Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Bird's Eye View

The view; The scene
Standing atop a bell tower in Siena, Italy, looking down at a patchwork of farms that dotted the terrain in shades of green, browns and a golden yellow - interwoven by chalets, ancient buildings and grand houses - I overheard a conversation.

An older man asked a younger man, “Where do you call home?”

The younger man responded, “I don’t have a home.”

Puzzled, the older man said, “Everyone has a home”.

Everyone has a home.

Here I share the story of Mary*. An inspirational woman whose idea of home is problematic because home is synonymous with safety. With family. With freedom. With identity. With rights.

Home was once Syria, but that is no longer the case. It can’t be.

I met Mary on a train that had broken down when leaving Venice one afternoon. Unsure of when the train would depart, we chatted. The friendly exchange led to something much more. An opportunity to give voice to someone whose voice has been squashed, down-played and silenced her whole life.

Here I share her words. Words that are painted with pain and exhaustion, and a great deal of relief and gratitude.

A story that deserves to be celebrated.

A story revealed 
Mary begins….

“I am from the city of Raqqa. I am 43 years-old and a university professor of finance and business administration.”

“Syria is my country, but I feel there is no possibility to live there anymore. A life of civil war, uprisings and ongoing crisis is not a home and not a life.”

“If you look back over Syria’s history, there has been continued violence between groups supporting the Ba’ath government and those wanting to over-throw it since coming to power in 1963.”

“Violence sparked up again in March 2011 when some children in the town of Darah, not far from Jordon, wrote messages of freedom on a door following the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.”

“This was not taken lightly by the government. The children were captured and tortured - one to death very sadly - which resulted in protests and armed rebellion calling for the end of the Ba’ath party.”

“I was on the government’s radar. I spoke publicly at a protest in front of ministers about corruption within the government and our denial of human rights. Ever since, I have been followed and traced."

“I have tried to leave the country three times, but each time they have stopped me."

Is this the case for you? 
"They took away my job at the university, have hacked into my accounts, taken away my passport and on my last attempt, arrested me for 10 days.”

“It was impossible. I was stuck. So very stuck, but I wasn’t going to give up and just accept that I had no choice. I have choices, even if the regime does not see it, and I chose to find a better life. A life where I was free.”

“I spoke with the judge after being imprisoned. She released me because there was no concrete evidence to prove that I was doing anything wrong.”

“Not long afterwards, I tried again. This time fleeing to Lebanon. I’m not sure if the security forces thought I was more trouble in the country than not, but they let me pass. It was a miracle.”

Make a wish; Make a dream

“I made it to Lebanon and three weeks later, my visa for Italy was approved. It was a miracle. I kept thinking I would be captured and imprisoned again or a worse penalty, but no. I was left in relative peace.”

“I know the only reason my visa was processed was because of my prior history in Italy. Back in 1998, I lived in Italy for 6 years for my studies. I count my blessings every single day because others are not so lucky, including members of my family and friends.”

“I feel bad for escaping my country – my home – but I had no choice. It is no way to live in constant fear.”

“I’m so very tired. It has been relentless. I have been watched, controlled and restricted for speaking out. For speaking the truth. But I couldn’t stay quiet anymore. I can’t be quiet about what is wrong.”

Are you a voice or an echo? 
“I still have the secret service following and monitoring my where abouts here in Italy, but at least I am free. In Syria, I was not free.”

“I am now creating a new life. It’s not easy. I fall under the new label of refugee and the challenges that come with that, but I am grateful. Grateful for this second chance to have a home.”

The United Nations refugee agency says more than two million Syrians have fled their war-torn country and is planning for the possibility of 3.5 million refugees by the end of the year. 

It is estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 women, children and men are fleeing across borders every single day.

Not everyone has a home. Perched high above the ground, looking down at the postcard picture before me - privileged beyond words to live this vagabond kind of life - I couldn’t help but think of Mary as I listened to the exchange of words between these two men. 

And the millions of Syrians whose idea of home has been taken away and destroyed.

See Human Rights Watch for the latest on Syria. Also, the Migration Policy Center in collaboration with a team of journalists is monitoring the refugee crisis.

* Mary is not the true name of the brilliant individual featured in this story. I have used this pseudonym to protect her identity for privacy and safety reasons. 

I'd like to pose you this question: What does home mean to you? When you think of home, what feelings come up? What connects you to the place you call home? What makes 'home' home? Love to hear your thoughts! Jump in the comment box below (Remember: Click on 'no comment' to open the box) and please do share :)

Me atop the bell tower in Siena


  1. Hey dear, how are you??? Thank you for shared other great experience. You know... I was think about "mobility" and about what that "practice" could offer us like a "key" to try to understand our world... Sometimes, i think that we´re, at least myself, concerned on travels like a enjoyble experience or a way to grown up, but we also have to consider travel, for some people, like a necessity... I mean, not a necessity to live out of routines, to live some relaxing time out of some social rules... but like a necessity to survive and in this case we couldn´t sustain the label wich indicates that every travel is an "enjoyble" experience... Thanks for share, thanks for make me think about it! :)

  2. Thank you Igor! You're insights have got me thinking not only about the concept of home, but human movement and why some of us feel compelled to move while others are content to stay in one place. That of course assumes we have a choice and movement is not forced upon us. I know that your home is somewhat far away. What are your reflections on the meaning on home from your new 'home' so to speak in Lisbon? :)


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