About Refugees, By Refugees

Rana

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Germany

Yemen

Yemeni

Esra Gültekin

My dream was to make Yemen the best country ever,” says Rana from Yemen. Forced to leave because of her political opinions, she moved around extensively before settling in Berlin. Asked if becoming a refugee has affected her she says: “nothing that happens in your life does not affect you, let alone… life events… like war, displacement, castration by society, collapse of your failure of the state, failure of the whole region. So that must sit somewhere.” She adds, “Trauma has just become part of our identity.” She says that it is only in hindsight that you realise what you’ve been through: “you don’t look at hardship in the middle of hardship and you realize you’re in the middle of hardship. You just kind of, like, survive.” Rana’s experiences since leaving Yemen “will make me more resilient,” she says. As for her dream of making Yemen the best country ever: “My vision was Yemen being glorious with fireworks. This is destroyed. So now I have to find another inspiration in life.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Um, we’ll start first the current station. OK, last question then, what kind of housing do you live in?
I live in a shared apartment with one person and it’s not many people, so it’s just one person, which is good.

OK, can you describe the conditions?
Conditions are pretty decent. Typical Berlin apartment and very adequate heating. Very great, great location in the middle of the immigrant neighborhood. So I would say that it’s very adequate. Yes.

How do you spend your time here…?
I work from home, so I spent most of my time looking at the computer screen and then I, uh. Try to do something afterwards, like I’d go out for a walk or go to my sister’s, uh, apartment or see friends or have friends over, but it’s not that frequent. So most of my spare time feels less rewarding than it should feel after a hard working day. But it’s the lockdown’s Corona so I can’t complain. And I went to these gluhwein places out outdoors and Merkle came and she was like, guys, what are you doing stuff going to Glühwein location. So even that I have to deprive myself from.

And how has life been since you arrived in Europe? I mean, what’s being good about being here, what’s been difficult?
So I had to cultivate gratitude about me being here, so let’s put things in perspective first. My life was very comfortable back home in Yemen. And so moving to Europe was not an upgrade for me, if anything, it was a downgrade. I came from an affluent family and I had a career. Like, if the Arab Spring never happened, I could have had a very influential career within the government. Probably… You know, and very good influential locations, because I was. OK, a Yemeni very well educated woman that could represent her country well, very highly qualified, you know, a master’s degree from a good university. And so if like let’s say if the Arab Spring never happened, I could have had an apartment and a car and stable life and very good career within my roots, within the comfortable upper middle class layer that I was living at. So moving here was not an upgrade, not unlike many refugees who may find this as a very good opportunity to work and so on, I didn’t come here to work. I came here to take a break, take care. I came here for asylum. And so when I arrived, the system does not look at me as someone who is deserving of an asylum. First of all, I was not given full asylum, although my mom is political and my case is political. My mom got full asylum. I did not get the full asylum. And that was like the first blow. No, actually, that was not the first blow Let me tell you about the first blow. The first blow was when you go to, you go to seek asylum. You go to this office in Berlin, the BAMF. You wait for six hours, I don’t know how long while I’m waiting there, I find other Yemeni families and it’s like we know there’s a distribution system and the distribution system is a blind eye to them that decides in which province you will be living at while your asylum process is is being done. And my understanding is that even I was in Berlin and even my understanding that even if I was asked to move somewhere else, I can tell them, no, my sister is in Berlin, I can stay here, and it would be fine, according to my sister, not according to the law, apparently, anyway. So here I am waiting in the BAMF. I don’t even remember what this means. Like, can I Google it? Do we have time? What does BAMF stand for? (3rd party speaker)  Uh, whole uh you got for the Ministry of. From Germany. No, I don’t say sorry, I think you’ve got it, like almost. So Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, so I’m flüchtlinge, is is a refugee. So and yeah, this is exactly the location. I go take transportation. I’m waiting in this, like, weird location. So many then the treatment is very degrading because I don’t know, like. The way they make us queue the way that they it’s like a supermarket and we are the goods. OK, ten people next then and there is no interaction. There is no like here. And I want to tell you my story. I was like, no, it was registration. It was it wasn’t even like anything was just the registration and it was like in bulk maybe because we were many people, but it was like industrial scale. OK, ten people next, ten people next. So I ended up in the in the waiting room with another Yemeni family and she told me her last name and I’m like, OK. And also middle class, by the way, everybody that arrived to Germany, our middle class. The refugees, like very few vulnerable refugees, not really like that, because like the vulnerable, vulnerable refugees, in my opinion, ended up in Zaatari camp in Amman and Islahiye in southern Turkey. So the people who are really poor did not make it here. People who can afford to ride a plane or pay smugglers thousands of dollars, they made it here. So that put on the side. So here I am with very. Nice people around me, I mean, OK, now I sound like a colossus, but it doesn’t matter. Like it’s like it’s not like everybody is like me. Everybody is like wearing like Adidas shoes and having a smartphone. So it’s like it’s not like don’t tell me the  flüchtlinge are like, oh my God. They’re going to like. You know, the savages are here now excuse me, the creme de la creme made it to Europe. So while we’re sitting there, the lady, she’s she has two kids. She’s wearing a scarf. Her husband is they’re like super nice. Like I’m the degenerate one, you know, I’m like the drinking, you know? And she’s like, so nice, like proper like family and stuff. And then there’s someone that comes and calls for the name of the next person to take the biometrics. And the biometrics is also very degrading. They take your fingerprints, all of them right and left hand, and they tell you to even, like, tilt your finger to the side so you get everything and they take your eye iris on top of that. (3rd party speaker) And it’s 3D. I didn’t do 3D.  But that’s another level. So what I did the eye iris I was like, it’s like, OK, I’ve never been I’ve never been scanned so much in my life. And but before I was there, before I was cold, I saw the person who was coming in and out calling the people and the person who was coming in and out calling the people was wearing a black shirt. With a message in the back big blocks. Saying a sentence. What is this sentence like, mind you, all the refugees, most of the refugees there are Muslim families like conservative, really nice people would like woman with two kids wearing a scarf. The whole thing. He comes in and out, in and out  and I’m like, OK, let me read what this is like. Of course, you can’t miss it, but I decided to pay attention. And it says cocaine is God’s way of telling you you are rich. And I’m like, that is so inappropriate, like I appreciate I’m in Berlin. I appreciate this is like the party heartland. I appreciate that. Like and but like this guy is being implicitly hostile to these people. I don’t know, maybe he’s cared about club culture or something. But like I like the whole process, for me, it was like it felt so I’m like, why are you doing this so disrespectful? You know, I’m like, of course, I didn’t say anything good. It was in my mind, while I’m waiting for four hours with the lady about, oh, I hope we’re going to end up in Berlin because I’ll go to them. God knows where it’s going to take us. So it was my turn, I came to this. OK, so this is the setup. It’s not even an office. You come into a big lobby, there is a table. And like there’s like like 20 or 15 meters between you and the table and then another 20 or 15 meters between you and a door behind with the bouncer. I said down three women come and sit in front of me, they’re like, thank you very much for your application. This is a train ticket for today at five o’clock to go to Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig-Holstein is north of the northeast next to Denmark. They like you, you go and you’re going to have to go and apply to the asylum there on my. I was like, what what is this? She said, it’s a camp and I was like, Well, are you will not put me in the camp? And I told her I was like, are you going to go to the camp? She said, No, no, no. But when you go, just ask for a transfer. That’s a debate because you can’t ask for a transfer, right? You can’t go there. And I tried. I arrived at eight, eight, eight p.m. I arrived. I went to the German Red Crescent. And because I worked with like I worked in refugee response because I was working as a UN staff. And I guess it’s karma. Because I was like guys, like I went to the German Red Cross and I was like, guys, I need to move, I need to they were like, OK, so here’s your non-food items. The Nc5, they give me like a towel and a brush and stuff. And I’m like very cheap brush, very cheap, like everything cheap, you know, like, you know, like the NFIs (non-food items), you know, we call them NFI’s. When we do the meetings, we’re like, we have to get used to the refugees. And here I was, a refugee taking NFIs from the German Red Crescent. And I was like, I don’t understand. I need to go to Berlin. Oh, yeah, so it’s a degrading, degrading. So what was the question again, sorry.

I mean, I ask you all to say what’s been good and what’s been difficult, but you always say.
Oh no, not like the good. OK, let me tell you what’s good. So I was bitching about Germany for the whole time and I was like, what is this so racist? I ended up in the village in the middle of nowhere, you know, like, this is awful. This a downgrade. It’s so bad. After eight months, I found a job with the U.N. again and I went to Turkey. I went to Gaziantep again. And in Gaziantep, there are a lot of Syrians, as you know, and I was sharing my office with a girl from Syria, really super cool dream. She was like our best friend anyway, sidenote. And she’s like, oh, my God, you like Germany.  I was like, “it’s so bad”, and she was like “what! It’s so racist” to like, OK. And then it was like this throughout. I spent one year in Turkey and every time I meet, like every time I meet a Syrian young person working hard, trying to make ends meet in Turkey and they’re like, you know, like I’m like I have a residency in Germany. I’m here to work. And I but I hate it. I came here because I like Turkey better and they’re like, give me your spot. Give me your fucking spot, you ungrateful beep you know? And then I realized, like, people die in the Mediterranean for this, right? And this is not bad at all, like, no, I’m now that I’m in Berlin, like, this is really nice actually like every time I walk out. I like I cultivate gratitude by just like looking around me and really being thankful, and I really like think I think Germany I think Merkel like I really have to, like, switch my thinking a bit. So the good is there and the bad is there, but it depends on how you look at it.

And can you describe how living here has made you feel?
I mean, I think I elaborated enough, but like definitely like going to be a bit more positive. Uh. This is the land of freedom, so I lived these are cities I lived before and I’m thirty eight years old, I lived and I lived in San’a, I lived in Gaziantep and I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan. And I lived in I lived also in New York, in in the U.K., which was a very small town, I lived in Hida and Schleswig-Holstein, very small town. So it’s my first home in the big city. And I think it’s very good.

Uh. How does being away from the rest of your family home make you feel? Oh, feeling that’s. Uh, discrimination’s, nice to meet you…
Uh, so. The dissolution of my family is really bothering me, and it’s not only the story of I don’t know, it’s the story of. Every fucking family. In the Middle East, almost, if I tell you all my high school friends that when I contact them and how and I ask them, how are you? They’re like, fine. I’m like, where is your mom? She’s like, My mom is in the city. Where’s your dad? My dad is in the city. Where is your brother? My brother’s in that city. It’s the same thing for me. OK, so I’m grateful my sister is in Berlin, my mom still in Schleswig-Holstein, middle of nowhere, northern Germany, my brother is in Italy and my sister is in Canada. Her husband, he has to go and work in Abu Dhabi. And if you ask a like a lot of the Yemeni middle class, if you ask a lot of the Syrians, they’ll tell you each member like I have different members of my family, like living somewhere. And back in the days we give it, we gave it a name to describe the situation of the Palestinians, we call it a “shatat”. It means shattering, you know, like when you I don’t know when you when you put the atom in the stern and then, like, kind of like shatters. I don’t know how to describe this in English, but it’s like it’s the shattering. So the shattering happened in Palestine and happened in Syria and happened in Yemen, happened in Libya and happened in Iraq. And happening, happening, happening, happening, happening all around my region. It’s not easy at the general scale when you look at the whole region, you’re like you have grievance about the Arab world. When you look at your country, you have grievance about your own country. And when you look at your family, you have a grievance. So it’s like layers and layers and layers of loss. And it’s not really nice.

Oh. Um, could you have imagined that you would have been able to handle this…? And how have you been able to overcome their wits with it?
OK, so like we’re we’re like we’re brown people to use this term. How can I phrase? Hardship comes with the package, you know, like when you studying your mum is going to beat you up because you’re not saying the multiplication table. Well, you know, so you don’t you don’t look at hardship in the middle of hardship and you realize you’re in the middle of hardship. You just kind of like survive and survive. Like, we’re not like I don’t think like we’re like Europeans have not seen a war or hardship in 70 years, like aside from like probably someone had an accident or something, you know, not saying that they live or live. They’re rich or something. A lot of poor people here as well. But what I’m trying to say is that. When hardship like this happens, you kind of become. Blind, you kind of focus on survival. You don’t realize what had happened, and until you stop and you look in retrospect. So. I think that, uh.   I never give myself credit for making it, uh, for going through this hardship also because I know I sit comfortably, like given all my family is safe. They’re all in in the West. And I have a job. My sister has a job. Everybody’s comfortable. You know, if you look at it from my own perspective, in isolation of the bigger picture, which I tend now to do and give myself credit for, I’m like, no. And it was hard. It was hard. And you should give yourself credit. But a lot of the time, I’m just having survivor’s guilt. And I don’t allow myself to actually feel that what I have been through is hard. What I have been through is five stars in comparison to what other people are going through. But also I have to look at my own trauma in context. And just acknowledge that well done, you were strong, you know, which, you know, I’m learning to do.

Yeah, do you think that you developed the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you always have those skills, strains, mechanism and…
That’s again, when I realized it’s like, hey, OK, so like I said, we persevere, we we grow up in, like, tough upbringing. You know, you don’t you don’t cry. You just hustle and move on. You know, you’re not supposed to like why are you, like, moving on? You know, if you cry, your whole family will ridicule you, you know, that kind of situation, you know. Oh, look at her. She’s crying!  I mean, I don’t know, like maybe in my family, but anyway, what we do is that we kind of like move forward, I guess. But I heard can you repeat the question? Because I had an answer to the second 

Yeah, I do think that you develop the ability to deal with this challenge.
Yeah. Now, the ability that I don’t think I have overcome is racism, actually. Because. One reason why I’m grateful I’m here is because in Yemen, because there’s so much sexism, Yemen made me a feminist and I think in Europe, because of so much racism, I’m going to be a freedom fighter. So I think I think that I’m going to develop other coping mechanisms.  That will make me more resilient, especially that I used to work in the UN system and in the UN system. It’s a neocolonial structure run by white people, which I could not resist enough. Because I was vulnerable, I was like, I needed my contract because I come from Yemen and these white people coming in, like running the whole show, and I’m hoping that by being here in Germany, I would be able to call. When like when such things happen, I will be able to, like, identify them, compartmentalize them and. You know, be able to say, no, stop, you are being this and it’s called blah blah, I don’t know, micro aggressions, you know, like kind of like learn a new coping mechanism that would not only be helpful for me in Europe, but also like in general, like in life. And if I go back to the UN ever.  But. Yeah, it’s 20, 20, it’s Black Lives Matter. You know, we have to learn new terminology and yeah, so this is a coping mechanism that I hope to. Go with the most, but I mean, it’s Berlin like it’s the land of political correctness, I think I have to learn about political correctness and bust my own racism first. But anyway, like so much to learn. So much to learn. Definitely. But not about trauma and stuff like that. But more about. Um. It’s more about my experience as a refugee and acknowledging the misunderstandings I have about other people and the misunderstandings that people have about me. That’s, I think, what I think.

And this is the last question in this forum. How has Covid19 affect you in terms of terms of your life and your mo d feeling emotional well-being?
So I think they did a survey in Germany. About the mental health of the people during covid-19 and the people were like, oh my God, so much so much like the mental status of the people during covid-19, it is so alarming. Like, this is the cutest crisis I had to deal with. This is the best thing you work from home, your social distance, you’re like, oops, it’s a pandemic. I really wanted to see you, but like, no, sorry, pandemic.  So, no, no. I mean, like, actually, yeah, I’m going to miss Corona when Corona leaves. Yeah, this is like the easiest thing that ever happened to me. I think Corona is good for the people to slow down in general. No, I mean, come on. No, you know, I mean, like, OK, so like, OK, OK. So let’s say that we think about death. Yeah, like what is the worst thing that could happen? About death, I mean, death. Like the existentialist crisis that I had to deal with since the Arab Spring is definitely has been through much harsher circumstances than coronavirus, so coronavirus is actually cute.

And how was the journey to Europe? Is that an experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell?
Was easier, came by the plane. I mean, I’m telling you, the middle class are making it here. People who came off the plane are people who can afford smuggling. Smuggling is a viable transportation means for those who cannot afford afford a plane. There has to be regularized, it shouldn’t be. Crushed has to be regularized, I think.

Is this like do you think about the trauma of traveling?
I mean, there is always, you know, what there is even when you’re traveling, there’s always the being scared at the immigration of the airport. I don’t know if you ever felt that, but lining up at the immigration, even if you have their visa and everything is legit. You feel like they’re going to know I’m going to seek asylum. There’s this intense feeling and then like I went and the guy behind the counter was like 20 something immigration officer and he was very kind.  And it’s just like it was nice. I guess you really don’t make it on the plane. Don’t even make it on the plane. It’s this tight, like you don’t make it to the plane if your papers are not legit, if it’s like Fortress Europe is for real, you know, you don’t make it far unless you have all your papers or your visas and everything is checked.

And thus, the station you face to talk about.
Like traveling,

I love.
Oh, you know,. Oh I mean,.

So maybe not you don’t mention, you know, the situation.
No, but like I mean, like, so many things happen, like since the Arab Spring, the world of the war in Yemen, my family’s dispersement and things. I can’t say that I’m talking properly at the moment, to be honest, I have done therapy for a year. When I went back to the UN, I had paid health insurance. So I did therapy for a year. And I know that. I know, like I told you, when you keep, like, walking forward, you don’t reflect too much, but now now it’s it’s truly my asylum.  Now it’s now is the time to. How did it affect to affect me? Of course it affected me. Of course, nothing that happens in your life does not affect you, let alone like major, major like life events, like what happened, you know, like war, displacement, castration by society, collapse of your failure of the state, failure of the whole region.  So that must sit somewhere. I actually I was talking to a Syrian friend of mine, and that’s why I really enjoy, like the Syrian friends that I met in in Gaziantep, because we share the trauma. Trauma has just become part of our identity, you know, and of course, it happened because I was thinking about it and I was like talking to the colleague who was sharing an office with me. I was like the how many sniper videos have you seen on YouTube? How how many how many people, how many how many people did you see dying on YouTube? She know quite a lot. That’s just normal. Videos of air strikes, videos of protesters being set in, sniper fighter, iconic moments in every Arab’s mind. There are videos that went all over the burning of the Jordanian pilot, ISIS, this, this, this, this. You know, it’s just a how can we absorb all of this and not feel nothing? You know, there were airstrike, they were like bombard. There was a bombardment in my neighborhood. Yeah. And it was like the most recent because when I was a child, I went through two civil wars. It’s just how do you like how do you go through all of this and think it’s not going to affect you, of course, is going to affect you. All right. So. I think through therapy, it was an eye opener because. It just tells you how much work needs to be done. And because before, like I told you, just like going forward, going forward, you like a horse. With like to shielded, like, shields around your eyes so you could just go forward, but once you remove them, I’m an asylum land, this is my time to. Have an asylum, Asylum is usually is like four people will go through psychological like asylum institutions, but also like this is also an asylum. When you kind of like asylum, you catch your breath and you’re like, what the fuck just happened? That’s happening right now. So I don’t really it doesn’t affect me. Still functional. But it’s there, I can’t pretend like it’s not there.

And before could you ever have imagined that you. Have been able to handle that situation mean in the past?
I’m going to skip this question first.

Of course, yeah you can skip.
OK, let me let me tell you about this one. OK, so the first war I had was when I was four years old in nineteen eighty six. Born in 1982, first war I had was in nineteen eighty six, second war I had in nineteen eighty four. Between 84, 94, not 84, 94  between 94 and 2011, there were many, like destabilizing events, you know, food price. And when when the World Bank asks Yemen to remove the oil subsidies and all of a sudden you go to the supermarket and you find everything more expensive. People go out in swarms and they destroy everything in front of them. So, like. When you like what was the question I forgot.

How could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this station?
Yeah, like I mean, like I told you, you like of course you handle. That’s all you do. You handle hustle and you go forward. Yeah. Back there, I’m I’m one of the most privileged ones. There are people who worked as streetchildren.There are people who had to go through like, you know, like forced recall it recruitments with like militias and shit. So I am I am the comfortable refugee who’s comfortable as it can get.

Yeah.
Yeah.

What was your dream before all?
OK, um, what was your dream before the event that led you to flee your home occurred?
My dream was to make Yemen the best country ever. I wanted to become president of Yemen. I want I was while I was walking around Sana’a and I’m like, this is where I’m going to put the tram and we’re going to resolve this by this, you know, walked around. And I had actually when I was twenty five, I made a vision and mission board. And an action plan that I achieved, one hundred percent and beyond. And the thing is, like my vision was, uh, I drew because you have to make it visual. I drew a timeline of a city. And they’re like families making picnic. And I imagine this was the Yemini, and I imagine they were looking at fireworks. Celebrating how some Yemenis.  So that was my fucking dream.

Um, when you are leaving your home, uh, what was your dream for the future?
Oh, my dream was to become UN international staff. I quit my UN career. A month ago, I was like, fuck you people. Ten years I tried to come. So sorry to see you and experience was pretty hard.

Um, before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strength? How do you maintain these, if so, how? If not, why not?
OK, all my strengths. Before, it’s a very good exercise, by the way. Uh, what was my (speaking in Arabic)? Yeah, and maybe I’m a little bit too tired to answer this question. I calculated. It turned out that. And the past 12 years, I lived in seven cities. And that means I moved a lot. I was living through my suitcase like a nomad for 12 years. ] I have sold washing machines and bought washing machines to the point where I don’t want to be anywhere but home. So I, uh, feel, um. Too tired and nothing sparks joy, a lot of it.  Maybe I’m depressed, PTSD and the whole complex PTSD and I came to Europe fucking destroyed and ready to resolve it, basically. Like all I want to do while I am in Berlin is basically. Restore my sanity. And just. Take it easy and not just south. I enjoy. And the peace.

He can stop it from.
No. It’s okay. I’m sorry.

Do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience or has anything at all?
I have grown so old. Dude, did I grow? My God, it shows on my fucking face like my I try to take a selfie the other day, Oh my God!, So. Uh.  What else other than growing old Danny? Musharraf, I don’t know, I feel like. Like, I don’t know, I learned nothing or something. And. (Speaks in Arabic) and like when I was having the interesting conversation with Massoud last night.  He was like “Rana” I was like, do you believe in life after death? He’s like “no”, he’s like “Yeah”, but like consciousness is like you open a window, it comes and then it goes away. And then you become something else and not you. So it’s only one chance. And when I was actually, like, listening to him, I was. Really mind blown. So that’s actually growing. I mean, you know, like broadening my perspective. So, um. I felt like I was being again, like when I told my friends and then to have the Syrian friends, I don’t want to go to Berlin, I felt the same thing, like, OK, so the window is open.What do you do now? You know, and I’m my. You just watch basically you just. Center yourself. No. I’m talking myself, so my anxiety, basically. Um, how do you think we should go about this? Oh, yes, that’s. So I can do that.

And what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I met a five year plan, most of it involves just. Having rest, I work in a job, my weekend is Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so. I work four times a day. I am my boss. Nobody is above me. And, um. And then I do nothing, I have no hobbies, I have no like. So what is the aspiration for the future? OK, so I’m going to fix this or going to my five year plan is I’m going to make this organization or work as an international NGO standards because they are working really good. The guys on the ground in Yemen, but zero documentation, zero structure to zero everything. So I’m going to create like I have a five year plan, like within the five years they’re going to be working like this. By the time I finish it, I’m not finished. Maybe I will continue. I’ll see what I mean. But like. And I have that that’s one like aspiration, one other aspiration is just like me and focusing on my peace of mind and be like it and please get over yourself and and meditation. You don’t like that kind of like that is also has to happen. For my own mental health in general. And then I also want to speak Deutsch by the five years inch’allah and I want to have my permanent residency, maybe a passport. Yeah. So that’s the. That’s the plan. It’s not it’s not like. I wish I can say, like, I’m going to follow my passion, because that’s because I lost my vision. My vision was Yemen being glorious with fireworks. This is destroyed. So now I have to find another another inspiration in life.  Uh, that will take some time to develop anyway, so I’m giving myself five years to. Have some structure and like do some, like, self work and take Berlin, shave my head.

OK.
Yeah.

Is there anything you would like to add that might help people in general better understand the life of refugees here?
I have refugee friends. I’m not going to tell you. Go and make a refugee friend from Italy. That’s fun.

Yeah, yeah. 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.