Stories of war are presented as "yet another" refugee's body found floating in the Aegean Sea, "yet another" bombing in a Syrian town, "yet another" refugee trying to get into Germany. Atrocities are presented in large numbers, deceptively allowing for the grouping of all refugees' sorrows into one chunk that can be neatly packed in a newspaper article to be pored over alongside morning coffee and discussed briefly as yet another topic of conversation.
In reality, there is nothing that feels more personal and isolating than having to watch your nine-year-old daughter hold back tears of pain as she crawls through barbed wire to get to safety. There is nothing more intimate than having to lie to your kids during an air raid and tell them they will be okay when you don't even know if you will live long enough to finish your sentence. When war pollutes every facet of your life, when war is happening around you, you will not feel like "yet another" anything.
Close your eyes and imagine being on a dinghy in the middle of the ocean, sitting quietly for an hour in the cold at night, only to suddenly find your boat capsized and your lungs filled with freezing water and your eyes trying to find shore and your arms and legs struggling to keep you afloat and alive.
"Close your eyes and truly imagine what it feels like to not know whether loved ones are still alive."
Close your eyes and truly imagine what it feels like to not know whether loved ones are still alive. Or worse, close your eyes and imagine knowing for a fact that they are dead.
As Syrians, we can tell you that all this was never our norm.
Mohammad, a 15-year-old refugee who lives in Reyhanli, Turkey, wanted to become an engineer before the war. He has a MacBook and plays around with functions about which we have no knowledge. Mahmoud, his classmate, comes to school every day rocking a hoodie with Eminem's face emblazoned on it, and listens to his music every day. Walaa', a sharp 12th grader, spent a week working on her campaign so she can be elected class president, her face breaking into a huge grin when she was announced the winner.
Two years ago, a man at Atmeh Camp in northern Syria gave us Roald Dahl's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and asked for help reading it so he can tell the story to his younger siblings before bedtime. Another student gushed about the boy she had a crush on while describing how he brings her flowers every day to school, even though they live in the middle of nowhere. While a football field was being set up in the camp, hundreds of kids sat on the sidelines, waiting. The shouts and laughter of kids playing soccer in a refugee camp sounded exactly like those of kids playing in American suburbs.
Being a refugee is an alien concept for each Syrian. It is not as if we were trained to take on this label -- our world used to be exactly like yours. We dreamt of being engineers, listened to rap, ran for class president, read bedtime stories, fell in love, played soccer. We did not have to worry about bombs and kidnappings and rapes and murders and torture. War was as alien a concept for us as it is for you right now.
"We are not rabid dogs. We are truly desperate human beings who have been forced to choose between leaving and dying."
But today, we watch the world come crashing down around us every single day and all we crave is survival. We just want safety and security, food and clean water. We want our kids to go to school. When these fundamental human rights no longer became accessible in our country, we left and desperately sought them elsewhere.
We are not rabid dogs. We are truly desperate human beings who have been forced to choose between leaving and dying. And every one of us Syrians will tell you, more than almost anything in the world, we want to go home.
Alas, we also want to live.