How much can people change? Can someone change into a completely different person? Is change a sign of weakness or strength?
These are the questions that rushed over me at the train station here in Switzerland when I randomly ran into a young man who comes from my city in Syria. He was our neighbor, and I have known him since we were little kids. We spent our childhood together, playing outside, careless and naive. He was raised in a similar environment to mine, and with the same customs and traditions.
He is three years older than me, and has been in Switzerland for four years. I did not recognize him when I first saw him, but he recognized me and introduced himself. I could not believe my eyes. He looked like a different person—everything about him was different: his clothes, the way he talked and even his haircut. He invited me and my friends to a nearby cafe. I agreed right away because I wanted to talk about my childhood, my city, and my people. He did not care about our country. He did not want to talk about anything that would remind him of Syria. He said that he didn’t ever want to go back, not even for a visit. He had no idea where his family was or how they were doing.
What happened to him? Were four years here enough to make him forget the 20 years he had spent in Syria? I was shocked. His goal in life was to collect as much money as possible. He does not want to have a family. How he has changed.
I am an advocate of change, but not to the point of losing the essence of one’s personality. I wondered whether I would be like him in a few years. In order to live here and truly integrate into my new society, I’m sure I will have to change a little. I will have to adopt some of this country’s customs. But I refuse to do away with my identity as an Arab and Eastern woman. Yes, I do have a Swiss ID card, but that does not mean that I will throw away my Syrian identity!
I am honestly worried that I might become adrift and get lost in European society. I have to find a solution, but how? There must be a way to preserve my identity—if not for me, for my little baby who will be a true mix of the East and the West. His family will be Arab, but his school, his friends and his neighbors will all be Western.
I am not discriminating here. I know very well that there are great things in the West, but there are also things that I do not like—things that go against my principles. The East, similarly, has many traditions that I reject and consider dated. It will be very hard to raise my child here and preserve his roots. If all refugee children were to turn into Europeans, and completely forget about their culture, Syria would lose a huge amount. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about that, I should focus on myself and my little family, but maybe it’s possible to bring the two together. To find a happy medium and to raise my child with the best of the two cultures.
Some believe that having a child will force me to postpone my dreams. I don’t think that will happen. I need to realize my dreams in order to be able to provide my child with the support he needs. This is why I study so hard, it is for both of us—for me and for my child.
This baby motivates me to overcome all the challenges I face. There is a wonderful feeling that keeps growing with this baby—it is motherhood. I cannot wait to meet him…or her. In a week, the doctor will tell me whether the baby is a boy or a girl. I don’t have a preference, but my husband, Karam, dreams of a baby boy. Although I hate this Middle Eastern tradition of preferring boys over girls, I would like him to be happy. But I do believe that if we end up having a baby girl, Karam will fall for her. He will realize how precious it is to have a baby girl. Girls are like butterflies, they spread happiness and joy. This is what my father and my grandfather always told me. ♦
Marah’s diary is produced in collaboration with Syria Deeply, a digital news outlet covering the Syrian crisis. It has been translated from Arabic.