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19 June 2050

Tallinn, Estonia.

When my son Wael was a kid, he thought a tent was home and long bus trips to places he didn’t know were a regular thing everyone did.

He thought that hospitals were places people spoke weird languages, as this was the only time he ever saw anyone who was actually from the places that we were always occupying temporarily. Wael was seeking fun and people to play with, whereas I was seeking asylum. We were Syrian refugees, or asylum seekers as some called us. Yet, all we were seeking was a resolution: a resolution to our life in transition, so that we could make plans for tomorrow.

After spending months of lingering in Turkish and Greek refugee camps, the E.U. decision makers assigned us to a country which we had never heard of before. In the end, Estonia it was, where we had to settle and make our plans. They moved us to Polva, a tiny city with no experience of having outsiders like us. Soon after moving, we immediately faced the harsh contrast between our expectations and reality. It was nothing like we imagined and at such moments of facing your naivety, you feel stupid. You make yourself believe in things that do not exist and you live with the consequences of those beliefs. My husband’s seeking for another life did not stop though. He wanted to move to Germany, to France, to America and eventually back to Syria. I, on the other hand, had stopped believing in a better future for myself and only cared for the future of my children which I thought could be better in Tallinn.

Now Tallinn is where I have lived more than half of my life . My children grew up here and my husband is buried here. I was a music teacher in Syria up until I was 24, and I have been a hair-dresser in Tallinn all the rest of my life.

Wael works with me as well as his younger brother and the shop keeps all of us busy, together and surviving. Things have changed a lot though. We were the first immigrants in Estonia but over the years, many others have joined us. In the 30s it was the Sudanese who escaped from the water crisis. In the 40s there was a flow of Indonesians whose cities were flooded. Finally, it was the Burmese who escaped from landslides and poverty. They were villagers, miners, shopkeepers and teachers, people from all walks of life, who decided to look for a new beginning elsewhere. As the first immigrants, the Syrians were welcomed with curiosity and a pride of “Estonian hospitality”. However, each time a new wave of migration emerged, the hospitality was replaced with irritation and disturbance.

All the immigrants are concentrated around the same areas: neighborhoods with big buildings, outside the center, which I can say is one of the few things that has not changed over the years. I always felt that we populate these buildings side by side but without any real contact, leading parallel lives within each of the rooms we occupy. What do I have anything to share with these people anyways?

Wael, on the other hand, is different. He grew up with them.

When my son Wael was in his teens he told me one day that I should wear a headscarf and I should not be standing outside for too much while he was hanging out with his friends. He thought fear and anger was part of his life – this is what replaced his search for fun and people to play with. He thought he had become a man, and that this what a man does as his friends told him. Behind the walls of the apartments where we lived, there were people that were whispering such things to him. People I had never wanted to be side by side with, yet my son thought of as friends.

Today, Wael is 35 years old. He wants to move back to Syria and take me there with himself. “Syra is calling its children” he says. That is how they are fooling him.
How can I go to that place after so many years? What would be the things waiting for this woman back in Syria, who has made so many sacrifices to be away from it? I stayed here only for Wael and his brother and tolerated everything and everyone so that they could belong to a place which they wouldn’t need to walk away from. Now, he looks for the same place that his father always kept on looking for and which I had gave up searching for, early in life. He believes his search for completeness will be answered there in Syria.

What he does not know is that when Syria broke into a million pieces, our souls were scattered all around the globe where we thought there was hope. Our generation has only lived to see that there was no hope, really, at least not for us. Syria let all of us down.
I don’t miss a single bit of it. I swear I don’t.
That is why I will not share my son with her, like I shared my hopes before.

Amena Awad


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