Interpreting for Life: Surprising Myself and Others

"People in Greece expect Syrian women to have the hijab and I have no idea how or why they have this stereotype so each time I tell them I am from Syria, there is that look on their face. My name and physical appearance pass anywhere I travel in Europe.” I nod as I look at Sara’s large hazel eyes with golden speckles, her nose stud, and rebellious brown hair with a one-side shave. She is a chain-smoker, but not proud of it. We share the love for coffee and bending the rules.

"When I was 15 years old, one of my teachers changed my life. He made me realize that I was a unique individual and nobody has the right to impose their life styles on me. Before I met him, I lived in a small and dark box without much knowledge about the rest of the world. Soon after, I denounced religions and stopped practicing Islam. I would call myself agnostic today but things may change in time. Moreover, it took me years before I was able to identify and come out as bisexual, which was only possible after I left the country.

I studied pharmaceuticals because of my parents instead of English Language and Literature, which was what I really wanted at the time. It takes five years to get the degree and I finished it on time. I had three main dreams: to learn several languages and become a professional interpreter, to become an independent person and stand on my own feet, and to get involved in humanitarian work. I want to find a prestigious course to become an interpreter so that I can proceed more firmly on my path and I am still looking for an internationally recognized institution for this.

I love dancing so much so that I worked at a restaurant washing dirty dishes during my lunch breaks from the pharmacy in order to afford it. My parents demanded my salary so I had to do it secretly. As soon as the instructor learned about this, he stopped taking my money. Currently, I have no time or money, but one day I will go back to dancing. Meditation is not for me, I need to move my body.

My first day in Istanbul was unforgettable:  December 21, 2015 marked my day of freedom as a young woman. I lit my first cigarette on the street and blew it in the air with an overwhelming feeling of joy. I wasn't able to do it in Syria.

Sometimes, I look in the mirror and ask myself in an affectionate tone: 'Hey Sara, how on earth did you overcome all these incidents in the past two years? You were not even allowed to go to another city by yourself, and now you are in Athens, employed by an international humanitarian NGO after crossing the Aegean on a packed boat from Izmir?'

I am stronger than I thought."


Lifelines: Syrian Womanhoods in Transition | Ozlem Ezer | Berkeley CMES