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Omar's story

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

You see my joy; you see me smile! Is that obvious?
Yes, I am so, so happy to return back to Syria!

(中文在下方)



I’m Omar from Syria, 30 years old. I’m an architect, an artist and a visual designer.

Since I fled to Lebanon in April 2017, I was not able to go home for three years. It’s not because of the war but owing to the government’s military restriction. The government limits the stay of oversea male adults in the country to no more than 90 days per year if they haven’t served the country's military.

Even though we were still allowed to visit within 90 days, I always had problems applying for the document to go back.

Thanks to COVID-19 for accidentally locking me down in my country, Syria. I’ve already stayed here for more than 90 days!

I remember the day I was traveling back to Syria; it was on the 29th February, very dramatic.

Nobody knew I was back because I didn’t even know if it would even be possible. It just happened.

When I was on my way to my city, my friend was just getting married. I wore a suit arriving at the party without telling anyone. Everybody was so surprised to see me! People were taking more pictures with me than the groom [laughs].

Then I went home. No electricity; it was dark. I knocked on the door and my mom asked, who is it? I said Omar! She was too shocked to recognize me [laughs again]. Lots of hugging and kissing. She was so happy.

I also met so many people on the street. My neighbors, my friends, my previous taxi driver and even the street vendor came to give me a big hug. It was a very happy moment in my life. I still feel so much joy. I’m very blessed to be back to have this opportunity, even though I have to live under lockdown.

Due to the lockdown, I got a chance to work for the Architecture Society and can even devote my time to rebuilding my hometown.

We’re a team of 60 architects in charge of preserving historical buildings. Some were partially destroyed by the war, some are not.

Every time I enter the old city, there is a warm feeling. It’s cool in summer and warm in winter, maybe because there are so many black heavy stones which can save the heat. I sometimes stand on the old building looking at my city’s landscape, it’s astonishing.

We have churches, mosques and palaces that are very old; around 2000 years ago, but they are not archived. Almost nothing is published on the Internet. It’s a matter of time. I draw what I see. I’m very blessed to do this.


I felt I was very happy with my life in Lebanon, but when I arrived in Syria after 3 years, I realised I wasn’t.

These drawings were the portfolio for the art class I took at Beirut Arab University in 2019 when I was completing my degree in architecture.

The first image you see is a girl from a university, she sat in front of me and I drew her face.



The second one, I didn’t plan it this way, but it looks like two figures are mad at each other. They don’t talk to each other.

And the final is drawn in ink – my teacher

asked me to write a description. I wrote, “Someone hits her on her face, and she is sitting on her couch crying.”





My university teacher asked me in class, “don’t you think you’re using too much black and white in your drawing?” I didn't realise it.

She suggested me to pay attention to myself and see a doctor to check how I was feeling. After I spoke to a doctor, he said you might not feel you are depressed until you move on from this period in your life.

I didn’t understand what he meant.






The doctor said to me, don’t hide your feelings.

***

Between April 2017 to February 2019, almost two years I was always looking for a home, a permit to stay, a job, and all basic needs. I wasn’t allowed to stay in Lebanon as I didn’t get sponsorship from either a Lebanese or university. Moving from one place to another, from district to district, I changed houses 18 times, including a Palestinian refugee camp located in Beirut.

I was also not allowed to work legally. The government required most companies to pay high taxes and put other restrictions for hiring foreign employees. It’s really difficult to find a job.

At least two international non-profit organisations were about to hire me, but I lost both chances due to my nationality. I am Syrian.

Once the employer didn’t even find out I am a Syrian during the interview as we spoke in English. On the onboard day, after they heard me speak in Syrian Arabic, I was asked to go home to wait for the call. But I didn’t hear anything from them.

I accepted work as a private driver for a family instead. One day I was arrested by the Lebanese police because he said I did illegal work.

But you know, oh my god, I was surprised that the prison they brought me to was so beautiful, like a five-star hotel!

The design of the prison, from an architect’s perspective, is outstanding. I have seen the condition of prisons in Syria, so I was even considering moving in and staying in Lebanon’s one. I was released two days later though.

Well, most Syrians in Lebanon do that —— working illegally.

I also tried to apply for overseas scholarships. Cambridge University offered me a grant to study architecture, but the UK embassy in Lebanon rejected my application. At the same time, they also lost my papers.

Luckily, in 2019, I got a partial scholarship to complete my study in Architecture at Beirut Arabic University so I could stay in a student apartment. My flat mates were very friendly too.

In spite of all these obstacles, it was still quite exciting for me to learn about Lebanon’s diverse cultures, religions, and their activities. I made many friends across districts in Lebanon. I also freelanced for some companies to design logos and posters to make a living.

It’s still not easy. I had witnessed many Syrian females who were experiencing violence in Lebanon. They were often forced to work at early ages. Once I saw a woman who had to leave her newborn baby in a tent from 9 am. to 5 pm, without anyone looking after him. She had to collect potatoes from the field to earn like $5 dollars per day.


I started realizing, okay, I was hiding my depression.


My friends who live in Syria used to visit me when I was in Lebanon. I was on the other side of my country; I was forced to deactivate my life in Syria and restart it in Lebanon. I remember my family back home has problems with accessing medicine. Why should I be happy about their visit? My friends’ presence reminded me of that pain.

After I returned to Syria, I found my true happiness in my homeland.




Yes, the economic situation is really, really bad here. If you are a teacher, you earn a $20-dollar salary per month. While I’m talking to you, apparently, the electricity is gone [laughs]. Every 3 hours electricity cuts off at a different time to surprise us. And we also started another pandemic. There is a lack of pharmacies, medicine supplies, and drugs.


But I’m happy here. I know the people.
I know how to navigate the roads in the city.

What I want to say is that everyone has their own problem
and that’s enough for you.

For me, it’s a matter of what you love doing to the people you love. When you do what you love in your country, for your people, for your place, it will make you truly happy.

After-interview notes

I met Omar in Lebanon in June 2019 at a farewell party for our Syrian friend. He is such a sweet person and one of the most positive friends I have. After we said a goodbye to our friend, who needed to head back to Syria from Lebanon after our reunion, Omar, another friend and I were walking to the harbor, chatting and chatting. At that time, I felt in spite of what he has been through, he always used his sense of humor to mitigate the negative feelings inside him.

Since then, we have become good friends and caught up via video calls once in a while. This June, I called him again. He picked up my phone with the most shining smile I had ever seen since I met him. I was so surprised and so happy for him too. “How’s everything? Tell me!” I said to him.

“I’m so happy I am finally back to my country!”

Even though Omar might have to leave Syria again after the end of the pandemic, he wants to enjoy the time in his city as much as he can.



你看到我的喜悅,你看到我的笑容!有這麼明顯嗎?
沒錯,我非常非常高興能回到敘利亞!

我是 Omar,三十歲,來自敘利亞。我是一個建築師、藝術家和視覺設計師。

從二零一七年我離開敘利亞至黎巴嫩以來,我有三年都無法回家。不是因為戰爭,而是基於政府對兵役的限制,若是沒有服兵役,敘利亞政府限制海外成年男性,在敘利亞停留時間限制為每年不超過九十天。

即便我們仍被允許在九十天內進行訪視,我申請回去的文件總是遇到問題。

但感謝COVID-19意外的將我鎖在我的國家,敘利亞。
我已經在這裡停留了九十天以上!

我記得我回到敘利亞的那天。二月二十九日,非常的戲劇化。

沒有人知道我回來了,甚至連我都不知道這是有可能的。事情就這樣發生了。

當我在回家的路上,我的朋友剛結婚。我沒跟任何人說便穿著西裝抵達派對現場。每個人看到我都非常驚訝!他們跟我拍照拍的比跟新郎多 (笑)。

然後我回家,敲門。當時,沒有電,非常黑。我媽媽問,是誰?我說 Omar!她被嚇到,無法認出我 (再次笑)。他給了我很多的擁抱和親親,她真的超級高興。

我在街上也遇到了很多人。我的鄰居、朋友、我以前的計程車司機,甚至街頭小販都給我一個擁抱。這是我人生中非常快樂的時刻。我到現在仍能感受到那份喜悅。我很幸運能夠有這個機會再次回家,即使我必須生活在封城之下。


多虧了封城,我得到了一個在建築學會工作的機會,
可以奉獻時間來重建我的家鄉。

我們是由六十位建築師組成的團隊,負責保存歷史性的建築。有些部分被戰爭摧毀,有些沒有。

每次進入老城區,都有一種溫熱的感覺。夏季涼爽,冬季溫暖,也許是因為那裡有許多很重的黑色石頭可以保存熱氣。有時我站在那棟老建築上,看著我城市的景觀,真的很驚艷。

我們有非常古老的教堂、清真寺和宮殿。大約是兩千年前的史蹟,但尚未建檔保存。網路上幾乎沒有任何相關的資訊。時間關乎一切。而我畫下我所看到的。我很幸運能夠做這件事。


我以為自己在黎巴嫩的生活是感到開心的,
但三年後當我回到敘利亞時,我才發現,並不是如此。

***



這些草圖是當我在貝魯特阿拉伯大學完成建築學學位時,藝術課堂的作品集。

你看到的第一個圖像是一個來自大學的女孩,她坐在我面前,我畫了她的臉。

第二張,我其實沒有打算這麼做,但是畫出來後,很像兩個人對彼此很不滿。他們並不想和彼此說話。



最後一張,是用印墨畫的。我的老師請我為這幅畫下標,我寫


下 :「有人賞了她一巴掌,她坐在沙發上,啜泣。」


我大學的老師在課堂上問我:「你不認為自己用了太多的黑和白嗎?」

她建議我多放些心思在我心理的狀態,或許可以去看醫生,了解自己的感受。我在與一個醫生聊聊後,他說你現在不會感到此刻的自己是沮喪的,一直到你從人生的這個時期走出來。

當時的我,不是很明白他的意思。

醫生和我說,不要隱藏你的情緒。

***

二零一七年四月到二零一九年二月之間,將近兩年的時間,我一直在找一個家、一個居留許可、一個工作以及所有其他基本需求。我不被允許停留在黎巴嫩。我從一個地方搬到另一個地方,從這區搬到那區,我換了大概十八個房子,包括在貝魯特的一個巴勒斯坦難民營。

我也不被允許合法工作。黎巴嫩政府要求大部分的公司,如果要雇用外國人,要繳高額的稅,還有很多的限制。真的很難找到工作。

當時有至少兩個國際非營利組織要僱用我但因為我的國籍,我丟了工作。我是敘利亞人。

有一次雇主在面試時並沒有發現我是敘利亞人,因為我們用英文。但在上班第一天,他們聽到我阿拉伯文帶有敘利亞口音後,便叫我回去等候通知。後來就沒有下文了。

我後來接受一個家庭私人司機的工作。可是有一天,我在工作時,被黎巴嫩的警察逮捕,說我違法工作。

但你知道,天哪,我超級驚訝,
他們關我的監獄非常漂亮,像一家五星級飯店!

從一個建築師的角度,監獄的設計非常出色。如果你看過敘利亞監獄的樣子,就會想搬進並留在黎巴嫩的監獄中。兩天後,我被釋放了。

沒什麼,大多數的敘利亞人在黎巴嫩都是這樣——非法的工作。

我也嘗試申請海外的獎學金,劍橋大學甚至願意提供我獎學金,讓我去念建築,但駐黎巴嫩的英國大使館拒絕了我的申請。同時,他們也弄丟了我的文件。

算是幸運地,二零一九年,我獲得一個部分補助的獎學金,我因此得以在黎巴嫩完成大學學業並住在一個學生公寓。終於,我不用再尋找住處。我的室友們也很友善。

即使有這麼多的困難,在黎巴嫩的生活還是很令人興奮的,我得以學習他們多元的文化、宗教和各種活動。我也交了來自黎巴嫩不同地區的朋友。我還能夠經營自己的自由業謀生,像是我幫助一些公司設計標誌或海報之類的。

但這仍然相當不容易。我曾經目睹許多敘利亞女性在黎巴嫩遭遇暴力的情形。她們時被迫要在年紀很輕時開始工作。有一次我見到一位婦女,她必須留她剛出生的小嬰兒在帳篷內,從早上九點到下午五點,沒有任何人照顧他。因為她需要去田裡採集馬鈴薯,賺取一天五美金左右的生活費。

我開始意識到,好吧,我在隱藏我的憂鬱。

在黎巴嫩時,我在敘利亞的朋友們經常過來拜訪我。但我在我國家的另一端。我被迫將在敘利亞生活中很活躍的那個我給除去,並要在黎巴嫩重新開始。我也記得我一直擔心在敘利亞家中的家人,有取得藥物的困難。為什麼我對他們的到訪感到高興?我朋友們的存在使我想起了那種痛苦。

在我回到敘利亞後,我在我的家鄉,發現我的幸福。



是的,這裡的經濟情況確實是非常、非常地糟糕。如果你是一名老師,你每個月的薪水是二十美元。是的,當我開始和你談話時,停電了(笑)。每天每三小時電源就會在不同的時間被切斷。而我們還開始了另一場疫情。我們這裡缺藥局,缺醫療用品,也缺藥物。

但我在這裡很開心。我認識這裡的人們。

我在這城市能行走自如。

我想說的是,每個人都有自己的問題,

而那對你來說已足夠多要去承受了。

對我來說,這是一個關於你對你所愛的人的課題,你要為他們做什麼。

當你在自己的國家、對自己家鄉的人群、對你所在之處,從事你所熱愛的事,那會使你獲得真正的快樂。

採訪後記:

二零一九年的六月在黎巴嫩,我們的一個敘利亞朋友的歡送派對上,認識了 Omar。他是一個如此笑臉迎人又可愛的人。在我們與在團聚後要趕回敘利亞的朋友說再見後,Omar、另一個朋友和我一起走到海港聊天。那時,我感覺儘管經歷了什麼,他總是用他的幽默去減輕內心的負面情緒。

自從那之後,我們變成好朋友,偶爾會視訊通話。這個六月,我再次打電話給他。他接起來,伴隨著特別燦爛的笑容。認識他以來,我從未見有過這樣的笑容。我十分驚喜,也為他高興。

「最近怎麼樣?告訴我!」我對他說。

「我好開心,我終於回到我的國家!」

即使在疫情大流行過後,他可能需要再次離開敘利亞,他想盡可能享受他在他城市的時光。


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