About Refugees, By Refugees

Qussai

Pictures taken in:

From:

Nationality:

Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom

Jordan

Palestinian, Jordanian

Nour MF Jarrouj

I feel like dreaming is a luxury for people like us. It’s hard to have dreams. I never really think about dreams, but mostly I think about how to survive,” says Qussai (25), a queer Jordanian and Palestinian asylum seeker in London. “I do think a lot about the past and the fact that I grew up in a developing country and in a country that persecutes people who are different and not just for them being gay, bisexual, or non-binary. But just differences aren’t celebrated at all.” On the challenges he’s faced, Qussai adds, “I guess self-acceptance was the biggest challenge…I still struggle with mental health, definitely.” His strengths are “being empathetic and also having a strong voice” and he believes that “vulnerabilities and our weaknesses and the things that we go through sometimes can be our greatest advantage.” Though the future is uncertain, Qussai says, “My dream now is to be a change-maker.”

Trigger Warning: Homophobia

full interview

Okay, so, hi.
Hi.

I just wanna say that, I mean, you know me but still,  I’m Nour…  I am one of the storytellers in the 1000 Dreams, basically doing all these interviews for Witness Change. We’re doing all of these interviews to represent refugees and asylum seekers and kind of like build a bond between the local community and the asylum seekers or the refugees as well to make more understanding of what it means to be asylum seekers, what it means to be refugees and make it relatable for people basically. If you wish, you wouldn’t be identified neither in the interview or in the photos. We can conceal your identity in the photos and we can change your name in the interview. It’s totally like applicable if you want. You really need to make sure of that. Like you need to make a decision with that because once the pictures in the interview are available on the internet, the media might use it. Your family might see it. Just so you get a full idea how widely this story could go far. There will be the forms that you’re gonna need. I told you about it.  The consent form and some story submission forms. And I will ask you some personal questions. If you feel at any time, Qussai, that you don’t wanna answer it, it’s your total right not to answer it. Just tell me to go to the next question. And if you don’t feel comfortable revealing names or situations that would make you feel bad or traumatized, please you do not have to answer it. You do not have to disclose any of these information. Also, you can take a break at any time. And you can just take a break and be like I wanna withdraw my consent. I don’t wanna do this anymore. Do you feel like what I’ve said now is clear enough or you want to ask me anything?
Clear.

What do you wish the name to be?
Qussai.

Qussai. Just Qussai X?
Yeah.

Okay. Social media account, do you want?
I don’t care, yeah. (spells out) Q-V-S-S-A-I

S-S-A-…
I.

Instagram. Okay, host country?
UK.

Birth country?
Jordan.

Current location?
London.

Nationality? Basically, the nationality that you identify with.
Palestinian and Jordanian, I would say.

Palestine and Jordan?
Yeah.

It doesn’t matter.  I had people who are like, how do I say it, they were born and raised in America…
Yeah.

But they never identify as an American they identify as Iranian.
Yeah.

So you want to identify as Palestine and Jordan?
Yeah, Palestinian and Jordanian.

Okay.  Cool. Date arrived in Europe?
June, no, August 2013.

Do you remember a rough day? What was it?
Uh, 20th.

Refugee status?
Asylum seeker.

So, reasons you are a refugee in general. Is it conflict, race, religion, persecution of nationality, political opinion, climate, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, partner or children of a refugee or other?
Mainly sexual orientation, but also my family are British citizens.I don’t want to mention my name as well..

No, dont.  Okay, so it’s mainly sexual orientation. Yeah. But what is the reason? Can you elaborate? What do you mean by like by your family being British? Like why is it a reason to seek asylum?
Because it’s my basic human right to be living here, to have the same nationality and be living in the same country as my family.

Okay. Age. 25. Gender? Female, male, prefer not to say?
Male.

Job status? Full-time marketing executive. Any would you like to disclose any additional information like being a mom or having a disability, being gay, being atheist, or being very Muslim?  How do you identify yourself apart from your nationality?
I would say I’m queer. Spiritual.

Okay, so this is done. What type of housing do you now live in in London?
Rented flat.

Rented flat. Who do you live with?
My close friend.

Are you happy with that?
Yup.

Okay, can you describe…How do you feel around the house that you live in?
I love it. Yeah, I’m really happy. I feel really comfortable. It’s a safe space. And I live with someone who fully accepts me  and knows everything about me. So I feel really comfortable.

Okay. And usually, what do you do in the house or outside the house to bring joy to yourself?
I like to visit my friends. I like to cycle to the park.

Yep.
Yeah, I also like to meet other gay guys and socialize and go to comedy shows, go to drag shows.

Cool.  Since you came to Europe in August 2013, what was the good things about that? Since then ’til now, what was the good things? Like the advantages of being here, let’s say.
Being able to live my life true to myself and slowly realizing my true identity. I just like being able to make friends and socialize and live a very authentic life.

Yeah. So, how do you feel? Like how do you feel around that? What does that make you feel?
It makes me feel stable and it makes me feel comfortable and it makes me feel, I guess, self-fulfilled.

Yeah. Then what was the challenges in those 7 years that you’ve been here?
Maybe coming to terms with everything. I guess self-acceptance was the biggest challenge because  I really struggled to accept myself.

But why is that?
Because the cultural and religious norms that I grew up in were really entrenched in me that it took me a long time to kind of rid myself of them. So it was like a really slow process and I didn’t do it on my own obviously. With the help of people around me and people’s encouragement and support.

How does that make you feel? Being able to go through all the challenges and then coming to terms with who you are?
What do you mean?

Like you’re saying it was the biggest challenge for you to be able to get out of the cultural norms that you were raised in, right? So, now do you think that you’re fully out of that?
Yeah.

Okay, and now you’re like…How does that make you feel like?
Empowered.

Empowered?
Yeah, I feel empowered and authentic.

Can you say I feel empowered and authentic?
Yeah, I feel empowered and authentic.

No, I mean, repeat after me. I feel…
I feel empowered and authentic.

Amazing, thank you. We just need direct quotes. This is why I’m gonna make you… (laughs) Okay, so how does it feel being away from Jordan or your family? I know you have family up in Jordan.
Yeah.

How does it make you feel here?
To be honest, I don’t feel anything towards the country itself. But I do really miss my grandmother and my mom and my brother.But like towards the country itself, I don’t feel anything. So I don’t really…

Okay, but you do miss your family?
Yeah.

Do you feel that you belong to them? Do you feel that they discriminate you? Do you feel that there’s a stigma about you and how did that impact you?
I don’t think they discriminate against me and they treat me with respect and love, but I definitely don’t feel like I’m being truthful with them. So it’s definitely not like a wholesome relationship, I’d say. Because it’s always like I’m hiding a big part of my identity from some of my family members. But I think I still have a good relationship with them and they respect and they love me.Okay, so it’s like half-half.

How does that impact you not being able to be 100% fully yourself with your family members?
It sucks. Like it’s hard because I’ve reached a point where I just can’t put on an act anymore and pretend. So, it’s difficult. It’s difficult, especially when I wanna go see my dad and stuff.It’s a lot of energy, it takes a lot of energy.

To go see your dad in Jordan?
No, in the UK.

Okay.
It takes a lot of effort and energy because I have to put on an act.

Okay. So he would never be able to accept you the way you are?
No, he wouldn’t.

Okay, let’s take a break.
Coming.

Okay, so all these struggles that you’ve been going through…
Yeah.

Have you like, were you surprised how strong you are to manage all that stress? All that hiding? Were you surprised  with your strength?
I actually don’t feel like I’m strong because I feel like if I was strong enough I would have come out much earlier and I would have had the courage to live truthfully a while ago, I guess. But I mean, yeah, I guess, now I do feel like, oh my god, l had to muster up a lot of courage and strength to be able to, you know, live the life that I live now.

I think that is really powerful and I think that you eventually came out and that is an achievement by itself. Do you think that throughout the years that you’ve developed the ability like a coping mechanism or kind of survival skills to make sure that now you know you think you know how to handle any challenge in your life after dealing with your identity?
I mean, oh, after dealing with the identity. Yeah, definitely, I feel like  have less fear of people like revealing, like finding out who I am, uncovering who I am and blackmailing and stuff like that. Like definitely that fear is gone because I owned up to it, you know. So, I think secret secret shame. And yeah, the more you keep secrets, the more shame you feel. So I feel like, yeah, in a sense that sense of shame has subsided a bit. Wait, what was your question again?

Like what is the coping mechanism or survival skills or how did you overcome these challenges?
Yeah, I think, like I said, the hardest part is to come to terms with it, with yourself. I think that’s the hardest part. And then I think there was…A day came where I was like, you know, I wanna live my life fully and hiding a big part of my identity means that I won’t be able to live my life fully.And yeah, I do feel like I’ve missed out on a few, a lot of opportunities. I missed out on a lot of things because I was hiding, you know.So, I did learn a lot by being open because I now can maintain good friendships. Because when you hide a big part of yourself, people notice and people will notice the inauthenticity. People are drawn to authenticity. And now I can actually socialize. I can be myself. I can hold a room, talk to people, make a speech, do things I was never able to do because I didn’t want people to I don’t know, notice that I’m gay or notice my femininity. I always had that fear that something’s gonna leak out, you know? And it did a lot of the time. So no matter how hard you try to put on a façade, it leaks.

Yeah. Did COVID-19 affect you or your life in any way and how did you cope with it?
Not probably less than the average person, I’d say. ‘Cause the average person travels and stuff like that. I never really got the chance  to travel before, anyway. And to me, like this is my home, I feel, I didn’t have to escape.A lot of friends had to escape and go to their home countries and stuff, but I feel like this is my home, so.

Can you just say I feel like London is my home?
I feel like London is my home.  Yeah, definitely.

Yeah, I would say the same, too.
Yeah. And emphasis on London because I’ve lived outside of London as well in the UK and I didn’t feel as much at home as I did in London.

Why?
London is like a microcosm of the world, you know, and there’s a bit for everyone. So you can build, in a sense you can customize your own environment, your own community. So that’s what’s nice about that. But in other cases in the UK it’s a bit different.

Can you elaborate what different means?
It’s more…It’s less cosmopolitan, less international, less accepting of different people, of differences. I think it’s kind of like the same as If you like go to the Midwest of America, you know. They’re not used to ethnic differences. They’re not used to sexual diversity, gender diversity and stuff like that. It’s more norms.

Okay, great. Can you describe how did you leave Jordan and come here?
Basically, I wanted to go to university. And my mom said that she can’t afford to pay for my university. And so I spoke to my dad and I was like I wanna come and study in the UK and he said, “You wanna come study in the UK?” “The only way you can do that is if you come and stay with me and you study at Plymouth University.”So I didn’t really have much option, to be honest. I kinda had to come.

So just to make it clear, your mom in Jordan, your dad is here?
Yeah.

Your dad is British?
Yeah.

Okay.
Yeah.

Cool. So he kind of paid for your tuition fees and you stayed in Plymouth with him?
Yeah.

How did that make you feel when you were at his house?
At first, I was really excited to go. Because I was like having a male figure in my life is going to be really helpful and also going to maybe make me less gay. Yeah, or kinda remove the feelings of sexual attraction to men and also decrease my femininity, in a sense. So I was excited in the beginning, but I think once I realized that it wasn’t working, it got worse and worse, you know?

What do you mean? Can you tell what got worse and worse?
Yeah, well, my dad kinda…

Okay. So what you are saying is that the situation got worse and worse being with your dad?
Yeah. I think it goes back to the idea that when you’re being inauthentic, people kinda click onto it and you kinda, yeah you realize that I wasn’t a normal boy, you know?  A normal Middle Eastern boy. So, he kinda started like… Yeah, he’d always say things like “You’re not the son I wanted” and stuff like that.So…

How did that make you feel?
Shit. Like really bad. When I was there, that was the first time I had anxiety, the first time I struggled with mental health. And so it was hard.

Because of your parents?
Yeah, because I couldn’t match up to the expectations they had for me.So yeah.

Do you still recur these events when he was being like that towards you? Do you think about it?
I fully forgave him and my mom did the same to be honest, growing up. They both were the same. So I used to kind of vilify him, but it was both my parents. And I do understand that because of the cultural…Obviously that doesn’t excuse the behavior. But I understand. And I’ve like completely forgiven them. So no, I don’t really think about it that much. I do sometimes wish I went somewhere else because I lost a lot of opportunities by going to Plymouth. I had other university acceptances at very good universities. And I didn’t go. So.

Just going back to you saying that both your parents were not kinda accepting because you didn’t match up their expectations?
Yeah.

Do you feel like, how does it make you feel that both of your parents, who you should look up to, they think of you this way?
Obviously I feel hurt and upset and I wish things were different.But like I said, I don’t…

Do you feel abandoned?
I don’t feel abandoned. But I did feel abandoned in the past by my mom, both my mom and my dad.And I did struggle with a sense of abandonment. And maybe that also plays into my attachment, the way I feel attached in relationships. What was your question?

How does it make you feel being…
Oh, well like I said, now I’ve forgiven them, to be honest, but also I don’t excuse their behavior. But I understand ’cause of the norms,the cultural and religious norms in the Middle East. So I completely understand.

Do these recurring sentences that they’ve told you like you’re bringing them, you know, something like oh, you’re not the son that I expected or something?
Yeah, it does play in my mind sometimes, yeah.

Yeah, and does it affect you? Because you said that your anxiety started then. Do you still struggle with this stuff ’til now, like anxiety?
Yeah, I still struggle with mental health, definitely. But for different reasons. But it definitely was triggered by that.

Would you be okay telling me the reasons of why you’re struggling with your mental well-being at the moment?
At the moment? Just the uncertainty. I do think a lot about the past and the fact that I grew up in a developing country and in a country that persecutes people who are different and not just for them being gay, bisexual, or non-binary. But just differences aren’t celebrated at all. And yeah. And that’s why also just growing up, having lived in a third world country, I just, yeah, I really struggled. It’s just a lot of different reasons, I’d say. But I do wish the past was different.

Okay, when you said the uncertainty, what do you mean, the uncertainty of your situation at the moment?
Yeah, I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. The future is uncertain. Sometimes it’s like a little bit of a dark cloud.

Okay, so you’re uncertain because you’re an asylum seeker?
I don’t know what’s gonna happen with my visa. I don’t know if my visa doesn’t work. Like my application doesn’t work. Will I ever be able to come back and visit my family if I have to leave? Yeah, and I just don’t see a future for me if this doesn’t work. So, yeah, when I look into the future, there’s a big dark cloud.

Yeah. Can you just say I feel anxious due to the uncertainty?
Yeah, I feel anxious due to the uncertainty brought upon by the fact that I’m an asylum seeker.

Yeah. Okay. Can I ask you before any of that happened… Before you did apply for asylum here, what was your dream then?
My dream? I don’t know. I feel like dreaming is a luxury for people like us. It’s hard to have dreams. I never really think about dreams, but mostly I think about how to survive, like how I can survive. So you kinda caught me a bit there. I don’t know, I haven’t dreamt in a while about what I want in my life. But I guess growing up, I really wanted to be a politician, to make a difference in the world. Yeah, I like politics and international relations and I’ve always wanted to be a politician, yeah.

What do you think is your strong points? What was your strength then? How did you, because you’re telling me that your dream was to be a politician and make a change in the world? So what was your strength? What made you feel this way?
I definitely feel that the intersectionality that my existence brings puts me at an advantage because it brings me empathy. I can really empathize with different people because I’ve gone through a lot. My family has gone through a lot. My family has gone through two different wars.And that on its own and my whole upbringing and the storytelling and just being in this part and where I am from brings me a lot of empathy and I’ve always thought that would definitely be a strong point. So it’s weird, vulnerabilities and our weaknesses and the things that we go through sometimes can be our greatest advantage.

Can you just say I dreamt of being a politician and changing the world?
Yeah, I dreamt… I wanna say I dreamt of being a change-maker.

Okay, amazing. Thank you. And do you believe that the strength that you talked about being this very strong intersectional change-maker, is still the same now you applied for asylum?
Yeah.

Or you have new strength?
It’s weird, I don’t know if I have strengths. But being a strong person, I definitely don’t really see myself as a strong person for some reason. I don’t see myself as a strong person. But my strengths, I would say yeah, empathy is my biggest strength.Which is hard to find in our world now. People who are empathetic and who are understanding. And I am really drawn to empathetic people. Yeah, so I’d say empathy is my strong point. My voice, the fact that I’m privileged enough to have the education I have and to be able to speak eloquently as I do now. Obviously, a lot of it comes from me being lucky and me having a good education, but I also worked really hard on myself. I always read. I always try to learn and I always feel like I’m a sponge. I always wanna, you know, draw stuff.

So do you feel now that you’ve maintained those strengths, but kind of sharpened them the more that you read and the more that you gain knowledge?
Yeah, definitely.

And yeah, so can you just say my strengths are being  empathetic and ambitious? Or what do you call working on yourself?
I feel that my strengths are being empathetic and also having a strong voice.Yeah, having a strong voice, I would say.

Having a strong voice comes from you being ambitious and you want to work more on yourself?
Yeah, definitely.

What do you call it? Motivated?
Me being ambitious and also having a love for learning.

Okay.
Having a love for just self-development, always trying to be better.

Okay.
Always trying to learn. And I think my biggest fear is just wasting my life and my time away. Because I definitely feel when I look back, and a lot of my friends will tell you this. I’m always like I definitely feel that I’ve wasted time. That’s my greatest fear. And even though I didn’t waste time. I’m 25. But I feel like a lot of the time I spent not being myself is time wasted, for some reason.Yeah.

I think you’re taking all the steps right now to compensate for all of the time that you wasted because you’re definitely, you are speaking up for a lot of queer asylum seekers, I would say.
Yeah.

Can you tell me what’s your dream now?
My dream now…My dream now, I definitely wanna continue my dreams growing up, which is being a change-maker. Hopefully, maybe working in politics or journalism. Yeah. And that’s what I studied at university. I studied international relations, so I kind of wanna build them now and just helping people.And I think we do that in our job as well. We make a difference, which is nice.

Do you think that these hard challenges, that you’ve been through, made you grow as a person? Like can you handle hard difficulties right now better?
Yeah, definitely. For sure, 100%. Yeah, I mean, they say when you’re in rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go but up.

Yeah.
Yeah, and I do feel like once you’ve been in rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go but up. So, yeah, I just feel like the worst is over. Hopefully. I don’t know. 

Hopefully. So just one last statement. Can you say my dream is now to and just say your dream?
My dream now is to be a change-maker.  A

mazing. So, I’m done with my questions. Do you want to add anything? Do you want to say something for other asylum seekers? Or queer people? Or maybe just the local community here?
Mmm, I think the best thing in the world and the one thing that makes me have hope is kindness and empathy and I definitely feel like we should constantly try to work on that and build on that. And a lot of the change comes from putting ourselves into other people’s shoes and being kind and being empathetic and just coming out of the shell of personal gain and looking more at how we can improve the lives of other people around us. Service, definitely, makes you feel good, but also is good for our collective humanity, our collective being.So yeah, in essence, what I’m trying to say is just kindness, empathy, and service are the most important things.Yeah. 

Amazing.
That’s it. 

Thank you so much for your time, Qussai.
 You’re welcome. 

I really enjoyed this interview.

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.