A Diary of a Syrian Immigrant in Sweden: Is weed legal in Syria?

Post written by Ines

After several years of living in Lund, Sweden, as an expat/immigrant, I have noticed that there are three kinds of people. First, there are people who do not know anything about the war in Syria and may ask me funny questions such as; “Is Weed legal where you come from?” Second, there are those who know about the situation and are not shy to ask me if my parents are still alive or not. The third kind is the sweetest kind, the ones who are so embarrassingly understanding and nice. Sadly, there are too few of those people hence when I meet one I just want to hug them and cry. However, this blog post is primarily going to be about the first and the second kind of people. To be honest, I actually prefer to be asked about weed than to be interrogated insensitively about how I got here and where my parents are; “are your parents still in Syria?” is usually the first question asked after “where are you from?” It is of course not good for people to be so clueless about what is going on in other parts of the world. But hey, at least they do not leave harsh comments that are hard to shake off.

As a student, I of course engage in the student life and try to forget all about the mess I left behind home. However, people can be so insensitive and that can bring me down in a split second. For instance, I was hanging out with a few friends at a student party when a Swedish guy came up to me and said “hola”, which is Spanish for “hey.” I then said that I am not from Spain, and as we continued the conversation he soon found out where I am really from. His first comment was “Congratulations, you’re alive!” His reaction really shocked me and made me feel uncomfortable. It made me think of all the other people who are not alive and of all the things I am trying to escape from. How can I enjoy myself if every time I meet somebody new they remind me of my worst nightmares?

Oh how I wish it stops there but alas, it does not. The continuous questions about whether I eat pork or drink alcohol, whether I am a Muslim or not, whether my parents are okay with me partying and having male friends/ boyfriends are just few of the insensitive questions I get in my everyday life.

The other day my sister who has recently moved to Stockholm to continue her graduate studies shared with me an interesting story that I would also like to share with you.  A few days ago my sister had an after-work small gathering where they served alcohol. As my sister was drinking her cocktail, a Swedish colleague of hers approached her and told her that the drink she is drinking has alcohol and that she can find alcohol-free drinks in the fridge. Then, of course, my sister was uncomfortable as she told her colleague that she does drink alcohol and there is no need for her to change her drink. People have become so heavily influenced by stereotypes that they have become rude and intolerable. If I do not eat pork or I do not drink alcohol, have no doubt that I will ask somebody whether the food has pork or not before eating it, or if the drink has alcohol before drinking it. However, if I am drinking alcohol just let me enjoy my drink. Is that too much to ask? I think I say this on behalf of many immigrants; we are so sick of trying to prove other people’s prejudice wrong. In every country whether it was a third world country or a first world country, there are all kinds of people. There are the good, the bad, the lazy, the rude, the polite, the religious, the atheist… I am sure if we search somewhere deep in our hearts we can still find our raw ingredients. The human in us does not judge a person by how they look like or where they come from but merely by their actions without daring to generalize. After all, your fingers are not all the same!

What hurts the most actually is that even people who are the closest to us can also be insensitive. The other day, one of the closest people to me, who is also Swedish, was nice enough to help me work on my pronunciation in Swedish. I was trying to play a Swedish song called “Sverige “by the famous Swedish band Kent on my ukulele.  After few days of practice, I had made a really good progress that I had only one word that sounded a bit off. The first thing my friend said was “when you say that word you sound like an immigrant” When I heard those words, I could not control my feelings. I had tears in my eyes although I am not a cry-baby. It actually takes a lot to make me cry. However, I know he did not think too much about the word before he used it but still it hurts so damn much, especially coming from him, someone who knows me so well.

At that moment, I felt that this is always going to be the way things are. Even though I am working hard on learning Swedish, which is my fourth language, the minute I slip people will classify me as an “immigrant”. If you think about it, the actual meaning of the word is “new comer” but the media or even the society has been using this word in a negative sense for decades now. I mean why is it not enough to say that I have an accent when I say that word? He could have also said “you sounded non-Swedish”, which is completely acceptable. I could think of many alternative words that can avoid the sensitivity of the topic.

From the moment I decided to stay in Sweden, I have been always given notes from people on how to act as a swede or how to talk to Swedish people and so on. However, I do not want to learn how to act like a swede. I just want to be myself. There is no doubt that the Swedish culture has affected me during the time I have lived here.  Learning new languages and living in different countries is very essential in order to evolve as an individual. However, that does not mean I am going to melt into the culture I am learning.

I am always going to be my own self which is a complex result of all the experiences I had throughout my whole life. Actually even Swedish people can learn a thing or two from immigrants and international students.

The diversity is the beauty of the society here in Lund. When I walk down the street, I hear so many different languages being spoken and see a wide range of appearances and styles. Instead of hating on us and trying to avoid us as much as possible, Swedish people can try to get to know us and give us a chance to prove who we are. It is never black or white, if we make a small effort we can always find a way to communicate and learn from each other.

It is funny how Swedish people can accept our food culture and fall in love with hummus and Falafel, but they find it hard to befriend us, let alone love us. I admit there are some bad things about our culture, but to be fair all cultures have the good and the bad. We are different, but it does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. When Swedish people do not meet us half way and always assume the worst from us, even when we are students here and contributing to build a better future for Sweden, we are going to give up at some point. Together we can celebrate what is beautiful about our different cultures and try to eliminate the bad. We can teach you belly dance and you can teach us Lindy hop. We can even maybe combine the two and create a new dance called “belly hop” I am not sure how good that dance would be though! But I am sure you get the idea.

It is also very important to mention that I have heard stories from other people and they said that Sweden is considered heaven compared to other European countries in respect to treating new immigrants. However, I am going to be talking about my own experiences in Sweden and I hope they can find a way to tell their own stories. I am happy that of all countries in the world, I ended up in Sweden. I am very grateful that I do not live in a war zone anymore and that Sweden has given me a chance for a better life.

My past, however, is still very hard to deal with, and it is not easy to feel like I do not belong anywhere. I am trying to find home in the people in my life since I cannot find it in a geographical sense. No matter how scared I am of rejection, and how damaged I might be, I am willing to keep on trying. I am not asking you to be nice to people who are not nice to you, but to meet those who are trying so hard half way. What I am trying to say is that people have forgotten that border controls were only established after WWI and they act as if it has always been like this. We need to remember that we have not always been so divided.

We have not always been so distant from each other. We are all humans and we all share this land. Since when was the value of a person determined by where they were born? Nobody has the ability to choose where to be born. I do not understand then why we have to suffer the consequences of that not only by racist governments but also from our friends and neighbors. Generation after generation we all get brainwashed by the media, our educational systems or even our own family that we forget to investigate the truth. We just follow blindly what he said or what she said just because they look as if they know what they are talking about.

The reason why I wrote this blog is to let people know what impact their words can have. I just want whoever stumbles upon this article to think twice before they say something to a new comer, especially native people. It would be awesome if you can put yourselves in our shoes for one second. Would Swedish people be comfortable with a stranger asking them so many personal questions? Swedes of all people are known to be distant and very appreciative of their personal space. It is just bizarre to me that just by being an immigrant we lose our right to privacy and personal space. It is not that I do not want to talk about my life, but I want to have the right to talk about it with my close friends, not every person I meet. I just felt I needed to put my story out there. I know other immigrants may have better experiences or perhaps worse experiences. In any case, I just want to leave it out there for people:

“Yes, I am Syrian. My parents and family situation is none of your business. I do not need your sympathy; I do not even know you. I drink alcohol, eat pork and I am not religious.  Yes, my parents know everything about my life and I do not lie to them or anyone. I have nothing to hide. I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. My path has been rocky and people like you are not making it easier. If you have any humanity left please bare me your insensitive questions and ask me if I like ice-cream for a change.”

People should believe in their ability to love and receive love. I myself sometimes forget that I have love in my heart that extends beyond all borders, all races or backgrounds. We are so consumed with money and power that we have forgotten our own essence; the ability to love and care for one another. I will conclude my philosophical outburst with a Jimi Hendrix quote: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” It is as simple as that; we will never be in peace until we, regardless of ethnicity, learn to love one another.

Original post can be read here

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