Coffee and Jasmine
I met Sameer on the 21st of March 2015, Nawroz, the Kurdish New Year. I had met his wife, Fadya, and their children before along with an NGO working with Syrian children but Sameer was never there, for he worked long hours almost every day. He and his family had been living in Arbat refugee camp, 20km south of Sulaiymaniyah in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since February 2014. In the beginning, despite the fact that they were the only Arab family, life in the camp was good and entering a tent felt very comfortable. It was warm inside, despite the freezing temperature outside. “For a moment we were happy”, he told me, looking at the concrete walls that he has built in the autumn of 2014, when they were moved to a new camp where they could build a house. Then the discrimination began: the Iraqi Kurds, became very suspicious of Arabs, especially after June 2014, when ISIS took Mosul and millions of Iraqi Arabs entered the Kurdish region. Sameer kept focusing on his family and his job trying to ignore the racism that persecuted them. But the children could not ignore the taunts that made school unbearable for them. One day Lama, Sameer’s oldest daughter, described to her mother how the Arabic teacher in her class told them that he hated Arabs, and even more he hated the Arabic language. “What can you do with people like that when they have the education of your children in their hands? There is no future without education.”
I met Sameer at Stockholm airport at the end of October, almost two months after his great journey through Europe. He greeted me like an old friend. At the bus station, he asked for tickets to Fagersta, the city where his brothers live, a few hours away. I reached for my wallet as I couldn’t let him pay for my ticket, but he stopped me with a firm hand. “This is my country now and you will be my guest,” said Sameer, leaving no room for further discussions. Sameer sat next to me: he turned to me, his face suddenly serious, “I hear this word many times these days: refugee. But what is it? What does it really mean? Isn’t it just human? I lived my entire life as a refugee. It is even written on my passport. I am tired. How many times do I have to start from zero again?” How many times can a person start over again I didn’t know: but I saw a man whose struggle I felt and my only desire was to hear his story, as I believed that it was necessary to understand what happens in the heart of a person who has everything, freedom, happiness and wealth and suddenly loses it all.
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- Stefano Carini