About Refugees, By Refugees

Anas Kamal

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Belal Darder Mohamed

The key is living the now, enjoying the moment.” This is how Anas Kamal (pseud, 48) describes how he’s coped with the many challenges he’s had to face. Explaining his experience as a gay man in Syria, where he was born, Anas says, “You are comfortable in so many ways. But comfort does not mean that you are happy. You know, hiding your identity all the time was not an option, it was making me more anxious every day.” He moved to Dubai but “because I was diagnosed [with HIV] so I had to leave the country.” He felt like he was leaving his whole life behind. “I was missing my friends. I was missing my place in the world.” Today, he lives in Spain with his partner and has “a good life.” He enjoys cooking, reading, music, meditation, and visiting with his new friends. Before coming to Europe, his dream was “advancing in my career and moving somewhere else.” Now settled in Spain, Anas says, “You have to be humble and know your place in the world, but never stop dreaming of something.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

And so I can you can you kindly we will do the interview in English, if you don’t mind, I know that your English is perfect, so there’s no need to translate that later, OK?

All right, so Anas can you describe me your life, your living condition at the time being? By living condition I mean your house, how is it, um, who do you live with.
I, I, I live in the house, so I. He bought the house and they made it. And I live in. This is out of hand.

And, um, I want to ask you a little bit about your daily routine. Uh, do you work uh, do you do you have some kind of hobby? Uh, do you have something that you do normally or usually in the morning? In the afternoon and so on..
The morning? First thing is to coffee.

Huh huh.
I make you some coffee even like I used to work. I do.

And cereal. This is from my ex every day. Um, definitely for about showering and the and and for a while and while I was working from home, I used to do the same. I used to like, you know, change and be ready, as I start to work at eight, uh and till it’s six forty-five. So that gives me time to put my social activities especially. Uh, I suppose you could estimate the work after that I was trying to. To do a little bit of. You that is actually how business is basically doing, and I love reading, and now because of the media that became more of reading articles in magazines on the that interests me are unlike many things I love. I love right now, the vodka I am a fan of vodka.

All right, and we were speaking about that, that’s more or less your daily routine, but can I ask you about the things that you do that bring you joy, things that make you happy? Uh, do you have something that that specifically makes you happy on a Day-To-Day basis or on a weekly basis?
Apart from sex everything in my life. My friends, I have a very good social network.

Uh, huh.
I love cooking.

Uh huh.
I’m a big cook, you know, cooking Greek.

I love inviting people over having dinners, going to friends places and cooking there. An example is yesterday I had a friend who had dinner, sort of like a daughter’s birthday, so the plan was to go there all day together after people like you and me, but her family, and I think that’s a perfect day for you, but please be careful about that. And and in general, I’m liking and getting plans that last night expand it musically, intellectually, in every way. Visiting a best friend was going to see as watching the radio and cultures section on the radio, super educated this in a different way than mine and more finance and shit I am more into the arts and travel. And so basically, that’s a traveling makes me happy traveling meeting people socializing music unlucky as well. Like when I was a there. And life brings those little things, as you sort of wish that in your life. All of a sudden, you meet those people and they bring your happiness with the.

OK, um, my next question would be, can you briefly describe describe your life since you arrived in Europe?
But the first I mean, it was a shock for us.

Because I never expected to be here. And as I was coming with the illness and all of that, that was all we had and I started, but I was very lucky the minute I came here, I had friends of friends speak English, and I found the country very welcoming in general whenever I went through the evening, my worst moments going to the doctors, checking everything out. They were super nice and they tried their all their effort to speak the language that they know. And that made me make my heart more like my heart. Just see their. And then we had the family of black doctors, but they they welcomed me as a one on one of the company and they had those habits like us, where we when they invite you, but when you see that everybody’s house is open and they invited to everything that they had friends of ours. At the moment, if you go on the fringes of everything that they have and why my sisters in law, my my brother in law, everybody was so welcoming and I was like overwhelmed. I felt like, oh, my God, I believe here as well.

So this is very positive. Do you have any kind of negative or negative things that you encountered here or difficulties? They may not be negatives, but difficulties in Europe?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, you have. I mean, you know, when we were filing for marriage and. I mean, in the bureaucracy, I mean, as I said, I can say, although I come from Syria in Dubai bureaucracy was non-existent because everything was like, you know, like I said online, it was amazing. But when I came here, it was like, you have to do papers, something to get done. I closed some of them. I translate them, go to them, and they try to sort of like me once more people all the time when we’re fighting for their marriage. And I like the old lady. They was like, oh, this is not valid, oh this is not valid all that stuff. This is from. And we took two months to do this, you know, like to do all those papers. I will be able to do them again because I was like running away from Dubai so so that made me very, very nervous. But thank God it was like solved with very strange things, like the father of the employee, which happens in the Middle East, almost like a father and employee was from the same village as labor as I like uhmm like what are the odds?

Mm hmm.
And then after that, everything was fine. The papers were fine, we were good. She passed away, you know, and then we have to and I felt lonely because I have like 18 years behind the country with friends, you know, that I spent my youth. I spent a lot of my friends and I. I built my society and, you know, my car and you know the sense that you achieved.

So you had to leave every single conversation.

How how did how did this make you feel Anas like having to uproot yourself and going to a new country.
And I haven’t been attached to things. And I was I was missing my friends like I was like crazy. I was missing my place in the world I, you know, I felt I was losing all of my ambitions so there’s no future there I am I’m looking at the I mean, you know, not like a monkey. And I was thirty eight and it was like, OK, now, you know. And that made me feel very, very guilty in a way. And I had felt that he was under pressure, so it wasn’t I being.

OK, and I also like one of the things that are really important is when it comes to somebody’s experience in a new country is being away from his family. You spoke about being away from your friends, but can you tell me a little bit about how that is? How did it make you feel being away from from your family? I know that you had to have been living abroad for a while before you come here, but did it make you did it have an effect? Did it make you feel anything being away also again from your family?
And it wasn’t because my family. I am the one to  drive away from them so my family was was always there, I knew that I could see them and. I did I mean, before I came, I saw them, I went to see them, which was sort of my yearly visit, but I did a. But missing them, yes, I do miss that, but I wouldn’t be able to do something. I know, you know, I’m very straightforward that way. I love my family. Yes. But we will not be able to say that. 

And obviously, I’ve been through a lot of difficulties. You have been through a lot of hardships, uprooting twice, you know, leaving your your home country and going to live in Dubai for 18 years and then leaving everything behind and coming to live in Spain and so on. What do you think the qualities that you have in your character that help to help you face this kind of of of of difficult experiences?
You have to be humble and you have to be humble and know your place in the world, but never aspire by never stop dreaming of something. And patience, you have to have loads of patience. Patience and positivity, you have to look at things like, OK, today, maybe the day is not going my way, but enjoy the little things. I mean, like I’m in charge. I would like, you know, by the way I don’t mind the names of the cities. Sorry, I guess so. Anyway, so we’ll talk about it later.

And when I went to Chaja, I was living in the middle of the desert, so that was for me coming from Damascus. And I had you know, we looked well and I had my work and I had my friends coming there. I don’t know how to say you have to enjoy the little things. I was enjoying the beach, although I’m going maybe in a bus with loads of nationalities and and, you know, it’s it’s summer almost there and we will smell. So it’s like it’s normal. I mean, I you know, like I go out in the morning and I smell as well.

So you had to you had to go through all of that. You have to save very little money. Sometimes, amazingly, you are there with a baby when you were in your pocket and you either take the bus back home or, you know, and it was a country that is basically based on cars. So you have to either take taxis or wait for somebody to come and take you. But although I was like this, I enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed going for walks at night because I enjoyed going to the lake next to …I enjoyed having my friends. It took time. It took almost a year to have like, you know, sort of a normal connection with people there. But finally, when you do it, it’s sort of like got a small.

So you would say that your quality that helped you engage and face this difficult situation is appreciating the small thing and having friends?
Yes, I mean, the first thing is, is actually living as I was living in the moment and appreciating the little blessings that we have.

Mm hmm.
And all of those things, we don’t go on daily basis sometimes we don’t see that . And we are. You know, I don’t know how to say it sometimes we are. We forget the little blessings at the bigger things, you know, and the things that we are that we don’t have, but many, many times it’s actually the small things that makes you happy and enjoying what you have now.

OK, that’s another question that we need to ask you that I need to ask is what was your dream before coming to Europe? Can you say my dream before coming to Europe was and tell me what it is.
It was basically….

Then you can have the first can you say it’s because this is going to be the quote. So my dream before coming to Europe was so you need to say.
OK, my dream before coming to Europe was advancing in my career and moving basically somewhere else. I was I was actually looking at moving to London or whatever, you know, possibilities.

Although, as I know, it’s sort of like almost impossible, but I was, you know, having the Middle Eastern passport , but I was always dreaming of that, I was always dreaming of changing because but I know it will not last, you know.

So so your dream was trying to settle down in another country, London, possibly, and maybe…
Yeah, Even like working for a little bit, you know, that wasn’t can be, you know, settled somewhere else, get a good. I mean, international passport was always the issue in my work because I worked in an industry that is just a travel. And I was looking at international relationships and international relationships and banking is a place where they ask you to to travel, cannot travel and discourage you from any position.

So I always want to thank.

All right, the next question is, how is your dream now? My dream now is can you. Can you tell me now what is your dream and how it has been affected by you living in Europe?
Uhm, things became much more humble, you become more grounded. And things become more really, as I would say, I live I I live better. At free, that’s almost at free, but unless that was a very big nuisance, it was very, very disturbing living in Dubai and being how to say, forced all the time to be on that you are almost always on the move. You have to be like you are. You have to call the credit card loans. Everything is on loan. Everything has to be big. Everything has to be expensive. And it goes on to say life is not worth living like this. It’s too hard to, you know. So getting rid of all of that made me feel very, very relaxed. You know, it wasn’t the ideal way to live like this in Dubai, but I don’t have a choice. you know

Can you touch a little bit about why did you leave Syria?
I left because I’m because I’m gay. I left Syria because I am gay and didn’t want to basically be a part of all of this. I was like, you know, I’m not doing this and I cannot do this. This is not me. And I cannot do with two faces. You know, I have to be true to myself.

For anybody else. 

And how does it make you feel of having to leave your country for that because of the way you are?
Uh, it’s it’s horrible because, I mean, also, you know, I was I have a I have a good life where where I am. And I was comfortable because, you know, you have the support of your father and you have the mom that everybody around you live in their place. You are comfortable in so many ways. But comfort does not mean that you are happy it’s, you know, hiding your identity all the time is not. It was not an option, it was making me more anxious every day is was making me. And, you know, hating myself, I don’t want to to be like that. And I used to hide all the time but I used to hide stuff all the time. You know, I have that, you know. You know, silly stuff, but it’s. It’s it affects you all the time.

Mm hmm. And, um, and, um, can you touch on why did you leave Dubai or you’re not comfortable with that?
It was basically, I left Dubai because I was diagnosed so I had to leave the country. It was it was told me and. Because there’s you have if you are HIV positive, they. They tell you to leave the country.

But it goes against the image that they try to that they try to spread about Dubai, you know that it’s a free place between brackets. It’s like a piece of Occident occidental world in the Middle East and so on. Right.
And they made as….

Sorry. They made it as. They made it as sorry that it’s cutting.Hello. Hello. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear you now. So they said that they made it as.
No, actually, I’m not sure how it is in the world right now 

Uh huh.
But it was one of the things that our requirements for visas for residency, almost everywhere, like if you got if you want to go to Canada, huh? At the time I wish I was in the process as well because I wanted the passport. So, uh, the idea that they ask you for your health check. So if you have anything that jeopardizes that, they will not. But they sort of said,.

Hmm. But for example.
I have four thousand seven hundred eighty two…

And so it was a standard in the world like you have to….
It’s something something standard and because there they project the country itself is made on foreign worlds and they will never give you a passport no matter how long, they will give you residency. Yes. And they will not give you a passport. So, but the residency, if you don’t have money, which I was at least a few days after 2005 when they started selling visas, the residency is connected to your work. And the minute your work finishes, your residency finishes on.

How, how, how does it work? I’m sorry. I’m very interested in knowing like, how how would how would it make you feel to be to be kicked out just because you have something that that that’s not your fault? Like it’s you know.
I know I know it’s horrible,  you are losing your everything. And I can only tell you that you are like this. And I advise you to leave the country. Like, where would I go, huh? What would I do? You know, going back home and telling my friends, I’m positive I live and work here and, you know, and then see it in Syria in general, I mean, they are they have the medications. Yes.

Uh huh.
Can you imagine going through the security and the shit and having somebody blackmailing your family for it?

Yeah, I understand.
I mean, if anybody knows, they will come and blackmail your family directly, even the nurse or the doctor that’s treating you or giving you the medication. They blackmail you. I don’t know if the other stuff as well, because I immediately want to take my computer. It took me to tell my sister, it took me to eight years, and my sister is a doctor, so I told her it was like a ruse. It made me feel like shit. I had I had my home. I had my work. I was going to a bigger job where I lay my belongings and all of the stuff that I had accumulated over the years. And most of my friends are my you know, your whole life has gone in one day to the next.

And you reflect upon these things, like I I had some bad experiences in my life and I sometimes find myself thinking about them.
So you had one?

I had some bad experiences in my life. Yeah. And I find myself sometimes thinking and reflecting upon them when I don’t want to, you know, like I don’t want to think about these things anymore, but my mind goes and think about these things. So do you do you reflect upon the bad things that you had to go through?
I sometimes I mean, this life is I mean, there’s two parts of life. I mean, you have the good things and the bad things and they come together and living the moment and enjoying your day does not mean that you eliminate all the negativity and all the bad things in your life. You have to know how to deal with that. So.

Hmm. So then did you I’m very interested about this. Did you cope or did you did you develop any coping mechanisms like?
Meditation, meditation and reflecting on the thing and thinking about, you know, looking at the bigger picture going out of myself and looking at it and not looking back, saying, oh, I just see what I’ve got here and I’m fine. You don’t have to put other people down to this. Just appreciate what you have now. I have I have a good place to live. I live in a very good area. I have a job where it puts food on my table. I have good colleagues. OK. Let’s go to the bad stuff right now. OK, salary wise is not a salary. I’m looking for responsibilities. And people who are in charge of me and whatever are basically kids like, you know, I used to train. The important thing is not at the level of my capabilities, because, you know, my house comes with strings to my partner, you know, then, yeah, you have to give it a slip there and look at it. And the good part, OK, my father comes every month, maybe once or twice. I’m OK. You know, I could live with that. And I decide that, you see, if I was in Dubai, I would be paying maybe four times the rent. And I would have them and have everything as long as, you know, so it’s it has the good and the bad. You have to make my coping mechanism as I’m looking at. It’s exactly living the now. And living the now is is very important. Because if you keep on rejecting on others and looking at them saying, oh, look at this person, he doesn’t have any or whatever, and he has this. And for me, the so I’m happy. I wish I had, but I’m happy where I am unhappy with I am because I am.

So so you your strategy or your coping mechanism is basically acceptance meditation. Uh, what else?
What basically is what you call it. They call it. There’s a name for this. The living the moment it’s called. It has it has a name. I’m not sure of the name. I didn’t do the calls or anything. They call it the. I will get it for you this everybody is doing a course about the. But I had this forever. I always appreciate every minute everything that I have, every type of food or activity that each friend, each member of the family and I have my disappointments I don’t have many disappointments with them. I am feeling deceived or maybe I’m living in a lousy world, which I realized maybe about like, you know, you realize sometimes I’m like, oh, OK, not everybody is as nice as you think. You know, that’s that’s that’s what he washes over and just goes away, basically. OK, fine. It’s not like I’m going to buy something like. So it’s very important to basically living the now this is like the key, the key is living the now, enjoying the moment , if you have one euro, OK, I’m not modernizing stuff, but life is based on many something, if you don’t have anything, you go out and you go down. If you have a nice day and you know, you could sit and have a coffee. You know, there’s lots of other options and that is more possible in Europe than in Dubai.

Perfect. Thank you.
And Dubai yeah.

No, no, no, no, I thought that you finished. If you wanna say something else.
Yes, no, no, I am, I am.

So at the last two things is how old are you now?
And next week I’ll be forty-eight .

So next week is your birthday?

Remind me to to to gift you a book. I always give books as gifts. And the other thing is, when was the month and the year that you arrived to Spain just a month and the year of the month and the year you arrived to Spain.
OK, that’s May 2010.

Perfect. All right, thank you so much Anas. And I know that you’re a busy guy, so I’m sorry I’m taking so much of your time.
Have a nice weekend. 

You, too. But thank you so much. OK. Enjoy your day bye bye.

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.