About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Adel Al Nabelsi with hands in pocket against a blue background

Adel Al Nabelsi

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Photo and interview by:




Handan Tufan

“My dream is to be a professional famous actor,” states Adel Al Nabelsi (37). Currently based in the Netherlands, he works as a creditor, actor, and YouTuber. Adel finds joy in spending time with friends and seeing the success of his videos. He explains the violence that caused him to leave his home in Syria: Because of the war and because of the bad situation there, people died. And I have two options: leaving or killing, and I’m not the person who would like to kill anyone. In his new European cultural context, he is frustrated by assumptions made about refugees: We are not poor, we have a situation in our country [that] make us just leave our country to come to here. Though Adel remains positive about building his future in Europe, he misses his home. Everything in my life is managed. Now, I have work, I have house, I have friends… I’m catching my dream… but at the same time, I have this feeling that I’m not happy… we miss our country always. I carry Damascus till now.”

Trigger Warning: Discrimination

full interview

Let’s start.

Uh, what kind of house do you live in?
Um, I don’t know, it’s, uh, it’s called in Dutch like boven, uh, ‘bovenwoning’ (upstairs apartment) it just like, uh, kind of apartment, it has two floor. Yeah, the ‘boven’ (upstairs) I have for my sleep room and, uh, ‘badkamer en douche’ (bathroom and shower) and here I have the living room with the kitchen and the WC.

Yeah. Can you describe, uh, the condition for the house, home? Uh… the, the situation is fine or not fine for you
No, it’s fine. I like my house, um… sometimes I feel it’s a small house for me because, like, I hope if I have like, like apartment without two floors, like just one floor, but, yeah, but in general I find it good like I’m happy here. I love my house actually.

Uh, who do you live with? Do you live, uh, alone or?
Not alone.

Okay. How do you spend your time here? Do you work?
Yes, I work. I work two-two days, uh, per week with a company, as a Creditor in a financing, uh, financial department. But also I’m working as an actor, so I have now theater project I’m busy with. And also, I did sketches for YouTube nowadays, so, yeah, all busy days.

Yeah, uh, yeah. What are some of things do you bring your joy?
Umm, a lot of things actually. To be with friends, to making videos, and it, well yeah, it will be this week, it will be like, um… success video with a lot of reaction, with a lot of views, like people like it. This make me really like fly, yeah. Listen to music, watch TV, uh… Love actually make me joy. But love it’s, for me, love it’s like, it has different meaning than the other people. Love it’s not just like, uh, between, uh, two person like a man or woman. No, it’s… love for me, it’s more in general, I can love, uh, my family, I can love my country, I can love my friends, I can love my house, my items in the house, you know? So for me, love is more important. If I don’t love something, then I cannot really have it or deal with it or work on it. So love for me is more important.

Yeah, and how was your life, uh, since you, uh, come, uh, Europe? How was for you difficult? How was for you easy
Ah, actually, it wasn’t easy, it was super difficult in the first. Because for me it, yeah, it was totally foreign, foreign country with, uh, with different culture, with different language, different lifestyle. Everything is different was for me. Uh, I was with my mother and I have to take care of both myself and of my mother also because she didn’t speak any language except of Arabic, so she cannot deal here with English or with Dutch. I speak English, but yeah, so I can deal myself, but I have also to take care about her. Uh, so it was super difficult in the beginning, but after that, yes, day by day, I feel myself like, okay, I got used to this life and I learned Dutch language, I have friends, I have job, I have… But yeah, there is, there is also difficulties, it’s not super easy, it’s not like hundred percent perfect but yeah.

Yeah, okay. Uh, can you describe who living here has you feeling? Stranger or?
In some, in some, yeah, it depends about the situation. Sometimes I feel like a stranger. Sometimes not, it depends about the people, because Dutch people also there are people, there is nice people, there is not. Uh, some people love refugees and, like, just deal with them as a human, some people don’t like refugees. Especially we, as in Arab Islam people, they think that we are ISIS, but we are not ISIS, we are just normal people. Yes, but, um, they, they just hate us, so I cannot do anything with this because if you hate me, I cannot make you love me, you know? Just like this.

But, um, but what I don’t like, I don’t like the people who just like imitate that they love us. But inside them they just said, “Oh my God, they are poor, they are refugees. They don’t have anything,” all these things, you know? This I hate it because we are not poor, we have a situation in our country and this situation make us just leave our country to come to here and we know everything, we have everything in our country. So I am not poor and we are educated and, yeah, those kind of people I don’t like because, yeah, I feel you cannot say like “I’m a top and you are not; I’m perfect and you are not; I know everything and you are not.” No one know everything, we all like learn til the last day of our life. So don’t be, uh, don’t be stupid.

Yeah. Uh, do you have here family?
Yes, I have a brother with his family.

And your mother is?
My mother, uh, was died in 2017.

Okay, yeah. I’m sorry.
Yes. It was the biggest… No, no, don’t be sorry, this is the life actually. But it was, uh, the biggest, uh… um, how I can say that in English? It’s not a surprise but it was, yeah by sudden, you know, it’s like my mother died by sudden. It was, um, we were just sitting like, this like me and you now, and we just was talking with each other and then she’d make a strange voice and she died like, just like this.

So, yes…

But yeah, this is the life, we have to deal with it.

Yeah. Uh, how does the feeling of the belonging, this discrimination, do you have any experience about discrimination in the Netherlands?
Umm, yes, I remember when I was in, as I say, I went to the, uh, Green Globe to the second house show and then the owner of that shop like, uh, I was always going to, to this shop because I went with my friends and as I said, to, to help them with translation so he knows me because I’m almost every day there with friends. So one day I went to them just and I said “Hi,” I give him my hand, but he didn’t give me his hand, he said, “No, I will never shake hands with refugee.”

Really. So it was for me really like a, like a… (sigh sound)

Which place?
It was in Drachten.

Okay, wow.

Uh, yeah, can you, uh… This situation is so difficult for us, for us and can you imagine, uh, that you, uh, that you won’t be how this situation survive?
I think I’m surviving here because like one person it’s, you cannot say the whole Dutch people are not good because of this one person. But I meet a lot of good people here, I meet a lot of people here in Netherland and they are really super helpful, super, like, really kind and sweet people, like, they help me a lot with many things. So I cannot say all Dutch people is not good, but also not all of them is good.

It’s, it’s like other, like we are as a Syrian people, we are not all good and we are also not all ‘not good’. It’s just a human, you know?

Yeah, I know. Uh, do you think, uh, the, uhh, you have no strange, uh, stranger? Do you have, uh, do you think this stranger, uh, uh, you have in your country the character also? Stranger character? This situation is so difficult for us, uh, but you survive.

What do you think about this situation now?
Ah, difficult question.

Um… Look, to be honest, those people will be continue til the end of this life, you know? So the bad people always they are here, like, always you, you have to, uh, to be ready to meet these people always, because you will find them even if you go to them, I don’t know, like in the moon there is a bad people. But, like, my role that if I know that there is okay here a bad person, then I don’t deal with him even if he is in my home, in my work, in my community, I will just like, skip him, you know? Like I don’t, I don’t think about him because, for me in my connection circle, let me say, uh, if I have one bad person, I have like 20 good persons, so I will look to this 20 and I will skip this one, you know.

Yeah. Okay, how was, uh, Covid-19 effect for you?
Ah. (Both laugh) Um, first of all, it makes me, uh, it makes me down, um, it makes me with bad, uh, really bad mood, bad situation, always. Uh… um, I get fat. (Laughs)

Yeah, me too, yeah
Yes. Umm, yeah, because for me, it was super difficult to stay at home the whole day without anything to do, uh, I’m a social person, I’m an active person, like I’m always outside with people walking, walking, do activities all this like, I was like so, you know. But then suddenly I have to stay home without people, I cannot meet people because of the Corona. Um, also my work, it, uh, transferred to home like I’m working in my home so I stay now, sometimes I feel like I will stay in my home two or three days without going out. So it’s making me really down and down and down and bad situation, bad mood. Yes, but nowadays, especially Ramadan, also, it was it was, it was Ramadan last month, you know, so in Ramadan it was super difficult for me because, uh, you came from, from those country and, you know, Ramadan, its with people like this is the be doing from Ramadan like to be with people. Uh, for me, I spent the first two weeks from Ramadan alone because it was avondklok (curfew time) and you can’t, you can’t invite anyone and you cant go to someone because if you want to go or invite someone, so you have to sleep in with… Yeah, if someone come to me so you have to sleep here or if I go to someone, I have to sleep there and this is not the options, not really.

Yeah, so I spent the first two weeks alone and it was, for me, super difficult. But then, yeah, then after the ‘advondklok is weg’ (curfew is gone) it was more easy and more, yeah. So I’m going again to my active life and yes.

And why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
Ah, because of the war. I think all people know this question, this answer.

Yes. Because of the war and because of the bad situation there, people died. And I have two options: leaving or killing, and I’m not the person who would like to kill anyone, like I’m really… you know, so I cannot. So that’s why.

How did you, that make you feel at this time?

That time yeah?
Oh… Umm, look, nowadays, to be honest, uhmmm… Everything in my life is managed, now ,I have work, I have house, I have friends. Uh, I catch my dream because my dream to be an actor, so here I did some project and til now I’m busy with these things, so I’m catching my dream. So everything for me is good, I cannot say perfect, but is good. But at the same time, you know, I have this feeling that I’m not happy, I don’t know why. Really I’m always ask myself this question and ask it to my friend, but I’m surprised that all friends around me have the same feeling. Like we have everything here, but we don’t happy. I don’t know, maybe because we miss our country always, like if you look to this table, I have your small Damascus because all Damascus house, it’s look like this, like we have a garden and in this garden there’s in the middle, really in the middle in fountain and all of us share around this fountain, like the family sitting here and drinking coffee and eating fruit or something. And, um, so I carry Damascus til now.

So I feel like my body is here, but my soul is still there.

Sometimes yes, I feel it. You know, I wrote a Facebook post two years ago, I guess, but till now I repeat it in my mind and like I said, we as refugees, we all have kind of schizophrenia. I think you feel it, I think so, I don’t know. Because during the day we are super active, we need to build our future here, we need to do something, we need – you know – we are like just with a positive energy with, so we are super strong in during the day. But at night, we are super, like, you know, we just remember everything. Sometimes we cry, sometimes we feel lonely, especially if you live alone. I don’t know if you live alone or not, but if you live alone, you feel lonely sometimes at night, if you sit here alone in the kitchen just watching TV alone. Yeah, then, you know, so, so we are at night super weak, but during the day, we are super strong, so we have this kind of schizophrenia.

Yeah, okay. How was the journey to Europe? Is there any experience that was particularly difficult for you?
I will never explain it a lot because I think all people know that the journey from there to here, because it’s really super difficult and it’s super dangerous. But, yeah, that’s it.

Okay. For you, easy?
No, it wasn’t easy, it was dangerous and difficult, but I don’t want to talk about it because like all people talk about it and you, I guess, you and all people hear the old stories. So I don’t want to repeat it.

Okay, yeah, I understand, yeah. Uh, does the situation, uh, you affect today? Uh, for example, uh, you have experience in the war? You have experienced maybe dangerous journey? Uh, the situation has, uh, effect, uh, today, for you?
No, no.

Okay, yeah. Uh, where do you find, uh, support? With family, with friends?
Oh. For me, to be honest, I find support more from my friend, more than my family.

OK, yeah.
Yes, I’m just like that. Yes, but no, I always find support from my friend more than my family. That doesn’t mean my family don’t support me, they support me, of course. But I feel this push more than from there, from my friends, more than my family. I don’t know why I got this feeling.

Yeah, maybe, yeah. And, uh, this, uh, you can this question, uh, with a sentence, uh, say before the event that, uh, did you feel a home country, what was your dream? Uh, one sentence: “My dream was…” dun dun dun…
To be an actor.

Okay. Can you repeat “My dream was…”
Okay, my dream was to be an actor.

Okay, yeah, uh, when you were leaving your, uh, home, what was your dream in, uh, for the future? One sentence, please
Say my dream is to be a professional actor.

Okay, okay, yeah, yes. Before leaving your country, what would you describe as your character?
Also in one sentence?

Uh, actually, I’m, I’m what I am from that time til now. But I feel that I’m now more stronger than before.

Mmm, wow, good. Why?
Maybe because of the experience of the life.

Maybe because of I’m here alone, so I have to to deal with all this and like, just, you know.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Uh, yes, um, what are, uh, what is your, uh, dream for future now? “My dream is…” for one sentence.
My dream is to be a professional famous actor.

Okay yeah.

Perfect, yeah. Uh, yeah, thank you. It’s okay for me, do you have any sentence which add to question?
No, thanks a lot. I hope if I help you.

Yeah, you help.
Thank you.

Thank you.

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.