About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    The Mad Journey
    The Final Gamble

    Our author, a photographer who documented the revolution and civil war in Syria, came to Germany with the great wave of refugees in 2015, via the Balkan route. In this article she explains her reasons for leaving Syria and reports on her experiences, feelings, fears and hopes.

    The previous five years hadn’t been easy because life doesn’t revert to the way it was when you lose your house and your friends and, above all, your country. The process of transformation from citizen to refugee takes place gradually, but I didn’t understand that immediately, because I was often moving around inside Syria and also in Turkey.

    I left home in the middle of 2012 and I still haven’t been back. Moving around inside Syria didn’t dispel the sense that I was still at home, even when I was far from home, because I was still within familiar surroundings. In Turkey, the term ‘Syrian guests’ tricked me into thinking that I wasn’t a refugee, and in fact I wasn’t proud of being a refugee and taking the decision to leave wasn’t easy, but the way to Europe became easier than the way that led back inside Syria.

    Seven countries before settling down

    I opened the map: ‘only’ seven countries lay between me and the stability I was seeking. Not only that: a considerable amount of money needed to be raised too, but I said to myself: ‘It doesn’t matter. Two thousand dollars is what it costs to buy a life after all this death.’

    I wasn’t thinking about drowning when I waited on the beach at the trafficking point. And I wasn’t thinking of it when the traffickers piled us into a rubber boat and left us to drift on the waves. I was just counting the time, while the boat filled with water and women and children started screaming at the waves that splashed onto us passengers. The men made sacrificial offerings to the sea. They gave up their remaining possessions – things they had accumulated over the years to help them in their search of a new life for the sake of survival. For just half an hour we had to not drown. We had to keep our balance for just half an hour until we arrived, but how slowly the time passed! Two and a half hours seemed like eternity.

    We all threw ourselves onto the Greek shore. Some people wept for joy, unable to believe they were still alive. Others laughed hysterically because they had cheated death, because Syrians wrestle with death a hundred times but find a way to survive at the end of the day. I knew that the journey had only begun, but I didn’t realise what an ordeal would await me before I reached my objective. I wasn’t thinking of anything at that moment. I was happy because the most dangerous part of the journey was now behind me.

    Day of reckoning

    People were lined up on the border as if it were a scene on the Day of Judgement. From one country to another these men, women, children and old people had been walking on a journey in search of the hope of a better life. Then we squeezed onto trains in whatever spaces were available; in narrow corridors between compartments, and even in the areas that separate one carriage from another, you would find piles of human bodies spread out on the floor in a state of exhaustion.

    At every border post, aid organisations had workers handing out clothes and blankets. The volunteers offered us hot tea as well. But in Serbia there weren’t many volunteers and the police hadn’t organised anything. We had to stand in the open in lines in the rain. Women, children and old people were not given priority. Some families spent three days waiting before heading off to their next destination.

    We travelled across whole countries by train and at the border the policeman would shout ‘One line’, repeating it and explaining what he meant by using his hands. We crossed the borders on foot in the rain and the mist: ‘One line, one line.’

    In Hungary we had to tramp through a swamp of mud close to a hill where a police car was parked, watching from afar as an old woman hobbled along with a pink walking stick in her attempt to cover all those miles. In one queue we shared stories of horror and survival about sea crossings in rubber boats . The sea no longer meant the same to all those who had crossed it. We started to hate the sea and the sand because of the traces they had left in our memories. At the time I didn’t feel as I do now when I think about the journey. On the way you worry mainly about arriving. You only think about the next stage, the next country, the train that will take you across it. You only feel tired when you arrive.

    The camera, death, and revolution

    When I picked up my camera at the beginning of the revolution I wasn’t worried about death. The impulse to send the picture to the outside world was enough for me. For four years I went around with my camera, and with death at every step I took, until a decisive moment in 2015 when death became more common and ceased to have any meaning. Why should I die if my death wouldn’t change anything? The question nagged me every time I tried to travel around inside Syria.

    When we take the decision to leave, we refugees look for a new country, because our own country no longer offers us a chance to live. Quite simply, death has arrived to claim its share of the country. And it is the instinct to survive that drives large numbers of people to make this crazy journey, to take this last gamble.

    Germany and the bureaucracy of documents

    So here I am, in Germany for the past four months, still moving from place to place. When I arrived I didn’t realise how hard it is to live in a legal vacuum. The bureaucracy of documents came as a shock. A small piece of paper now gives me the freedom to move around and look for work. There is disorder and disorganisation in this country, which is known for its orderliness. The piles of papers on the desks of the civil servants show how much pressure there is on the German government. ‘You have to be patient because there are large numbers of refugees in Germany’ – this was the answer I heard to any question that I posed.

    Now I’m living in a distant place on the border, in a sports hall. I’m one of the residents of box number 9. The sounds of planes and bombing pursue me in my unconscious and come to the surface during sleep. I dream I’m in Syria, pressed against a school wall with my camera, taking cover from the warplanes that are bombing the neighbouring street and retracing their steps to drop a barrel bomb on the school. I see black and then wake up.

    A part of my self will reproach me because I’m still alive while children are still dying of hunger or from barrel bombs and other bombs. In 2016, five years after the outbreak of the revolution, the world still sees us as numbers. We are used to numbers of dead bodies, but now we are numbers of refugees.
    Nour Kelze, born in 1988 in Aleppo, Syria, has a BA in English literature from Aleppo University. At the start of the Syrian revolution she became a news photographer documenting events in Syria for Reuters news agency. In 2013 she won an award for courage in journalism from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

    Translated by Jonathan Wright

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    June 2016

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