Sometimes little events stick in your mind and affect you deeply. Sometimes they become unforgettable.
I put my head on my pillow to get some sleep, and I began to cry because of what happened today—I was late for school and had to take a new bus line that I had never taken before. I wasn’t sure if it was the right bus, so I asked a man for help. He looked at me strangely, and walked away. I could not understand why he acted that way, but when I looked around me I realized that some of the people passing by were avoiding me and would even move away when I walked close to them.
Confused, I returned home and told my husband. He told me that these people saw that I was Arab and belonged to a different religion, and that some of them discriminated against foreigners. I was shocked by what he said. I could not imagine that in Switzerland, of all places, there were people who don’t appreciate freedom of religion or thought. I was deeply saddened that the way I look or dress could cause some people to avoid me, and that my appearance could turn me into a source of fear for them. I’d always thought that European countries were ideal, and that European people were mature, thoughtful, and open-minded. But I guess small-minded people are everywhere.
My husband blames their attitudes on the media, which he says plays a major role in spreading misunderstandings and stereotypes. The incident today hurt my dignity. It made feel that I was less than everyone else. I remembered how much blood has been shed in my country so that people might have a chance at living freely. I also remembered what my grandmother used to say, “He who leaves home, loses his dignity.” But if the only place I can keep my dignity is my homeland, then, in light of the current crisis, it is impossible for me to live with dignity.
I will not let this small incident affect me. I have faced many challenges in life, and I have learned to overcome them. I will try to forget what happened. I will remind myself that there are a few people that do not represent the majority. I will keep reminding myself of the many friends I have who belong to different ethnicities and religions, and how they all love and respect me, as I do them.
What matters is how we treat each other. Everything else, including belief and opinion, is a private matter. It seems to me that the younger generation in Europe is more flexible and accepting of foreigners than the older one. I have many friends with whom I spend time, and none of them are any different from my friends in Syria.
The only difference between women here and women there is their dreams. Most Syrian women, at least before the war, dream of a little home, a child and some work that might provide them with a little security. Here, however, most women do not have to worry about security because it is readily available. Their lives are generally easier and simpler, and they are not subjected to serious financial or social challenges. Girls here leave their parents’ house when they reach 18, while back home, a girl does not leave her parents’ house until she gets married. Some people think this shows lack of trust, but really it stems from respect and love. These are our traditions and I love and respect them because they strengthen family bonds, and, as you know, family means the world to me. All that I’ve been through, and all the changes in my new life, cannot make me forget about my family members, who are still waiting to receive the final decision about whether they can stay in Switzerland or whether they must go to Germany.
Europe and the Arab world are very different. Each of them has its own merits, though. There are many ideas in Europe that I wish the Arab world would adopt, and many ideas in the Arab world that I believe the Western world should consider. If these two societies collaborated more often, humanity might finally find a way to live in peace, stability, and security. But will this ever happen? Can the two worlds really unite? It seems impossible because those in power find it hard to compromise. The West has the upper hand right now, and I do not see it taking the weak into consideration. But I will store this dream away for another day. Who knows, maybe a miracle will happen. ♦
Marah’s diary is produced in collaboration with Syria Deeply, a digital news outlet covering the Syrian crisis. It has been translated from Arabic.