#5YearsWeFled: The Kindness of Strangers

Photo: Syrian refugees arrive at the Greek island of Kos on a dinghy. Picture taken 12 Aug, 2015. Reuters/Yannis Behrakis This series is from interviews with the lawyer Ayman Jalwan. It highlights the difficult choice that Syrians face—dying in the war zone that Syria had become, or flee the land he loved. Last year, he and his wife said goodbye to their families and joined the wave of citizens leaving the country. First they had to make it to Turkey. Then they needed to cross the cold Mediterranean to Greece. After that, they would have to deal with human traffickers in Eastern Europe to reach one of the few nations willing to welcome them: Germany. In this blogs series, Ayman Jalwan explains the decision to leave, the trials he and his wife encountered along the way, and the consequences of their decision.

So once we are in Turkey, we go to the city of Gaziantep. I don’t know anyone there. So when we arrive there in the middle of the night, I don’t know where to go. I want to go to the station to take a bus to Izmir. From Izmir we will travel on to Europe. But we want to stay in Gaziantep to sleep. We are very tired. I want to take a shower. So where we can go—to a hotel? I don’t know any hotels there.

So I see a man at the station speaking Arabic, a Syrian man. I ask him, “Can you tell me where I can find a good, cheap hotel for tonight?” He says, “You are coming from Syria?” I say, yes, with my wife. He says, “My friends, this hotel is very dangerous. You have your papers?” I told him no. “You entered Turkey illegally?” I told him yes. He tells me I can go to certain special hotels that will take one in without your papers. “But it is very dangerous for you—and especially if you have a woman with you.” So I told him, no problem, I will pay money. He told me—and I don’t even know him!—“Ok, I will tell you where to go, but it is very dangerous for you.” I said to him, I don’t know what else to do, I have no choice. I have to go there. He told me, “Ok, I will tell you where to go.”

So then he called someone, an older Turkish man called Fowzi who has a car. The Syrian man tells Fowzi, “This man and his wife need a hotel to spend the night. Tomorrow he wants to go to Izmir, so can you tell him where the good hotel is.” Fowzi says, “But it is very dangerous for him.” I tell him, I don’t care, no problem. He says, “No, it is a problem! You don’t know this area! It is very dangerous here in these times, and especially for you because you have no papers, you could be robbed. What do you think about coming to my house instead?” My wife pushes me and says, no, we don’t know this man! How can we go to this place, we can’t go with this man! But me, I don’t know. He insists, “Come with me, don’t be afraid of me. It’s just me and my wife. It is no problem, my son.”

So I don’t know if I should tell him “Ok,” but my wife keeps saying, “What, are you crazy? We don’t know him! How can we go with someone we don’t know!” I said to my wife, my instinct tells me that I’m comfortable with this man—I don’t know if I should trust this feeling or not. I don’t know! So I tell Fowzi, ok, no problem, we will go with you. When we arrive at his house, we meet his wife who is very nice, and they give us a room—a special room with a good shower. They are very good people. I don’t know if he wants money for the room, but I’m ready to give him money. I want to offer it to him. But he refuses. His wife, he says, is from Syria.

So then he asks me, “Where do you want to go tomorrow?” I told him, I want to go to Izmir. “Why? Don’t tell me you want to cross the sea to the Europe.” I told him, “Yes, I have no choice.” “But it’s very dangerous for you. What are you doing, my son? You have a future! Do you want to die? It’s very dangerous for you!” I told him, “I can’t stay in Turkey because I don’t know the language.” I heard that it’s very difficult to find work here; it’s very expensive. If you don’t have money, you can’t stay in Turkey. I told him, “I have many friends who have been in Turkey now for three years, and they are not able to find a job. So what can I do?” He says, “If I find you job, will you stay here?” I’m shocked by this. I say, “What are you talking about? I have friends who have been for three years and have not found work! How can it be possible that I find a job on the very night I arrive in Turkey?”

Fowzi makes a phone call. Then he asks me, “Do you speak English?” I say to him, “Yes.” He asks, “Can you work in Mersin?” Mersin is a tourist city on the Turkish coast. It’s beautiful. There are many hotels. “What?” I say. “I have friend who has a hotel there. He just wants someone to work at the reception, or as a cashier. Your food and your room would be free, and they will pay you 1,500 lira (around $525) a month.”

The pay is good for Turkey. It’s a dream. Everyone would want this job. I’m shocked. And my wife doesn’t want to go to Europe—she would prefer to stay in Turkey. But I tell him, I can’t change my plans to go to Europe just like that. He said, “My friend, think, you have until the morning. If you want this job, I can help you. And if you don’t want it, I can drive you to the bus station tomorrow. So take your time.”

That night my wife and I discuss it. We say to each other, “What do you think, what do you think?” Then we make our decision: We have a dream, we want to go to Europe. So I tell him in the morning after breakfast. He says, “Ok, no problem, I would prefer that you stay here because it is dangerous for you.” I told him, this is our decision.

He is a very good man. He takes us to the garage and pays for our two tickets to Izmir. It is very expensive, but I have money, no problem! Please let me give you the money, I say. But he refuses. He says, “No, no, no, you will need this money. I just want to have a phone number to stay in contact to be sure you are safe, please.” So I give him the number of my sister in Syria. Later, my sister tells me that he was calling every day to ask how we were.

Ayman Jalwan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is a Syrian lawyer now living in Germany as a refugee. Interviews conducted by Claudine Weber-Hof.


Image: Photo: Syrian refugees arrive at the Greek island of Kos on a dinghy. Picture taken 12 Aug, 2015. Reuters/Yannis Behrakis