I left Syria in October 2014. I never thought about leaving Syria - I did not care whether there was a war. My family was there, I owned two restaurants and rented another two. I would only leave after the incident.
One of the rented restaurants was in an area dominated by Assad. A good many times, I would give food to the poor for free. However, when people from "Shabiha militia"* showed up I would have them pay for food.
One day two of them came, requesting Kibbeh** for their superior. I asked them whether they had money to pay for it. When they answered no I told them they would get the food as soon as they would bring the money. Hereupon, another five or six men showed up and took me to their superior. They would beat me and the militia was told to cut off my most important finger (the one that is needed to stuff Kibbeh) to keep me from working. They intended to do so with chicken bone scissors. Afterwards, they were to present the finger to their superior.
I gave them money, the equivalent to 100 Euro, so that they would not cut off this finger (points to his index finger) but this one (points to his ring finger ).
This is when I decided to leave Syria. Actually, I did not want to leave. Even though I had lost my house and the two restaurants that were mine, I could still rent other restaurants. Then again, I knew people who had gone to Germany and they advised me to come here.
I did not want my family and children to transit Libya, Italy and so on. You need a lot of courage to do that and I did not expect that of my family. However, there was no way out. Within a month I stopped working altogether to prepare our travels. I sold the car, using the money to go to Beirut on my own, then Algeria (to Algiers, the capital), as I did not need visa for Lebanon and Algeria. First I was on my own in Algeria but then I joined a group of Syrians and together we went to Tunisia and Libya.
There is a homepage for people escaping illegally. It is a Facebook group called „كراجات المشنططين“ (DMG karāǧāt al-mušanṭiṭīn). There is plenty of information such as "will go to Turkey before Ramadan. Get in touch with me if you'd like to join me" or "people smuggler in Izmir, reliable, is organizing a group of 15-20 people to go to Turkey. Give notice if you'd like to come along" or "people smuggler needed from Turkey. Low priced. Via Greece." I got all relevant information from this web page. After the incident, I talked to two of my sister's sons and they gave me a smuggler's phone number.
Afterwards, I would cross the ocean to Italy and later to France, Paris. My wife and two children's route was even harder. They went to Turkey first, took a plane to Sudan, and from there they went to Libya crossing the desert. It would take them 10 days. They were on the move for two months. You need a visa now for the trip. We would stay in touch, however this was not possible in the desert. I have had a tough time.
As long as I am in good health the past does not exist any more for me. All I ever owned in Syria, I accomplished on my own. I can do that again. All material values, the house and the restaurants have slipped my mind. The only thing I still remember and that I will never forget is the finger incident. I am no longer emotionally connected to Syria. Even though my childhood memories are nice, they were followed by nothing but work.
When coming to Germany, I realized that there is not only Syria but a different world. And that is a beautiful world, though different from what I knew: there is no anarchy, but rules and the law. People respect me for what I am. After the incident, I had only two possibilities: to fight against Assad or to get away. But to connect with the opposition would have meant to put my family into jeopardy.
Memories and emotions are not accomplished through and by a location; they are made by the people you love. I can always create new memories.
My family in Damascus is not jeopardized, but my son and daughter go to university in Damascus. That is dangerous. My son was arrested by Shabiha and they beat him. They asked him where his father was. "In Germany." Actually, you are not supposed to say that.. I payed 1.200 Euro so they would let him go. 400 Euro thereof were from my own money. So far, I have 3.500 to 4.000 euro outstanding depts. However, my wife's brother - whom I have never met - has been living in the United States of America for the last 30 years. He sends us money whenever we need it.
Syria is destroyed for generations to come. The different ethnos do not get along with each other any more. Even if Assad were to leave there would still be no outlook for Syria for at least ten years.
*loosely translated "spirits", "ghosts", or "apparitions"; mostly Alawite groups of armed militia in support of the Ba'ath Party government of Syria, led by the Al-Assad family.
** Kibbeh is a popular dish made of bulgur, minced onions and finely ground lean beef, lamb, goat or camel meat with spices. It is assembled by hand. One needs to take an egg size amount of shell mixture and form it into a ball. Then poke a hole in the ball with your finger, making a space for filling. Add filling and pinch the top to seal the ball.
HJIBA | MOHAMMAD & ZAJIN
Hijba, Mohammad & Zajin are living in an apartmenthouse in Stglitz.