About Refugees, By Refugees
Pictures taken in:
Photo and interview by:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
ElSayed Mahmoud ElSehamy
“Our dream is to live in one house… His family and mine living together,” says Houssen Daghbadj (23) of him and his twin brother, who both fled harsh economic conditions in their birth country of Algeria four years ago. They walked through Turkey and Greece to their current location in Bosnia. Being far from home was difficult at the beginning for Houssen: “I thought about returning to my country and I was asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’” he recalls. “We are still not feeling we were home, no matter how long we lived here.” Despite that, Houssen recounts the positive outcomes from the journey to Europe. He has encountered new people, languages, and skills like tailoring and hairdressing. He and his brother found solace in each other, and hope to start a barbershop together. “We have been living together and left the country together and all our life has been together,” says Houssen. “This whole journey we’ve been together… as if we were one person. We are twins after all.”
Ah, okay. I will ask a question here, and then whatever you would like to add you could add. Introduce yourself generally.
I am Houssen from Algeria. I left four years ago for Turkey. Then I lived there about two years and worked as a tailor. Then I left for Greece. I stayed a little long in Turkey because the route from Turkey to Greece is a bit difficult. I then lived in Greece about a year and a half. I didn’t work. I was just sitting. Just sitting. And then I left for here, Bosnia.
And what was the reason you left Algeria?
In Algeria there were financial problems that make a normal life impossible.
And when you first left you left for Turkey, right?
Yes, I left for Turkey. I stayed there two years.
And did you used to work in Turkey, or?
Yes, I worked as a tailor for two years. And I stayed long in Turkey because the route from Turkey to Greece is quite difficult. That’s why I stayed too long. And then I left for Greece, where I stayed for a year and a half. I didn’t work. I was staying in the camp. And then I left for Bosnia.
In Turkey and Greece were you in the camp?
No, in Turkey I wasn’t in a camp. I was in a flat with young people. We paid rent, as normal. But in Greece I was staying in a camp.
And now when you think about Algeria, what do you feel?
Ah, of course, a difficult feeling.
Yes, I missed it of course. It’s my country. My home country.
And you’re from Algiers itself, right?
Yes, Algiers, the capital.
And you said it was difficult to leave. What is your feeling?
Yes, it’s the circumstances that made me leave. If you could live under normal circumstances in Algeria of course you wouldn’t leave. Nobody leaves their home [country]. But the circumstances necessitated that I leave Algeria.
And you were saying that the conditions there were difficult?
Yes, very difficult, financially.
And do you for instance think about returning any time soon, or is that it?
Of course, just until I manage to put my matters in order. Otherwise, I don’t have anything [to keep me here]. It’s just best to now get asylum from any country.
And they give me the passport and I go back to my country. But I anyway will not live in my country.
You mean Algeria.
Yes, Algeria. Because conditions there are really difficult. So it’s necessary that I first get asylum and a passport. Any country.
But there’s no specific country your mind at the moment.
Of course, there is. In Italy. Because my uncle is there.
Yes. He might be able to help, maybe. So Italy is the first country that I’m thinking about.
And you left home and have been in many countries – Turkey, Greece, and now here. How do you describe the whole journey? And the journey is ongoing, right?
Yes, still. It’s tiring. Tiring and hard!
I mean, all of it walking, and that’s difficult a bit.
And the feeling that you have walked that’s all making you a feeling.
It motivates me to continue because there isn’t much left. That’s it. I’m at the gates now!
At the gates?
Yes, at the gates of Europe. Here’s a gate to Europe. That’s it, we’ve arrived.
I mean. This motivates me. And I’ve lived with many people. I’ve seen many nationalities. If I were staying in Algeria, I wouldn’t have seen anything.
I mean, there you’d be living with your family, and that IS a good thing, but it’s what’s also good is that I left. I’ve seen…
How a good thing when you’re saying it’s tiring and hard.
No, no. Like I’ve told you, it has its pros and cons. The negative is that I’m far from home, and the road is difficult and it’s hard life and I’m still young, I mean. It’s so hard. But there are positives: That you see many people. Many nationalities. I’ve learned new things and jobs and it’s been four years since I’ve left my country.
What have you learned?
Like, for instance?
For instance, tailoring.
You were working in tailoring there in Algeria?
No, no. I was studying.
I was studying. And then after left, I learned tailoring. I learned language – English. I’ve learned Turkish, Greek.
Ah, you speak Turkish? Hiç bilmiyorum. Biraz [Turkish for: I don’t know Turkish. Only a little.]
Yes, Turkish, Greek, English. I’ve learned the Arabic language, because in Algeria we are not strong in Arabic. We speak Algerian-French. That’s how I spoke to people. So if I hadn’t left Algeria, I would have remained like that. I would only know a little French and our Algerian dialect. These things are in my opinion good!
And you were telling me that if you were in Algeria, you wouldn’t have learned all that.
I don’t think so. Because in Algeria we don’t have tourists like in Egypt – you have tourists there. In Morocco – there are tourists. But not in Algeria. You understand me. So you can’t learn English, let alone Arabic or Turkish or Greek.
In Algeria you can’t communicate in Arabic?
No, no. We don’t speak like this.
I personally don’t understand it.
Yeah, if we started to speak Algerian you wouldn’t understand.
No, no. Really difficult. Even Tunisian and Moroccans. But does this mean that you have dealt with many Arabs here.
Many! Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Kurds, Africans. All, all, all. Turks, Greeks. Also Afghans.
Is that one of the positives of the question of the whole journey that you started to learn English, Turkish, Greek, Arabic, etc.
Exactly. I also learned, like I told you, tailoring. I could work like a tailor, proper.
And the negatives?
The negatives: That it’s far from your home [country], far from your people, friends, family, neighborhood. You’ve also left young – you haven’t seen much of…
… of life.
Of life, of the world and of my country.
Do you get in touch with your family?
Yes, I do.
And what is your feeling when you’re getting in touch with them while you’re away from them?
At the beginning it was difficult. But now I got used to it. Like I said, it’s been four years since I left. Now it’s settled – we got used to it. But at the beginning it was very difficult that I thought about returning to my country and I was asking myself, “What am I doing here? I’d rather live without anything other than being in my country, with my family.” Then that feeling subsided. You realize you are living in expatriation.
What do you mean of expatriation?
Expatriation means far from your country and that it’s tough. I mean, we are still not feeling we were home, no matter how long we lived here.
You don’t feel home in Bosnia.
Not my home of course, isn’t it obvious?
Tell me how. If I were to tell you what that means, I could. But I can’t say how it is for you. Do you understand what I mean?
I understand you. I mean, first, you don’t have papers. You don’t have work. You don’t have study. You don’t have friends, like I had in Algeria. You don’t have your family, your neighborhood – you’re certainly not home. Even language is different. It’s not your language.
Are you in touch with your friends?
In Algeria? Yes, of course. Not much, but a little.
Now we’ve talked about the positives and negatives. To you, what is it that you want, or what is your dream?
I strive for a normal life. To get to Italy. To work with papers, normal rent…
And in terms of setting up your life?
Yes, my dream is to start a normal life.
What is a normal life?
A normal life is… you do a job, and you have normal home you rent – me and my brother of course. And to have the papers of course. These are the most important in Europe, so that you can live like a normal citizen. I don’t know to live like a rich person, nor do I want to live like in Algeria. If I’d wanted to live like in Algeria, I would have returned to Algeria and been with my family.
And now the two of you together. When I conduct interviews with people, they are often alone, but you are a rare, or unique, case.
First off, we are twins. We have been living together and left the country together and all our life has been together and we stayed together – went to school together and came back together, and this whole journey we’ve been together. All of it together as if we were one person. We are twins after all.
Are there challenges that you feel that you faced together and overcame together, because you are together.
For instance, when they caught us once here – when we first entered the country.
(Their voices became inaudible, and they stopped recording)
Joint Interview with Lahcen:
Let’s take a breath. Can you talk now, or not yet?
Ah, yes of course.
The challenges that you faced together.
As I told you, when we entered Bosnia, I mean the police caught us the first time, they sent us back to the borders. I mean, we had walked and walked for about a whole day. Then they caught us. Then they returned us right to the border.
Is this the Croatian or Bosnian police?
No, the Bosnian. Then he and I discussed it – should we go back to Montenegro or should we continue? I mean, each of us would give solace to the other. Do you understand me? We would say, no, we shall
continue. Let’s try again… etc. We often were in such situations and had to make such decisions.
And then you continued eventually, you mean.
Yes, of course.
You two together.
Together. Many times it went on that way. I mean, he would direct me and I would direct him. I make a mistake. He would say no, no, don’t do that. It’s better that way. Then reflecting upon it, I’d think that he’d been right and so I’d follow his suggestion. Sometimes, it’s vice versa, do you understand? I mean, one would direct and advise the other. And thank God, I am here now.
So this way you feel that you are together.
We help each other – we complete each other in fact.
But this time you felt that there were cons that you were together, the two of you, or?
Never have I felt in my life that he was a burden on me or that I were a burden on him.
And, for instance, living here in the camp. Do you feel it is different that you have someone with you, or how do you both feel about being with each other here in the camp?
I feel it’s the best thing – that there’s someone there [with you]. I mean I have seen a lot of people who are on their own, and it looks like they are [bored].
It’s like they’re?
Bored. Do you understand? You see their faces. Its like they hate themselves, the fact that they are alone, and their alienation. It’s difficult, you know, difficult. But we sort of comfort each other and give each other company. If I didn’t find anyone to be my friend, I do have one. My brother is my friend. Some people can’t open up to any person. He’d say I don’t know this person to tell him my story. Do you understand me? But I would talk to him and he would talk to me. This is the thing that would let us complete each other.
And so you two – or let me ask you alone – I haven’t asked Houssen, but do you two have dreams that you are pursuing, when you are thinking together. Your dream is so and so.
Yes, your dream, both of you together.
Our dream is to live in one house – to build a big house where he and I live in. His family and mine living together. Why not? And we might start a project together, because we have learned hairdressing.
You’ve learned hairdressing.
Where? In Greece you said that was sewing, or was sewing in Turkey?
No, in Turkey. In Greece, we benefited from haircutting tools and machines that were in the camp. We are learning a little bit now. We are good now as barbers, and even here in the camp we are doing hairdressing. Now at two o’clock if you want to see come see.
You open the shop?
Yes, at two o’clock.
And people pay you?
No, no, they don’t pay. We do it for free. For God’s sake.
Ah, seriously, 2 o’clock then. I will check it out! Where? In which part of the camp?
Inside, when you enter, go to the end and you’ll find us.
I’ve been inside. Is it the place with the wooden houses or not?
A little further in.
And where did you learn sewing?
Sewing was in Turkey. We worked a lot in tailoring there.
Sorry. I meant hairdressing.
Hairdressing we learned in Greece. In the camp. When we were in the camp. We learned a bit by bit for over a year and a half.
As such, can I assume that you’ve done each others hair too?
Yes, I’ve cut his hair and he’s cut mine.
By God!? Okay, and how long did it take you to learn hairdressing?
About – or we’re still learning, although we’re quite good at it now. But we learned a bit by bit. Because once you’re in the camp for six months, you learn everyday.
You practice on people?
Of course, but that’s it; we have learned now. Now hopefully we’ll start a project together. We’ll open a barbershop, God willing.
You open a barbershop. By God, if this is the case, the photo would have been better if you were at the shop or if the hairdressing tools were with you, but it is what it is.
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.