I moved to London in October 2010. Before the war, people would ask me: “Where are you from?” And when I said: “From Syria,” many people would ask: “Where is Syria?” And I’d say: “Lebanon.” Everyone knew Lebanon.
I don’t know if I’d describe myself as a Londoner. I have an identity problem. The only thing I can call myself is Syrian, because I hold a Syrian passport, which I don’t have any more. You have to give it up when you go for asylum.
Now you feel like it’s really scary for some people to hear the word Syria. At work, people usually understand it’s not just about the war, but it happens a lot. For example, when I am looking for a place to rent, and someone sends me an email saying: “Tell me, what do you do? Where are you from?” You can’t say I’m from the Middle East. You need to say Syria.
I understand that some people don’t know much about Syria, or about other parts of the world. And now all of a sudden it’s in the news everyday. So what people think about is what they see in the news – war and killing. I understand.
I’ve been almost everywhere in central London – every street. I like places which I feel something towards, the streets where I can walk and see things. I go to Hyde Park. It’s not very far, and very quickly you feel like you’re in a forest. Everything around you is green. I really like that.
Sometimes I go to Syrian restaurants, but not very often. I prefer other places. I like English pubs, Iranian restaurants.
Still, I cook Syrian food myself. It’s food I can never get away from. It’s not the dish, but the ingredients, like bulgur.
I have a plan actually to open a cafe, and it’s a serious one. I’m working on opening an Arabic language cafe. It’s not only Syrian, because I teach the Arabic language in general. There will be a section for teaching, where we will hold courses, but at the same place we will have drinks, snacks and probably Middle Eastern food as well. I’ve even got people interested in investing. I really want to do that.
To be a Londoner and part of London, perhaps it really means to not belong anywhere, and at the same time belong to one place. You can be from anywhere, but you have the city in common.
Borough Market – London by Adam Groffman / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Hyde Park by Naor Mark via Creative Commons