture so I will be absorbed into theirs. I am a person who has no podium to speak of his pain, while society uses every available platform to speak about this foreigner, this refugee. But I cannot reply.
For now, I will just say: I am a Syrian, who invented the alphabet so that humanity could communicate. So do not deny me every opportunity to speak. I am less a refugee than a person full of feelings. I am seeking hope among all this rubble and a little warmth – and I thank all those who have supported me.
Nather Henafe Alali
© Nather Henafe Alali 2016
Translated from the German by Ruth Martin
This article was first published in ″Der Spiegel, 15/2016″.