A version of this article appeared in the Syrian Sun on March 15, 2012.

By: Mouhanad A. Al-Rifay

Leaving your country without knowing if you will ever be back is more than difficult. Leaving while carrying with you the burden of condemnation by all those who were close to you is even worse. Having close friends turn into enemies, living under a constant threat of death and knowing that no one cares is horrific.

In 2005, I expected to lose my parents at any minute. Unconsciously, I was preparing myself for the worst, every day. And the worst came very close. Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Bashar al-Assad, then head of the Military Intelligence and now is the deputy Minister of Defense of Syria, after long interrogation sessions threatened my father with immediate death if he persisted in his activism. This would have meant the end of my whole family and probably of me personally. Within a short period of time, my mother packed as much of our precious belongings as she could fit in suitcases and, by a miracle, we fled what’s was long known as Assad’s Syria.

Twenty four hours later, we landed in Washington DC, on a completely new continent, we were strangers, but we were safe. Ever since that day, September 7th 2005, I have been trying to belong to the United States. Every day for me has been a constant struggle to find a place. In High School, I was able to make many friends, but deep down inside, I remained an outsider. When I moved to college, things changed. People from all over the world attended my university and I felt more at ease because I was not the only stranger anymore. However, I have somehow become a stranger to my people. I would often hear Syrians talking in Arabic in the hallways or laughing about Syrian incidents and jokes that only us Syrians can understand, and many times I would stop and say “Hello.” Most of the times, we instantly became friends but once they heard my story they avoided me, probably out of fear. Although I was able to understand their reasons, I was deeply hurt.

All we ever wanted was for our country to be free: free of corruption, crime, fear and dictatorship.

All we ever wanted was for our country to be free: free of corruption, crime, fear and dictatorship.  My parents only wanted my people to have better chances in life, good education and promising future laden with opportunity. We dreamed of a Syria that we deserved to belong to: a Syria with clean streets and happy faces. We wanted a Syria where all people had equal right and opportunities, and freedom of speech. Yes, because of that, we were turned into “out-laws.” These are the rules of dictatorship.

Over the years, my struggle to belong in the States became easier. I was able to bury the struggle down inside where I can ignore it without forgetting about it. And when I finally reached a comfortable level, the Ides of March hit me like a tornado. Although I knew about the plans for March 15th, I did not want to believe them. I wanted to shield myself from the pain of disappointment. Yet, lo and behold, on March 15, 2011, my daily struggle to belong to the U.S. came to an end.  Although my body is here, my mind, heart and senses returned to Syria to the rebel strongholds. I belong there – where the revolution is alive and well. The Revolution gave me back my country, my people and my home.


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