HUFFINGTON POST

The Diary Of Syria's Piano Man On His Escape To Europe

An extraordinary odyssey, in his own words.

For four long years of Syria's civil war, Ayham Ahmad found a way to bear the unbearable. 

The 27-year-old musician took his piano out onto the streets of Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, and played songs about the struggle to survive with a chorus of family, friends and local children. They sang of hunger, friends who had fled or had been killed, and their longing for peace. 

After Islamic State militants stormed the camp in April and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front extended its control over the area, Ahmad moved his wife, son and daughter out of Yarmouk. Shortly after, an Islamist fighter stopped Ahmad as he tried to wheel his piano out of the camp and set his instrument on fire.

Ahmad, whose songs once implored Palestinians and Syrians not to risk their lives trying to sail to Europe, finally decided it was time to leave.

As he set out in the hope of providing a better life for his family, Ahmad has documented his journey in a series of Facebook posts he calls "Diaries of a Traveler in the Sea." (Ahmad's first name can also be transliterated as Aeham, per his Facebook account.)

He also sent The WorldPost images and audio messages documenting his journey in Arabic, which are compiled below with his earlier Facebook posts, to tell the story of the odyssey in his own words. 

This story has been updated as Ahmad progressed along his journey and shared more stories along the way. 

Leaving Syria 

 Early September

Ayham Ahmed plays the piano for his troupe of singers on the streets of Yarmouk, Syria, on Feb. 6, 2014.
Ayham Ahmed plays the piano for his troupe of singers on the streets of Yarmouk, Syria, on Feb. 6, 2014.

I left the camp after life had stopped. It was the breaking point. I had to leave.

I left Yarmouk to go to Damascus, but I suffered there even more. So I traveled to Homs, and from Homs to Hama, and from Hama to the Turkish border. The journey cost around $5,000 in payments to the smugglers and there were a lot of problems along the way.

I walked for five hours through the mountains to reach Antakya, on the Syrian-Turkish border. From there, I took a bus for 16 hours to arrive in Izmir.

I witnessed many things on this strange journey. The smugglers took our money but didn't ensure our safe arrival. There were many Syrians and Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria with us on the journey.

The Search For A Dinghy

Sept. 10, 2015

"I saw lots of people spending their days and nights on the streets."
"I saw lots of people spending their days and nights on the streets."

When I arrived in Izmir, I saw lots of people spending their days and nights on the streets, in the mosques, and in the parks because they couldn't afford to stay in a hotel. 

I decided to take a rubber dinghy to Europe, but when I saw the boats they had around 70 people in them, crammed on top of each other like matches in a matchbox.

The sight of these boats made me feel weak, but I knew I had to complete the journey for my children Ahmed and Kenan, and for my mother and father and my wife. I had to complete the journey to Germany so that I could be in a good place for my family. So I decided that I would still take one of the dinghies, at a cost of around $1,250.

When we boarded the rubber dinghy, we were surprised to find that the motor engine was rusted and decaying. The engine wouldn't start several times. The smuggler didn't do anything to help us. He just kept shouting and screaming at people. There were sharks clustering around the boat, very close to me.

So we decided to wait and try again the following morning.

Ayham posted a photo on Facebook of himself wearing a life jacket before making the sea voyage.
Ayham posted a photo on Facebook of himself wearing a life jacket before making the sea voyage.

 

 Crossing The Sea

 Sept. 16, 2015

"The water we crossed looks like the Black Sea or the Mediterranean Sea." 
"The water we crossed looks like the Black Sea or the Mediterranean Sea." 

The boat was scheduled to depart at 5 a.m. The smuggler asked us not to turn on our phones, not to smoke and not to turn on any lights so the Turkish and Greek coast guards wouldn't see us. I slept in the woods for about an hour.

When I woke I found some guys I was traveling with setting up the inflatable boat. The smuggler is meant to do this, but we just wanted to get there safely so decided to do it ourselves. We had made a deal with the smuggler that he wouldn't let more than 40 people get in with us, but we ended up with more than 67 people and a lot of baggage.

The water we crossed looks like the Black Sea or the Mediterranean Sea. There were very strong waves. But on that day the sea was quiet and smooth. Thanks to God. We trusted in God and God protected us.  

Reaching Europe's Shores

Sept. 16, 2015

 

Ayham and a fellow traveler arrive on the shores of Lesbos.
Ayham and a fellow traveler arrive on the shores of Lesbos.

I finally reached the borders of Europe, the Greek island of Lesbos. The sights I saw there were also terrible -- I saw many people, including the elderly, sleeping in the streets. It was really upsetting.

I felt that Europe was not more beautiful than my home in Yarmouk, but because of the presence of the militants in the camp, life there had become unbearable. I want to return to the camp as soon as the situation improves.

Europe is a land of freedom. Now that I'm in Europe I can continue to keep singing about life in Yarmouk and the people who live there.

Boat To Athens

Sept. 17, 2015

 I took a large boat to Athens with many other refugees. 

 

Macedonia

Sept. 18, 2015

 

Ayham posts a selfie from the bus journey from Macedonia to Serbia.
Ayham posts a selfie from the bus journey from Macedonia to Serbia.

The hardships of Syrian refugees were everywhere we went. 

Serbia

Sept. 19, 2015

A photo of the encampments where migrants and refugees sheltered that Ayham saw along the way.
A photo of the encampments where migrants and refugees sheltered that Ayham saw along the way.

The journey through Serbia took eight hours by bus. The refugees there were sleeping in the parks.

 Walking To Austria

Sept. 21, 2015

 

Ayham plays the piano upon reaching Vienna.
Ayham plays the piano upon reaching Vienna.

After Hungary expelled us from their territory, we walked to this camp in Croatia, on the border of Austria. The situation in Croatia was bad, full of rain and sickness.

When we reached Vienna, I met a guy from Yarmouk who was my friend and a member of our band in the camp, who is also making the journey.

In Vienna, I played on a famous Austrian piano called the Bösendorfer. Yarmouk is in my heart, and it will remain in my thoughts and in my music.

 Germany, At Last

Sept. 22, 2015

We're in Munich. We finally arrived. 

Thank you for the wonderful reception -- the letters and children's drawings.

The first day in the camp in Munich, I met a wonderful German guy. We spoke about Yarmouk and sang a song from the camp (to a rock and roll tune.) The voice of Yarmouk has been raised up in this camp for migrants. 

UPDATE: This story has been updated after several videos became unavailable. 

Rowaida Abdelaziz and Mehreen Kasana contributed to this report. 

CONVERSATIONS