Omama Zankawan

Omama Zankawan

My dream was always to travel to Africa and come up with campaigns or plans, awareness about nutrition, about well-being, about diseases and illnesses.” Omama Zankawan (30) came to London, England with a scholarship for a master’s degree in public health and health promotion. She applied for asylum when returning home to Syria became too dangerous. Lockdown in London has been difficult; she felt vulnerable and stressed when her manager did not recognize her rights due to her immigration status. Both her uncle and father passed away from COVID-19. She says of her time in London: “What's been good was challenging myself into new situations and studying the master degree, my friends, the diversity that I've been exposed to, the new friends that I have made here.” Those friends have helped her to cope, as have movies and food. As for her dreams today: “I want to see my family then go on the rollercoaster. For the very long dream for Omama, what I want to do, I still want to go to Africa.”

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Full interview

Hello, Omama. How are you?
Hi, I’m good, how are you? 

I’m all good. Thank you so much. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you?
Oh, OK. Um, my name is Omama. I’m from Syria and I don’t know, I like I’m a lot of things. I think I’m overall a smiley, like, excited person about everything. And I sometimes I consider myself as an interesting person. I don’t know. But, um, profession wise, I am a nutritionist by background. I have finished my my master’s degree in public health and health promotion, and I’m working in something that’s not related at all, which is, um, um, like helping people to get back to employability. Um, and I’m currently living in the UK in London, and that’s it. Thank you. 

Okay. Thank you so much. Uh, so the purpose of this interview is for our project. It’s called One Thousand Dreams Project. It’s about telling stories about 1000 refugees or asylum seekers in Europe. The main purpose of this project is to change the attitudes about refugees and to change the opinions of people like the negative opinions. Um. And we will really appreciate it if you share your story with us. And I would also like to tell you that if you don’t want to be identified in this interview, if you don’t want us to mention your name or show your pictures, your face and your pictures, you can tell us that that’s totally fine.
OK. 

Um. So the interview and or the picture will be available on the Internet.
OK.

 Media might use it like newspapers, any media outlet. And we’re also going to use it on our website in the in the organization. It’s called Witness Change, by the way. Um. So so anyone might see it like a family might see it, your friends, anyone might see your your pictures. Um, so yeah. So like, I just want you to know how widely your story could be distributed.
OK. 

OK? Um. So there will be some forms that you’re we’re going to sign. Um, and like the forms you will give us your permission for the interview and the photos. Um. We we’re I’m going to I’m going to be asking you very or some personal questions, and they do not have like you do not have to answer anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or you don’t have to reveal any names or situations that would make you feel bad, sad and safe. Um. We can take a break at any time of the interview and you can even withdraw your consent at any time. OK? Do you have any questions or do you need any explanation about anything before we move on?
No, go ahead. 

OK, um, OK, so we’re going to start by fitting the story form.
Ok. 

So, um, what kind of housing do you live in at the moment?
Private renting, and I share that.

Um, can you describe the conditions, like how many people you live with, the condition in general?
Currently I’m living with two other guys and there are. One is in mid 40s and the other is in mid 70s. He’s an old man, but I’m going to move to another room soon in about a week with two girls who are about 30 years old.

Oh, OK. good, um. How do you spend your time here?
Oh, OK, so like most of my day is at work, when I finish work, I try to go out for a walk. I just like I closed my laptop at five thirty and I just go out for a walk or two to buy groceries. 

So you work from home?
I work from home, yeah. 

Yeah.
Yeah. So and then when I, when I come back I cook something or I go out with my friends and in the evenings it’s a movie series, reading,  then cont…. Talking to my family. So yeah. 

OK, great. What are some of the things that bring you joy?
Food. 

That make you happy? Food? Amazing.
Yeah. All kind of new food and trying new things, experiencing new things that I have never done before and like yeah. It makes me feel excited and I like that. And like the rush of adrenaline. Yeah. I always say if I have enough money I would be an adrenaline junkie, but I don’t have enough money.

So I hope you will.
Yeah. 

Yeah. Is there anything that brings you joy?
My friends. 

Your friends, am I one of them?
Yeah. Of course.

OK, um, so how has life been since you arrived in Europe?
Oh, God, it has been completely changed. Since day one, I felt like I’ve been kicked out of my comfort zone. So it’s all new things, a new culture, a new language, even though my English was good. But it’s different when you live. And the like the roads, the streets, the names, I, I am a very I can easily like mix between right and left. So going new places was very difficult for me and I still get lost sometimes. So yeah, it was overwhelming at the beginning, but I coped very, very quickly that it shocked me and it’s been good. Yeah. 

Ok. So can you, can you tell us like what’s been good about being here and what’s been difficult?
What’s been good was challenging myself into like new situations and studying the master degree, my friends, the diversity that I’ve been exposed to, like people from all around the world and the new friends that I have made here, because, um, I like almost all of the people that are my friends now. I’ve never met them before. I met them here in the U.K. So that that’s a very good thing. And, um, yeah, that challenges, even though they are called challenges. But they were good because they shaped me or they like improved my experiences. The difficult things. Yeah. The dissertation. 

Yeah, ok.
Yeah I know. Like for some people maybe it’s like just another assignment, but for me it was very, very, very difficult.

Hmm.
I don’t know why I’m I’m usually I’m a nerd, so I don’t know why I find it very difficult to to overcome. Um, and and I had to do what I like to resubmitted after that, like after I had it. Like after I submitted the first time, they gave me some notes, so I had to submit it another time. So that was a nightmare. 

How did you feel about that?
A nightmare. It was very difficult for me because, first of all, my my self-esteem was very low because I thought that I have done something like really bad. And I’m a sometimes I’m a perfectionist, so that, like, shock shocked me a bit. And, um, yeah. Like the image about myself was very not good, bad, low, whatever you want to call it. So that was like my, my confidence in myself was very low and then I had to resubmit it and I just wanted to get it over with, although I enjoyed doing the research. 

OK, amazing.
But I just wanted to finish, I just wanted to submit. But it was very interesting and I enjoyed that. Like the collecting the data, the analysis and the analysis of it. Yeah, it was it was interesting and that’s what I wanted to do. I like research. 

How did you feel after you submitted?
Relieved. OK. Yeah. Very relieved.

Did you feel good about yourself?
Yes. And I felt good about myself the first time. That’s why I was shocked because I didn’t think it was that bad and I still think it’s not that bad. But anyway, they think it’s bad. So, um, yeah. After I finished the second time, it was even like I felt more good about myself because I knew that it is improved and I like that thing that I’ve worked on. And even though I had like a low mark, but I’m thinking of publishing publishing it because I don’t know. 

Yeah, OK. Can you tell us about like, like more difficulties other than the dissertation?
Ok. 

Like in life in general, what was like difficult and challenging for you about living here in the U.K.?
OK, one difficult situation was, um, when I was working because I felt particularly vulnerable because my manager kept telling me that I’m an asylum seeker and I don’t have rights. And he didn’t believe that I had rights and I didn’t know what my rights are, so I didn’t know how to ask for them. So that was really difficult because I always felt vulnerable and that I have to be perfect and and look like and it was very distressing because I felt like at any moment he’s going to fire me. So I lived in this stress and fear until I find my current job now. So it’s it’s been about like nearly a year. I’m just stressed because every day he was threatening that he might fire me. He doesn’t need me. I don’t have any rights. Even when people were furloughed and taking the 80 percent, he didn’t want to give me that because he said, I’m an asylum seeker, so I don’t deserve that. So that was very stressing, very stressing. And I was thinking, I’m going to be homeless. I’m not going to have any money. And then at one moment I was crying a lot. I’m very, very stressed. And then I thought, let him do whatever he wants to do. Um, I’m not going to be homeless. I have friends I can stay over. I can find another job. Why am I stressing myself? And after that point, I, I felt a bit relieved or relaxed a little bit. So that was good. But it was a difficult situation I think. But at the same time, I can’t complain because I had a job, at least I had some money at the end of every month. And so, yeah, it was like a conflict in my head that I hate this job, but I need it and I want it. And I feel happy that I have it at least. Yeah. 

So when you felt stressed about this job or about what was happening during, like, the days of the time you spent in that place, how what did you do to make yourself feel better? Did you have like any coping mechanisms, any things that you did to make yourself feel better and like to ..something that is like stress relieving, let’s say?
Let’s say, um, I, I always knew how to make myself feel better, like how to relax myself. And friends, movies, food, that’s my my coping mechanism or relaxing mechanism. And but there was a period of time when I was doing my dissertation and I was doing part time job and I fell into a like a loop of depression. I didn’t know how to take myself out. I was like I thought that I was going deep and deep. I couldn’t I didn’t know that I am in this situation. I didn’t know I’m depressed. And I was so much alone and it was in a period where everyone else was stressed, so I I didn’t think that my problems mattered because everyone is also have their own problems. So I felt alone and I was depressed. And then I went to that university GP and she said that I’m depressed. And so, yeah, I was like fucked in this situation. I didn’t know how to get out of it. But after a few months and a friend of mine came and she she helped me really like she jacked me, dragged me out. And she was always telling me, like, don’t be alone, call me, call anyone. So then I yeah, I don’t have to be alone. I can tell people about my problems, even like I need someone to listen to me. That would be great. And this really helped. It really, really helped me. So. Yeah, yeah. 

Yeah. Thank you so much. OK, how does being away from the rest of your family or home make you feel?
And I feel. Sometimes I feel a lot of things, sometimes I feel guilty because I am in a better situation than there’s, because, as you know, the situation in Syria is very, very bad economically, politically, on every like on every aspect. So I always feel guilty that I am I have electricity all the time. I have money, I have rights. And they don’t. Like I of course I miss them. And I wish that I can be with them or I wish them to be with me when I am happy or I am it like it or on a trip or hiking or and like seeing something really nice or even tasting really good food. I really want them to be with me and experience this with me. And um. Yeah I am. Yeah. But I feel guilty most of the time that I’m not with them in that difficult situation. 

OK, so. I’m going to mention three things. So any like you can you can talk about any of them if it happened to you before, OK? How does the feeling of not belonging or discrimination or stigma impact you?
OK. 

And if you can describe it, please do.
Um, ok, Not belongings?  

Not belonging, discrimination or stigma.
And I felt particularly discriminated in my job, like I told you before about my manager, because he really didn’t want to give me any of my rights because I was an asylum seeker.

So that was discrimination based on your?
Yeah, on my status. 

On your status in UK.
Yeah. Yeah. 

OK.
Um, not belonging? I still don’t feel that like the room that I’m, I’m living in. This is not my home. This is not my room. I don’t feel like this is home. I can do whatever I want or I don’t feel like the belonging. If you can say I, I love London, I like living here, but I don’t feel that I, um, this is my home yet and it’s been two years, so I should feel a little bit like this is my home. I think it’s going to improve. Um or maybe because I live in a shared house, I don’t have the I don’t have the ability to change anything in the house maybe. But, um, it’s it’s not like I feel like high level of not belonging. A little bit. But I think when I move to the other house where I feel more comfortable, I think I’m going to have a little sense of home or belonging. 

Can can you tell me about, like a specific time or specific incident where you felt that you did not belong?
Oh, yeah. I was in Devon like a couple of days ago. 

Where?
Devon. 

Devon, yeah.
Devon, near the sea. And I wanted to swim. And I was the only nonwhite Hijabi person in the whole village and it was weird, but I didn’t care. And I even like and the swimsuit that I was wearing it was very weird to them and yeah, they were staring a little bit, but I didn’t care because that’s me. I don’t care. But yeah, I felt I don’t belong here. Yeah. But it was ok. 

How did you feel about like the stares when people were staring about you? How did you feel about that?
I really don’t care. 

Oh ok.
Yeah. I don’t care at all. I but this is me, this is what I’m wearing. I don’t, I don’t care if they stare or not. And sometimes I feel like I, I understand why they are staring because it is weird or it is like different, let’s say not weird. It is different. It’s, it’s, it’s a village and most of the people that are very old so they might have never seen someone with a hijab swimsuit.

Mm.
So I would um I understand the confusion. Um but yeah. I don’t care.

OK, thank you so much. Um could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation like you being like the non belonging the discrimination living in the UK in general, let’s say, um, and how have you been able to overcome or survive or live with it?
Um, for the not belonging thing, I think it’s kind of like disappeared by time maybe. And like it like in London, I feel I feel that I belong to London more than any other city that I have been in the UK because of the diversity of it. So I feel like, yeah, I’m, I’m not different. Um, so I didn’t have to overcome it because it’s not a big problem for me. But the discrimination thing, um, I think I had that problem because I didn’t know my rights and I, I overcome by knowing my my rights, by being firm when I’m, when I ask for them and um, not not showing that the manager or the the person with the higher power that he I’m vulnerable or I’m weak. So that was like a lesson to me to to know when to ask and not to be afraid of anything when I start anything. So, um, and I left that job because I found a better job. So I feel like I overcome it because I just left it, uh, and and um. Yeah, he didn’t he didn’t want to give me my holiday pay, but I asked for it and he gave it to me so I felt yeah I had it. 

Amazing.
Yeah I he was so angry. So I’m like, how dare you ask for your holidays. He knows it’s my holiday but like how dare you ask for holidays after I’ve been nice to you. He thought that by employing me, he’s being nice to me, but I was working for the money that he gave me, so yeah, I overcome by leaving it, definitely. 

OK, thank you so much, um. I think you might like repeat the same things, but let me know if you’re going to, like, repeat the same things, do you think that you develop the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you always have those skills or strength or like coping mechanisms, resilience? Like, do you think that you always had these or is it something new to you or like you just developed it or?
I think that I always had this like skills, let’s call it or ability or whatever. But of course it has been developed and improved more because I’ve been exposed to more new situations or challenges or experiences than I have been in Syria. But I survived war in Syria. I lived like eight, nine years during the war. I’ve never left Syria. So I think that eight years like that were the worst that prepared me for anything. So and yeah, the only difference is here, I’m not with my family, there I’m with my family, so I think I already had them. And they have they improved even more, I think. 

Amazing. Thank you. How has COVID-19 affected you in terms of daily life and your mood or feeling or emotional well-being, let’s say?
Um, because I was working in a in a in a shop, so I haven’t stopped working. I was going to work like I was working part time. So I was traveling to and like to work and going back home. It hasn’t affected me what I was like. I told you I was in stress that I might be fired because like the manager said, that he might not need me because the business is not the same because of COVID. So the stress of being fired, the stress of not finding another job. Yeah, um, the lockdown. Because even though I was going to work every day, but I haven’t I couldn’t see my friends like before. So that also affected me and and have like to be worried about my family that they might have it, that the COVID and my my parents were like old. So I was worried that they may it might be difficult for them. So yeah, basically I could say stress and anxiety about this, but but like I didn’t ,what I do basically when I am stressed about something or feeling anxious, I didn’t I don’t keep it in my head. I don’t overthink it. I just leave it behind in my brain somewhere and just move on, because if I want to keep thinking about it, I would be paralyzed. So I would just ignore it.  

OK, thank you, now we’re going to move to talk a little bit about your past. OK? So.
Wait. Can I say that my dad, my, my father died because of COVID and that affected me. OK. Mm. Yeah.

Only  if you want to talk about it, if you don’t want to like if you feel that you don’t...
I’m not going to go so deep.  

Ok.
Um basically like I know, I know that I knew that at some point I’m going to, like, my parents, one of them are going to die but I didn’t think it’s going to be so soon. I knew like they are old and we’re all going to die at some point like in ten years. And I might be able to see them like but I’ve never thought that it’s going to be so soon. And, uh, so my my my my uncle died because of COVID, and my dad had it from him and he died two weeks later. And it was so shocking because he was fighting so hard and we didn’t we thought that he’s going to it’s just it’s just going to pass. And it was so shocking that I still don’t believe that his his his dead, um. And I still can’t believe it’s because of COVID. So, yeah, that has affected me a great deal. 

And, um, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m really sorry. Um, if I’m able to move on.
Yeah. 

Are you sure?
Yeah. 

Do you need a break or?
Yeah.

You need a break?
Yeah. 

OK.
OK. 

So now we’re going to move to talk a little bit about your past. Um can you tell me please, why you left your country?
Oh, I had a scholarship to study math in the UK. 

OK, can you can you tell us a little bit more about that?
About how I left? 

Yeah, like about how you left, how like you got the scholarship.
Um, let me go back to: I graduated in 2014 as a nutritionist, and then I worked at a dietician for it like six months. I didn’t like it. So I switched to be to being a health educator and I really, really loved it. I loved talking about nutrition, not practicing it. So being a health educator was what I wanted. And at the same time, I worked as a life skills facilitator was where I trained, um, young people, adolescents about leadership, communication skills, teamwork, um, all these like soft skills. Um, and I was I also worked as an outreach volunteer where I help that that local community to get to to have black needs assessment to get them to services they needed. And then I was promoted to being the same like same outreach, but in the rural areas where people didn’t have any services. So we were the service, we brought the services to them and I really enjoyed it. And then I heard about the scholarship called Chevening  and I thought, yeah, let me apply. So I applied and I had it. And I think that my my work, the four years experience, I thought it’s a lot, but it’s not a lot for you. It’s like a joke. So I feel like that the four years of experience have prepared me to get that student scholarship hasn’t been like so difficult or impossible because I think that I was prepared for it. I had the skills, all the skills already. I just needed to know how to write about it, how to write it, an essay. Um, and I chose Public Health and health promotion because I enjoyed the like promoting health and health awareness among local communities. Um, I’m doing campaigns and policies and all that stuff. So I chose like public health promotion in particular because of that. That’s it. 

How did you feel when you when you got the scholarship?
I was so happy. 

Yeah?
Yeah. Like, uh, yeah, yeah. 

Ok.
And I was really like thrilled because coming to the UK has been a dream for me since I was 11 and to London and all my, like, my, my university choices were in London. 

Why?
I didn’t even apply for anything outside of London. Because it’s London. Come on. Yeah, I like it. Like you don’t hear about, um, let’s say like Leicester City, for example, you always hear about London and it has like there were like Harry Potter studios.  

Of course I know, about how much you love Harry Potter.
I like this when I think when I was 13, maybe there was something on NBC, NBC2, about that competition. If you called or texted, you will win a trip to the studios. And that was like, oh my God, I want to text. And I think, my mom let me send one text. So every since I was 13, I wanted to go to go like that. And that studio something about Harry Potter. So, yeah, I’m like my main and I think I shouldn’t say that. But my number one goal was to go to the studios, number 2 goal was to study the master’s degree. But you shouldn’t say that.
 

That’s something you find.
Ok, let’s say number 2 goal Ok? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And I went.

Yeah, nice, nice, nice. OK, so I know now how you feel when you got the scholarship.
Yeah. 

Because I know it’s like a few months before you leave the country. So how did you feel when you left Syria?
Um, I was like I was happy that I’m going to go to and to a new experience, but and I didn’t I didn’t think much about missing my family because I already, like, traveled a lot in Syria and to to like so they were already used to me not being there in the in the house. So I didn’t think that I’m going to miss them or I felt like I can visit. I can I will come back after a year. It’s going to be fine. Um, but I felt like I’m going to miss my friends. I’m going to miss the trainings and I really do even now. I really do miss the trainings and… 

The trainings in your job or your old job.
The life skills, the health educating all that. And my and my job. So yeah, it’s like the feelings were about missing the people, the atmosphere. And I didn’t realize that until, like, a couple of months after I arrived here and then I went to a Syrian cafe and I thought, oh my God, I miss Syria so much, I miss this atmosphere, I and that it took me a couple of months to realize that. 

OK, amazing. How was the journey to Europe, to the UK? Is there an experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about? Let’s start with how was the journey to the UK?
It was easy because of the scholarship, because, you know, it’s a very prestigious scholarship. So the visa is almost guaranteed. But even though I was so worried and stressed as everyone else I know that I wouldn’t get the visa because I am Syrian. Um, so, yeah, um. And I, I don’t really remember what there was like a little mistake in my application to the visa, so it took longer. So I was stressed like ,oh I’m not going to get it. I’m going to be the first one who like from the scholarship who wouldn’t get the visa. But then I got it. It was all right. Yeah, it was easy. 

So you came here by plane.
By plane. Yeah. Yeah. 

OK, did anything happen, like from the moment like you went from Syria because like you went from Syria to Lebanon, right?
Yeah. 

So did anything happen on the way from Syria to Lebanon, then from Lebanon to the UK?
The usual, like Syria and Lebanon borders things, the question questions, why are you leaving? What why? What were you doing? Like the usual questioning. Um, and that’s it. 

What happened, like on the on the Syrian Lebanese borders?
Can I say that? Just give them money and that’s it. When they ask too many questions. They’ll just give them money and go. 

Yeah, ok.
Yeah. So yeah. Nothing, nothing unusual happened. 

Yeah.
Yeah. 

OK, great. Um. Do you think about these events often like the event of the journey from Syria to Lebanon, then from Lebanon to the to the U.K., do you think about did you think about these things often or?
Not the journey itself that like the plane journey, but that the journey of the applying to the scholarship. Yeah, I think about it like how I have like I haven’t heard of it before and I applied really, really quickly and how I got it. And I’m like my family never thought that I will travel that far. Like the like the further I had ever traveled was to Lebanon. So yeah, they never said like when I told my dad, like, I’m going to London to study. Are you sure. Alone. Are you sure? I said, yeah, it’s OK. Go. So yeah. Um, yeah. I think that like the process of the journey of the scholarship. Yeah. I think about it more than the plane journey. 

Yeah, sure. Okay. Oh, yeah. OK, so let me jump to this question now. Um, so before the event that led you to leave Syria, I know that there wasn’t like a particular event, it was like the scholarship, itself like not not I mean, like it wasn’t a bad situation, let’s say, it was the scholarship itself. But before that, before, like, you got the scholarship, before you knew that you were leaving Syria, let’s say what was your dream?
Oh, OK. I wanted to work in Africa. Yeah, that was my dream. 

Tell us about that.
Yeah, because I’m a nutritionist and I always value food and the importance of food, and during my work as an outreach, I I’ve been in contact with very vulnerable and poor families. So I always thought of, like, food is not sometimes it’s not easy to get and especially the situation in Africa where people are really hungry, like starving. So I always think of of placements, of the expensive food. And like I always think of something affordable and nutrition at the same time, um, so yeah, I like my dream was always to travel to Africa and come up with campaigns or plans, awareness about nutrition, about well-being, about diseases and illnesses. Um, yeah. I don’t know why exactly Africa, but I’ve always wanted to be good, maybe because I f.. I would feel that I am actually doing something that like, something that that I can see the effect of it or that I am helpful. I can help people. But yeah, I’ve always been like wanting to go there and to work and like WFP or something. 

Was that your dream before the war too? Like before the war started in Syria? Was that was that also your dream?
Uh, honestly, I don’t remember what was my dream. 

Can you go back in time like, uh, like to the period before the war started before 2011?
I wanted to go to the Olympics like I like was, you know, like with the team. It’s also a fun story. Like when a team go to the Olympics, they usually have a physiotherapist with them or like someone like to take care of. 

The athletes.
With the athletes. Yes. So I wanted to study physiotherapy to go to the Olympics because the two 2012 Olympics were going to be in London… 

Ok.
But then I didn’t like physiotherapy, so I went to nutrition and I might find a way. And I was supposed to graduate in 2012. Something happened? 

Yes, still going.
OK, so I was supposed to graduate in 2012, so I’ve always wanted to travel the world, of course this is the ultimate dream. But yeah, I wanted to start in London, but I studied nutrition and I didn’t graduate in 2012 anyway because of the war. I had to to like I skipped two years. So I graduated in 2014, but I came to London anyway. 

Amazing. Yeah, OK. So we talked about before, like before the war, like about your dreams before the war and before you left before like you knew, let’s say, about the scholarship. Now what was your dream when you were leaving home? And if you can just give me like a full answer like I dreamt that. So, yeah. So like when you when you left when you were leaving Syria, what was your dream for the future?
Oh, OK. I really wanted to like to go back and build like a very big center of of where well health and wellbeing advice were provided where, um, like nutrition, nutrients, food we’re giving to people and especially old people. 

Yeah. Let me just here clarify. You go back. You mean go back to Syria. Yeah.
Yes, yeah, yeah. Go back to Syria and have this like organization center or whatever to provide like the awareness and services about food, wellbeing, health to people who really need it to like to my local community and especially old people, because, um, I think that they are vulnerable and the quality of their life can be so much improved by diet and and. Yeah, health and well-being awareness. Yeah, I was like more of a goal than a dream, my dream is to travel the world, OK? 

Ok. Yeah, that’s like your main, main dream and. Yeah, yeah. Okay, um, so we’re almost like we’re like we’re almost done. But let me just I’m going to ask you like a few questions, a few more questions. Um. Before leaving your home country, before leaving Syria, what would you describe as your strengths? Have you maintained these? If so, how? If not, why not? OK? So think about the strength that you had when you were in Syria. Do you still have them? Do you not? And what?
Um, like I was I’m still a very confident person and I think this is one of my strengths. Um, can I say that I’m smart?

Yeah. Of course, you can.
I consider myself as a smart person as well. I am very confident. I am like I can I can manage stressful situation very, very good. Like, really good. And and in the family, I’m the one who will take over everything, like I’m the leader in the House. So I take over all the stressful situation like even even during the war, even like during bombing and everything, I was very calm and all right. So yeah, I think like if we want to put them in like skills like definition of skill, like leadership. Yes. Uh, confidence. Yes. Um, I don’t know. Smartness is a skill or not, but yeah. I was smart. 

It’s a strength.
Yeah, yeah. Like to do to do to do multitasking. I was so good in that. I used to work a lot of things at the same time and volunteering and the like. I was doing 6 things at the same time and I think I am even more better in doing this than doing one thing because I’m just used to it. And it’s interesting, not boring. I don’t like boring things. And when I came here, yeah, my confidence was shook a little bit, during dissertation and because I’ve always achieved high marks everywhere I went. But here, you know, I don’t know. Yeah. So yeah, my confidence was like, this is not me because I always had like, like my, my, my. When I graduated from nutrition I was like it was eighty one percent. So that’s a lot. But here, I don’t want to even say how much. So, yeah. But then I just like it was I think um what is it called. I can step back and then I just overcome because I graduated and that’s it: I don’t care anymore. I don’t care about the marks. I don’t care about the grade I finished. The important thing that I have I have the the knowledge. I have the degree. And that’s it. So, yeah, only my confidence was a bit shook here. But the other thing they were I, I’m still good at multitasking.

Okay. Great. Amazing. Um. So, of course, like you as a Syrian asylum seeker in the U.K., I know, like I know that what you’ve been through seems really difficult. Do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of the experiences that you went through, whether like the bad ones or the good ones, positive or negative, let’s say, or has anything at all positive come out of it?
Um, yeah, of course. Yeah, it’s been two years and like I said at the beginning, all the challenges were good because they they improved all of my skills, all of my thoughts, like my, my, my way of thinking. I
would like I I always described myself as an open minded person, but
now I’m even more open minded, um, because I got to see the, the, the  like the different things I was only thinking about it now. But now I get to experience it to experience and all, all the like. What was it called? Like all people from different sexual orientation or from all parts of the world, so, yeah, I discovered that yes, what was it called? I’ve been,..

 Accept.
Except, yeah, so I do accept them, I don’t I, I don’t have a problem at all. I shouldn’t even but I got to experience it, like face to face. And so I got to discover this about myself, like I thought I am like that. But I’ve never thought that I would be in a situation with people from like completely different backgrounds and mine and to be OK with it. And I feel really comfortable with myself being with anyone. And that’s, I think, a good thing. Right. Yeah.

So do you think that you developed this here, in the UK?
I discovered this.

Oh OK, good.
Yeah. Because like I told you, this is not my comfort zone, so I wouldn’t know that about myself. So I don’t know if I had it from before or I do like or I had it like now, but I would say that I discovered this about myself, that I am very comfortable with anyone. I’m comfortable with myself, with anyone. Um, yeah.

When you look at yourself, when you look back at yourself when you were in Syria and now then you, you like the you the Syrian asylum seeker in the UK, how do you think you grew since then, like you’ve grown this since then?
Let me think. Um, like the finance part of it, because, like, I’ve always been bad in saving, but now I have to say if I don’t save, I would be homeless. So yeah, that that’s improved a lot. I’ve never thought of money as a problem, but here the only problem is money. So I have to save I have to look after myself. And the other thing is that I’ve never thought about it in Syria to look after myself, o actually look after my health, to take the vitamins, to brush my teeth, because, you know, the dental health is it’s like. Yeah, so like I knew that I had to brush my teeth every day. And I do that always. But I thought of it like I have to do it because I can’t afford a dentist. So I learned how to to to look after myself more because I know if I if I’m going to be sick, it’s going to be only me. No one else is going to, like, take care of me. So I had to to be strong for me, not to for anyone else. In Syria. It was I had to be strong for my family or for my friends. But here I have to be strong for me.

Amazing how how those like the the fear of the lack of money make you feel?
Very stressed and anxious. It is, I think, you know, but it is it is very stressful to think continuously about every pound you spend, everything you think you buy, like you have to think, do I really need it? Do I really need to spend my money on this? And that can really hold you back from enjoying your life because you’re thinking, oh, if I want to go there, I’m going to spend five pounds of transportation, I’m going to spend this and that. So you overthink about it and you might even end up not doing it so you wouldn’t enjoy it. And I think that’s what got me into, like, feeling alone on the first place, because I was really worried about money that I didn’t want to spend it. So I stayed at home. I was alone. Yeah.

Yeah, I totally understand that. What are your hopes and dreams for the future now? Also, like, I need a full answer:” my dream is” now from now.
I haven’t thought about my dreams in a long time.

Why is that?
I don’t know, I think I’ve been busy, like, I really don’t know, but yeah, traveling the world is still my my main dream and try the food from every country as well. Like, I like to try food from different cuisines and like the short term dream of mine is to to go on a very long rollercoaster. I really like I really want to do that. Um. I’m for the really long term dream, maybe. I don’t know, it shouldn’t be a dream but to see my family, but, um, yeah, I like it. Should it be a dream because it should be a right to see your family, you know, but, um. But, yeah, I know all I’m thinking about is seeing my family because after like after I lost my dad, I feel more that I, I need to be with them and they need to be with me. So, yeah, this is like not a long term dream. This is like a shorter, long, shorter term dream than the roller coaster one. I want to see my family then go on the rollercoaster. And um, but for like the very long dream for Omama, what I want to do, I still want to go to Africa. OK? yeah. Yeah.

This is so good. Yeah. Um. So we really appreciate you answering all these questions.
Always.

Is there anything you’d like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of refugees or asylum seekers here, like in Europe in general or in the U.K.?
For refugees? or for people?

For refugees. Like what do you think, like, is there anything that you want to say that might help the people understand you as an asylum seeker better, especially the ones who have like negative or negative like opinions or attitudes about you?
Like that. Like my my word to the refugees is like, know your rights. Know what you what you like I ask for them: don’t be scared. Don’t be afraid. If you if you are in a situation where you feel vulnerable, seek help, ask people, ask friend. Because like this feeling of being vulnerable is so depressing and frustrating because you think that you can’t do anything about it, but in fact you can do everything about it. And like if you’re eligible for a lawyer, get one if it like reach that point. But and don’t be alone. Like try to talk to anyone to your family, talk to them every day. Just don’t be alarmed because like like like what happened to me, I just fell into it and I didn’t know that I am I am like being depressed because of it. So, yeah, know your rights. Don’t be alone. Talk to your family and your friends and people. Yeah, I understand the negative like image they they have about asylum seekers and refugees. But, um, like when like, what is it called? Like the stereotype about because not every person is the same. So not every refugee is the same. We’re all different. We all have our different experiences. And I want to say to these people that no one want to be a refugee. Like a lot of people didn’t choose to be a refugee, they were forced and the definition of refugee is a person who is forced to leave their country. So just for people to understand that they’re not really happy for being refugees, they have to. But they have like to to cope with this new situation and to continue living. So and that’s normal. And they’re still human beings after all. Yeah.

Amazing. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome.

Thank you so much for all your answers. Actually, I can’t thank you enough. That was that was amazing. Thank you so much.
But I didn’t talk about the reason I’m an asylum seeker refugee. Is that, OK?

If you want, you can talk about it. If there’s any specific, like, experience or.
Just like at some point I wanted to go back to Syria, but at some point I like I, I couldn’t or it would be dangerous if I went back. So that’s why I applied for asylum and that’s it. I don’t want to talk more about it.

OK, that’s totally fine. Yeah. OK, thank you so much Omama.
You’re welcome.

Um, I don’t know if there’s anything else I want to say, but like. Thank you
You’re welcome. Thank you.

 

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Transcribed and translated by:

Edited by:

Lucia Zambrini

Emily Ford

Transcribed and translated by: Lucia Zambrini

Edited by: Emily Ford

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.