A Day in the Life: Syrian Refugee Style

written by Allen Bible Overseas Worker - MB

For Mohammed, each day begins with a prayer to Allah in the early hours of the morning followed by a few more hours of precious sleep. Moving to a new country with a completely new culture that is vastly different from anything previously known is exhausting.

Being responsible for his entire family without knowing the language, the culture, or the support systems in place brings with it many anxieties and stresses. Asking Allah for help seems like a good solution.

So he prays.

When it is time for the family to wake up, they do so. Some do so cheerfully having been so wiped out from the exhaustion of the previous day that they slept well. 

Some struggle to get out of bed to start another day after another night of nightmares—the sound of planes dropping bombs make sleep horrifying. 

Whatever the night was like the morning now has started. Breakfast must be had and clothes must be put on to be ready to walk 30 minutes to school for the primary aged children or to catch a bus for secondary aged children.

Life goes on.

Once the children are off to school, parents take two or more buses to get to the asylum center. Here they are able to access fresh produce from the local food bank which is set out mid-morning.

There are often many people wanting this food and if you miss the time slot then you are out of luck. Once a week refugees are given a bag of long life goods—milk, rice, oil, sugar, canned goods, shampoo, soap, etc. to help offset the price of groceries.

They spend part of their day in a two-hour English lesson where they understand about 20% of what is happening as lovely English volunteer teachers attempt to teach them the basics of how to read English.

They can’t imagine knowing how to do this someday as they’re not even literate in their own language.

Being literate in a completely foreign language is mind-boggling. 

After the lesson, any administrative tasks are taken care of such as setting up a meeting at the Job Center so that benefits aren’t stopped, or checking in at the bank to make sure that the account balance is okay. Having only recently memorized the steps of how to do such things as withdrawing funds from an ATM machine continues to feel strange, but they must force themselves to see this as the new normal.

After the children arrive home from school, they try to ask questions about what has happened in the day in order to keep the family bonds strong. The parents marvel at how the schools have accepted and are helping their children. But they see that their sweet children are lost and not understanding much.

The conversations revolve around how this time of unfamiliarity will be short as they all begin to learn the language better.

Often school days are interrupted with continued doctor’s appointments and trips to the pharmacy. If a cell phone stops working a trip to find out how to fix it (after finding an Arab speaker to help with the translation) can take several hours.

Often many things go unchecked simply because the process of finding out HOW to do that isn’t worth the effort when piled on top of everything else. The entire process is tiring. The children are patient through all of this, but parents are often hesitant to separate the family, preferring to be all-together. Familiarity gives them a sense of personal security. When there is little they know how to do, they at least know how to “be together.”

One thing they miss are the visits they used to receive from neighbors and friends back in Syria and in the countries they fled to. Life in England is very isolated and lonely. A highlight of the week is when someone stops in for a short visit. They take this chance to ask clarifying questions and to give a bit of insight into how their family is doing.

It’s not often that people ask how they are doing.

Quite often they feel like information is being spouted off at them with little exchange of information. Learning to live and survive in a new land brings many  instructors, but precious few friends. Visitors who are happy for two-way conversations are rare, longed for, and eagerly welcomed.

Even someone stopping by who speaks no Arabic is welcomed. Simply being thought of is enough to communicate care and hospitality…even if someone does need Google Translate to put their words in Arabic. J

It seems an uphill climb at the moment, but all are aware that these are the early steps in a long journey, and that with work and determination things will get better.

In any case, they are safe.  Here they are far from the warfare and bombs that destroyed the life they once knew.

And with God’s help they will continue to build a new life here in the UK.