I flick through the pictures of our last trip to Greece, and when I get to Siamand’s notebooks, I cry. I cry because I am in awe of what he and his family are starting with such strength and determination.
Siamand and his wife Nasren have walked their way from Syria via Iraq and Turkey with three young children, have been arrested, sent back…and walked again. When I first met them, Nasren and I were talking in French (she is a French teacher and used to teach in Damascus) but Siamand remained silent, not speaking English, French or any other European language.
After months in the camp, later in a flat provided by Three Peas and now settling in a Thessaloniki UNHCR flat, both children and adults attend language classes.
Siamand’s school notebooks are his first steps in the new land, the gigantic land that is a language.
Sitting on the floor of their apartment, Siamand shows me his Greek book. On the first pages, he has written the Greek alphabet. Next to each letter is its arabic equivalent, and what may be its pronunciation.
I am in awe of this man ready to embrace, to explore two new countries, English and Greek. His eldest son, Baland, reads with us the greek letters. Acquiring knowledge makes the time stand still, whether one is 7 or 40 years old.
I imagine the story through the looking glass:
Leaving behind me my home in London, Paris or Berlin, and arriving in Syria, having lost friends and family on the way. Standing in the middle of Aleppo, holding tight my daughter’s hand and looking at signs I don’t understand, an Alice in a strange world, its meaning escaping me. I am looking for a shelter, a doctor, the school, the bus stop. I am looking for the church, the shop, the town hall… How? How to ask? How to find my way? How to trust and not despair? Here I am, depending on the kindness of strangers…
By making Greek and English his own, Siamand is grasping his fate again. The new words like a magical formula…
This is what he taught me that night:
افتح يا سمسم
[Aphtah ya Semsem],
or “Open Sesame”
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