About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Shatoo Amin in white against a black brick wall

Shatoo Amin

Pictures taken in:

From:

Nationality:

Photo and interview by:

Sweden

Kurdistan

Kurdish

Ali Jehad

We moved here because my dad was a Kurdish soldier and he had been in one of Saddam Hussein’s prisons for two years,” says former refugee Shatoo Amin, 22. She was four when she left Kurdistan with her family. They first moved to Iran, then to Syria; in 2003 they joined her father in Sweden, where he had been living for a year. Going through many changes was hard, but she had her own strengths as a child: “I loved being in the center of attention,” she says, laughing. “That motivated me…to be outgoing and to be brave.” Having older siblings was also “very reassuring,” she adds. “If my sister and brother can do it, then I can too.” The Swedish citizen now works part-time at a day care and enjoys film and acting. “My dream is to become a movie director or an art director.” She also wants to start a company one day. “Where I am now…is a very positive outcome,” she says. “Being able to become whoever I want, like I can study, I can work—I have, like, all the opportunities in the world.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Okay, we are recording. So, we’ve gone through all the basics and I’ve told you about the project and um, to start with, we’re going to go with, you know, your situation now. Like, tell me, who are you?
Well, I am… okay, well, I’m Shatoo Amin. I’m 22 and I… I don’t know what you want me to say (laughing). Okay, I like to… I’m a social, active girl who likes to work out and stay fit, and I’m interested in making film and acting and I enjoy art and yeah. I like being outside in nature, and I work sometimes at a daycare and… yeah, it’s me.

Umhmm, how do you live? What kind of housing do you live in?
Well, right now I live with my mother temporarily, in an apartment and with our dog and my sister as well actually. But the plan is to move out, soon, hopefully, when I get something, so.

Where do you want to move?
I want to live here in Malmö, but I, I would rather live alone and be more independent and yeah.

That’s nice, and you said you live with your mother and your sister?
Yeah.

Nice, how the hell is that?

How’s that? (Laughs) Well they can be challenging sometimes, but it’s, it’s you know, it’s nice to be together in our company and we get along quite well, so it’s fine. 

Especially in these times, I can imagine.
Exactly. (Laughs)

Umm, and you mentioned you like art, you work out, you work at a preschool sometimes. Umm, what do you – is that your main thing? That you work in a preschool? Or are you mainly a student or how do you spend your time?
Well, I’m not a student yet, but I will be. When I start studying in August. But right now, I spend my time, mainly, working out and being, I don’t know, a – I don’t really have any fasta rutiner (daily routines).

Oh yeah, okay yeah, daily routines.
Daily routines, yeah. So, everything is different from day to day. So sometimes I do some acting for commercial jobs or movie stuff, and other days I’m working at the daycare from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then some days I don’t have anything at all and then I’m just home, going to the gym, reading, doing things that I enjoy.

Nice.
Yeah.

And what other things, you mentioned joy. What other things bring you joy, other than reading?

Being outside and meeting new people. Experiencing new things. Yeah. Feeling inspired, watching new, I don’t know, clips and yeah.

You be seem to be living a pretty good life. How long have you been in Sweden for?
We moved here in 2003, so how many years is that?

It’s 18 years.
Okay. (Both laugh)

It’s okay, it’s math. Not one of your

I trust you, it’s 18 years. (Laughs)

It’s all good. Wow, I thought it was longer.
Uh huh?

Yeah.
When did you?

’93.
Okay, that’s 10 years before… Okay.

‘m an old person.
Yeah. (Laughs)

How has your life been? Since, you know, you got here in 2003? Like, what’s been good about coming here? What’s been hard?
Well, in the beginning, when we moved here, everything was new to me and I didn’t really understand what was happening and why we were suddenly in a completely new environment, and…

How old, how old were you?
I was four. So I started going to daycare actually, for a year, and then I started school. But that was very, I didn’t really understand what was happening and why I was there and the language. It was also, it was a bit hard in the beginning, but it came along very fast and then I got used to everything pretty fast and, and yeah things were changing all the time and, yeah. 

So, it must have been a, like kind of a shock and like the change of scenery.
Yeah, it’s like when it was happening, you don’t realize what’s going on. But then afterwards, when you look back and think about it, you’re like, wow, I, I was very confused. (Laughs)

You just, so you just went with it.
Yeah you just go with the flow and then you’re like, okay, now we’re here.

That’s cool, and I I remember a lot of those.
Moments?

The same feelings, yeah, from when I, when I got here, when my siblings went to preschool as well.
Yeah.

Umm, how has living here made you feel?
Well, in the beginning, I, I didn’t think about it so much and I didn’t understand it so much. But now, I feel very good about it and I realize all the opportunities that I have now that I wouldn’t have had if I still lived in Kurdistan. And I, I don’t know, I just appreciate everything about being here and I always try to like remind myself that, how different my life could have been, if we didn’t live here. So I feel very free and happy, I would say.

Um, so do you have family still in, back in Kurdistan?
We do have some relatives there, but most of my family is here in Europe and a bit all over the world, but our closest family is here in Scandinavia.

Mm.
Yeah.

Um, so they’re in other countries than Scandinavia as well?
Yeah in Norway, Denmark, yeah.

Now, how do, like how does it feel to be away from the ones in Kurdistan like uh?
In the beginning, when my grandmother still lived in Kurdistan and my aunt, it was, it was difficult and it was, it was hard. But then when all of our close relatives slowly started also moving here, things felt better. And, yeah, it’s good to be close.

I can imagine. Um, you mentioned that when you were younger, you didn’t really think about it, umm. Do you feel that as you grew up, it was something that other people showed you that you were different or was something that you came from within yourself, that you felt like, you know, that you had something different than other kids maybe didn’t have?
What do you mean other, like different kids?

 

Like, did you, uh is it like is it – like for me, for example, when I grew up, umm, I didn’t, even though I came here when I was seven, I wouldn’t really, like I knew that I came from another place and everything, but I didn’t really think about it so much until I got to the age of, you know, I would go friends’, my friends’ homes, and their parents would belittle me, pretty much. By being like, oh, your Swedish is really good, even though my Swedish, if it was better than their kids, I would always be, you know, the Iraqi refugee kid who learnt Swedish and now they feel to the need to speak really slowly and stuff. So I, I didn’t necessarily feel different, but everyone, because they treated me different, I felt different. That sounds like…
Yeah. For me, I remember that I, the school that I started, it was very like mixed kids, from all over the world. But, I realized, that I slowly came to realize, that like the kids that I felt closer to and had an easier time to bond with, was the ones that weren’t born here. So I slowly came to realize that like it was something was different, but I didn’t really get it. But, when we were talking to get to know each other, it was always the kids who weren’t born here that I, I don’t know, that we, we… clicked.

That you vibed with.
Yeah. (Laughs) We were one. It was us.

Why, why do you think that was?
I just like I, I think like back then, like when I went with the flow and everything, it, I didn’t think about it as much, but then later on, like, that’s when I noticed, like, wow, I like why everything was a bit harder for us. It wasn’t, like, very visible, that it was harder, but like it was still a struggle, like speaking the language and understanding like new words and all – everything, like it’s so much, at the same time, for me it was a least. And sometimes I could see that the other ones that we would feel a bit same like, when we would, when they would introduce us to something new, like for the other kids, it was very like obvious and, you know, but for us it was a bit like, you know, you had to take a step back.

Yeah.
You know, we were more careful also, we were like, we weren’t as like outgoing and, you know, in the beginning. But, but yeah, um…

Do you feel that there was some sort of stigma?
Ish.

Like not towards you, but like around other people maybe who were refugees or weren’t like born here?
Yeah, it was definitely the question like, are you born here? I remember that was a thing. And I knew, I felt like, there was a right and wrong answer. Like, if you would say no, then you would kind of get treated differently. But when you said, yes, it was like oh cool, like you know, kind of like, I don’t know, it wasn’t very clear, but you could definitely like sense it, and as a child, I didn’t really think about it like that, but you, you still, you get an impression and it was always like that every time like somebody in the school or, you know, just to get an idea of who you are and then you kind of get judged, ish.

They’re trying to place you.
Yeah, yeah you feel placed in a category.

So you, even though you didn’t walk around thinking about it –
Yeah.

You feel that, you know, do you think that it impacted you somehow? The fact that –
It did, that made me understand that I’m a bit different than the other kids. But then as well, like there was also some others like me, so I wasn’t completely alone. Um, what was your question?

Do you feel like it impacted you? Like even though, you weren’t, like you didn’t walk around thinking about it?
Yeah, then I would kind of feel that I had to prove something to them. That, you know, I don’t know, it it definitely had some impact, but I, yeah, I can’t really describe it.

Can you tell me, you said you had to prove something.

Yeah, I felt like, you know, I had to, I had to be Swedish. Like, I had to prove to them that I can be like Swedish and like the other kids. Like, it almost felt like you… you’re not as worthy-ish. It’s very weird to say, but yeah.

You’re not the?

You’re not as like, I don’t know, worthy or important.

Oh, oh, oh, yeah.
Like, you know? But it wasn’t that negative, it wasn’t that bad, it was just…

Just you have to jump over more hurdles,
 
Exactly.

Than other people had to do just to be accepted for

Yeah to be accepted, that’s the word, the word I was looking for, like yeah. Like always trying to fit in and be like them, you know?

So looking, looking back at it from where you’re at, at now, like right now, living a great life with a lot of amazing things, umm, could you have ever like imagined then that you would just sail through it all and just have this great life now?
Yeah, I always had a very positive outlook on life and I, I was very self-confident and I believed in myself and I knew that one day I would not even like think about it, it would just be. And I kind of feel like it is like that now.

Do you, is that something that comes from you? Or is that something that you were, like that’s how you were raised or like something that you were taught or something that you just kind of developed as you went through it?
I think it’s something that I developed as I grew up. Yeah, I wasn’t told to be like this, but yeah.

But you think you had those skills always within you? Or is it, you know, based on the circumstances that you went through that you like, okay, I need to do something now and this?
Yeah, I mean, I was, I would always like, you know, wherever I was, I would look for a role model or somebody I looked up to. So I always like wanted to be better and, you know, develop and always like trying. So I think it’s that that I have and I still feel like that every day, like, you know, I always try to make your life better and be healthier and happier and yeah.

Talking about happiness and healthiness, has Covid affected your daily life, anything?

Of course, I find it very difficult to, to, to not socialize as much like I did. It, it gets very lonely and I think, yeah, that has affected me the most. And then, yeah, that’s probably it.

Um, looking back at your childhood first, before Sweden, umm what happened in like Kurdistan? Like do you remember why your family decided to come to Sweden or?

I, I don’t remember. Like then, I was told why we came here and I didn’t know why we moved or anything like that when I was younger. But, what was the question? 

Do you remember why, you know, your family decided to move to Sweden from Kurdistan?
Do you want me to tell you why? Because I don’t remember it much.

No, but like yeah, if it’s what you were told.
Yeah, we moved here because my dad was a Kurdish soldier and he had been in one of Saddam Hussein’s prisons for two years, a few years before we came here. And, and yeah it wasn’t safe for him to, to live there because Saddam Hussein was still alive and all of that and they, yeah, so it wasn’t safe for us and we need him to live there. So that’s why we moved to Sweden.

I’m sorry.
No it’s fine.

I’m sorry that happened. Yeah, we have very similar backgrounds.
Really?

I’ll tell you more about it later. Um, how do, do you remember, you know, how that made you feel growing up? You know, knowing that or
?
Yeah, I, I was always very curious and I wanted to know more. And I didn’t really understand it, but I, I was very curious and I would ask a lot of questions about it, and I couldn’t really figure it out and put together and understand it. But, yeah, when I grew a bit older and kind of understood it, I, I would ask myself, like, why did that happen to us? Like, why did we have, like why? Yeah, it was lots of ‘why’s’. (Laughs)

Yeah, then, I’m betting that, you know – I’m just basing this off my family and parents and, that they’re, they don’t really like to talk about it too much.

Exactly, yeah.

You know, it’s they’re here now.
So you had to be pushy. (Laughs)

Yeah, yeah you have to really, really dig to get any, any…

Yeah, I, I would ask, like, different persons.

Yeah.

I would make sure that I get everyone’s voice to build my own opinion about it, yeah.

Um, how, how was the journey to, you know, to here, to Sweden?

It was, it was easy, I would say, because my dad came here first and he lived here for a year. And when we came here, we first went to Iran and then we lived in Syria for a few months and, and then we moved here. We took a flight, a  plane here. But, yeah, that was also a thing that I didn’t really get because living in Syria, like, I adjusted to that lifestyle quite quickly and then we moved again and, yeah, I think that can be, that can affect you like as a child.

Mm, a change of scenery and environment and language and…
Yeah, so quickly.

Was there anything particular that happened on the trip that you know, that you still think about today or is there something that, kind of, sticks out in your memories?

For me, I just remember, like, the good parts (both laugh). The nice parts, like that we would play with the kids in the neighborhood and like our friends that we had there in the neighborhood. I remember like going out and like discovering the, the city and the food and our neighbors. So that’s mostly of what I remember.

Mm, do you, do any of that, like, you know, both like talk about your dad and the life in Kurdistan, and in Syria and in Iran, do any of those things, like, do they, do you think about them today still? Do they affect your, you know, affect you today as you live this life?
Oh, I don’t really know. I don’t, I don’t really think about it so much, but, but yeah, of course sometimes I think about it and I think, like, wow, I’ve lived in Syria, you know? And, and yeah, I do. I, it comes across my mind sometimes, but yeah, not more than that, because I was so young, but I – yeah. 

Could you, back then, like if you go back to you’re…let’s say, three or four years old, could you have ever, if someone would have told you, like, this is a journey you’re going to go on, like is that something you would have been able to fathom, at the time?
No, not really. But I think my older siblings definitely, I remember my dad, he would tell us like, we’re going to go to Sweden and when we would speak on the phone with him when we were still in Kurdistan and he was here. And then I remember, like, that was a special moment and like my dad was in Sweden, he would tell us, like, here you can get everything and like. And yeah, I would imagine I, I remember I thought like Sweden was this amazing place where there’s like lots of like playgrounds and just like, you know, like a kid imagining the best of –

All the good things.

Exactly, that’s how I thought about it.

Umm, have you developed any form of strategies or coping mechanisms, you know, like you and your family on the trip that you went through? Have any of you guys like developed any, like, coping mechanisms or strategies or something to kind of just that still help you today in life?
Coping mechanisms towards what?

Towards facing any, you know, hardship, you know, like challenges.
That’s a hard question.

Mm, what about like yourself? If you think about yourself now, like living that life as, you know, when you were young, did you develop any form of, you know, strategies or ways of thinking or ways of approaching things that still apply to you now?

I, I, I don’t really know, I can’t really answer that. It’s, it’s more of, you know, why you are, you’re different towards whoever you meet. That is, like I said before, like with the whole ‘where are you born’ thing, so I know, like, I would like act differently and behave differently towards… I don’t know, it was, but I mean, if that’s your personality, you know, you’re different to – 

When I was a kid, I remember I always like I used to watch this TV show called The Chameleon. And it was about, it was about a guy who was running from some military or something, and his ability was that he could adapt to any job or any people or anyone like he had this ability to just kind of melt into his environment. And I remember I connected with that when I was a kid because I was always so different and so whenever I met my friends as a kid, I would always, you know, like, oh, they like these things. And I would be, I would adapt really easily to that. And then I would go to other friends like football and stuff and I would do that really easy to them. Like, you have to become kind of like a chameleon
.
Yeah.

In that sense, um. But it, it is a hard question that has now, especially considering your age, you know, of how young you were back then. Umm, what about… Do you remember where you got your support and strength and stuff when things, kind of, were hard?
It was definitely from my siblings. I would always think, like, my sister, she was older and when I, like she had to experience everything first. And I was the last one because my brother was in the middle. So for me, like that was always very reassuring. Like I would think if my sister and my brother, if they can do it, then I can too. Like going to school like that, for me, that was very scary and like homework and the language and everything. So, I would, I would have, I would be like scared and intimidated by all of these things, but I would always think if my sister can and my brother can, then I can.

Mm, you saw them do it and were like ‘I got this’.
Exactly, yeah. 

Umm, that’s awesome.
So all of my support used to come from them. I thought, like, we could talk about everything together and we would always help each other.

Mm. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Like, you know, like when you ask kids like what do you want to be when you grow up? Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a kid?
Yeah, I, I wanted to be a dancer.

Dancer? That’s awesome.
And also a hairstylist. I was very interested in hair and beauty, and I would love to like go to the salon with my mom and see all these ladies doing their hair and stuff. So it was beauty stuff.

Mmhmm, that’s awesome.
Yeah, but I also always had a vision like that I wanted to, to like perform and like yeah, so.

That’s awesome. Umm, and um, when you guys were leaving Kurdistan, do you remember what you had like expectations or dreams or anything about the future back then? Or were you just kind of, just going with the flow?
Well, for me, it was, it was a deal breaker to see if it was like this imaginary world. Lots of great, amazing things in my head. Um, so, yeah, that’s the expectations I had. But when we got here, I was a bit disappointed. (Laughs)

What time of the year did you get here?
Winter time.

Oh wow, yeah.
That was also the thing, we came in like December or January. I think it was like, the 3rd of, in the beginning of January we arrived here in Sweden and it was just dark, cold, like snow. It was, it was not a great time of year to come here.

I can imagine
.
Yeah.

Umm, do you remember looking at, looking at yourself when you were young, what would you describe as some like as your strength as a young Kurdish girl?

My strength?

Yeah, or strengths. Like, did you have any?
Well, I think I, one of my strengths, was that I, I loved being in the center of attention. (Both laugh) So I think that helped me a lot and that motivated me a lot to be there, like to, to, to be outgoing and to be brave, like and, I don’t know, I… yeah, I don’t, I don’t know.

Have you maintained that strength?
No, like that kind of disappeared a little bit as I grew up, like it became less and less. But, uh, I feel like it’s coming back, yeah.

Why, why do you think it disappeared?
Because uh, like in the beginning, it was easy-ish, like being so small, you adapt fast and you don’t think so much about it, you just do. But then, when I got a bit older, I became a little bit more, a little bit more laid back and like that, but I was still like, you know, kind of… yeah.

Do you, umm… you feel like you’ve grown as a person based on your experience? Like, um, if you’re looking at positive outcomes of everything that’s happened, you know, your family coming here, your dad came here a year before you guys, like, what’s – you know – has there been something that made you grow as a person? Even though, like, a lot of the reasons were maybe not like, not great?
Umm.

It’s a really hard question.
I… can you, can you say that again?

I said, umm, so based on everything that’s happened.
Yeah.

Based on the whole experience.

Yeah.

Has there been anything positive? Like has there been any, been a positive outcome of it?
Well, of course, like being where I am now, for me, is a very positive outcome and like the freedom I have as a young adult, and all the opportunities and yeah, that I have right now that maybe I wouldn’t have had, if I wasn’t here and, yeah, the freedom. Of being able to become whoever I want, like I can study, I can work, I can – I have, like, all the opportunities n the world.

And what is your dream now?
At the moment?

Yeah, tell me that, ‘My dream is…’
.
My dream is to become like a director, a movie director or an art director. And then I also have a dream of starting my own company one day, but I don’t know for what or why, but like a production company maybe, I don’t know. And also, yeah, to, to study UX design, lately I’ve been interested in that.

UX design?
Yeah. So, yeah, my dream is to like work in that industry, I guess.

What is UX design?

Users’ experience, yeah. 

Like user experience? Okay, okay, okay, yeah.

Yeah.

That’s awesome. Well, I wish you all the best in chasing your dreams.
Thank you.

And I’m pretty sure you’re going to go super far and achieve a lot of awesome things. Thank you so much for answering my questions. Is there anything you want to add that might, you know, help other people anywhere in Europe, for example, to understand, you know, what the life of a refugee is?
Mmm, to help understand?

Mm, to help people who aren’t refugees or don’t know refugees to understand what you know, the life of a refugee is.
Yeah, I mean, I would say that like those small things they take for granted is like it’s not the same for a refugee, especially in the beginning, like when you think about like all these simple things to like when it comes to socializing, I don’t know, trying new stuff. Like for me, it was, it was a really big deal, which I think it is for everyone who doesn’t know the language and stuff, like to think about, like, you know, trying to get your meaning across, when you still don’t know the language is, it can be such a, such a struggle. And when you do speak the language, you’re no longer like, think about those things. Yeah, I don’t know if that made so much sense.

It, it makes, made a lot of sense, that was a great answer. That was awesome.

Thank you.

Thank you so much and uh yeah, we’ll end it here.
Nice.

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.