She sighed with relief when she perceived that the murky nights were nearly ended, as she set foot on one of the UK territories. Despite that, Hanan a Syrian woman in her thirties, was unable to silence her mind from begging for answers to all the questions stemming from the fears going around in her head, what now? What awaits us? Will society accept the new extraneous people?
Bite the bullet
When life gets arduous on you sometimes you have no choice but to leave everything destroyed behind you. Then, you discover unobserved energy pushing you to search for safety and peace and hope for a better place to start your life over.
“Most people have the luxury of choosing to leave their country for tourism and return later but in our case the decision to leave was not an option, our hands were tied, we had to leave to preserve our souls and not to see our country demolished,” Hanan said.
While it is difficult enough to start from scratch, but it is harsher to start from under zero, especially when you are in a state of material and emotional stability and suddenly everything vanishes in the blink of an eye.
“In Syria, we had everything, houses, cars, shops. We left our country toward Lebanon with only two blankets and some clothes, hoping to return in two weeks. We did not expect the war would be prolonged and swallow up everything.
“In the first period, we didn’t know if we would soon return to Syria or stay in Lebanon just in one room. “There are loads of things that have changed. We tried to adapt to the new situation, the new people, the surrounding environment, and the culture of the new country.”
“There are loads of things that have changed. We tried to adapt to the new situation, the new people, the surrounding environment, and the culture of the new country.”
After a while, Hanan lost her hope of returning to Syria, especially when their financial stock became scarce, and it was no longer possible to buy even a single biscuit for her son.
Better late than never
Hanan was stronger than fate. She struggled and triumphed over her painful past and decided to get involved in Lebanese society, so she underwent training courses related to health education about many incurable, chronic and infectious diseases. Then she worked as a volunteer with the UN and with Médecins du Monde and other humanitarian organizations that deal with refugee issues.
“Helping people gave me a sense of comfort and reassurance,” she said.
What was disturbing the serenity of Hanan’s life was the fear of the unknown future, such as the one whose back was broken, he will not know comfort until he recovers from his fracture. “I was aware that the stability we had enjoyed in Lebanon was temporary. “Although my work was getting better and I had loads of friends, the fear did not leave my heart, I was obsessed with the illegal presence in Lebanon, as I, and my family did not have identification papers, so my husband suggested having a new trip to Europe to ensure a better future for our children. “Education in Lebanon was not available in the first period for Syrian refugees, so I had to send my son, the apple of my eye, back alone to Syria to one of our relatives to complete his education, so he stayed away from me for two years. Every time I remember that I feel like crying.”
A stroke of luck and cleverness
There is a Syrian quote that says, “The blow that does not kill you makes you stronger.”
This is what happened to Hanan who was able with strength and determination to leave her work and friends for the second time and head from Lebanon to the United Kingdom. A new adventure that is no less frightening than what she experienced before, especially with the great differences in language and culture between her home country and the new one.
“About a month after we applied to the United Nations resettlement program, we were told that we would be deported to the UK. When we arrived at Cheltenham, it was difficult until we got used to the new place. After that, and according to my social nature, I began to get acquainted with the Arab community as well as the British. I learned the language and volunteered with Garas and Cheltenham Welcome Refugees,” Hanan said.
In the first year, Hanan was named Cheltenham’s Best Female Tenant by the municipality and that made her braver and stronger. After a while, she was one of the nominees for the award for the best foreign worker in the city.
“My fears vanished when I met the British in Cheltenham, we were met with love, interaction, and humanity, we never felt like strangers in this beautiful and loving city. During the gatherings, I used to serve Syrian food and my cooking received loads of praise and admiration, and I got tons of encouragement to start a business that would be the first of its kind in this city because it lacks the Syrian flavour,” Hanan said.
Hanan started her own business “Fatoosh” and created a page on social media, and with her skill, she was able to reach the heart of many homes in Cheltenham. “Because I cook with much love and devotion, I believe that I will spread the flavor of Syrian love everywhere and I will achieve what I aim to.”
Jollanar Younes is journalist and Syrian refugee now living in Cheltenham with her family.