The UK was very different from Syria – 800 degrees different. When I was in Damascus, I didn’t really consider myself living any more. And my situation was still a lot better than anyone living under siege.
At first, the change was gradual, but a few months before I graduated with my bachelors degree, things really started to heat up. We began to get used to the horrible sounds at night. At first, I was determined to find a job in Damascus and stay there. But when something happens in the city, and you survive because you weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, the fear starts to grow and grow.
I went to work every day, and I would worry about my mother at home, and she would worry about me, and we both worried about my sister. It was a circle of non-stop worrying.
Imagine a street with a difficult traffic jam before you can get to the office. Your breathing gets really fast, because that is where you get that feeling, that anything could change in a second. You might not die, but be blinded or lose a leg. You just want to get through that street. And you can still hear things happening elsewhere, and think, thank God, nothing happened today.
George and I knew each other in Syria. We were in the same university for our Bachelors degree, and became close friends. Then he travelled abroad. That was really hard for me, and I cried a lot. We kept talking on Skype, and eventually I realised it was time to do something.
At that time, there were no prospects left in Syria. Originally I was planning to study in Brighton, but George encouraged me to choose Bradford instead.
When I left Damascus, it was a relief and at the same time I felt really, really terrible. I remember the last scene as we left. Because we had to take an alternative route to the usual one, we got to pass through the whole city. I looked back. It was a dramatic moment. I memorised the last bit of the city I saw before the mountain hid everything.
When I came to the UK, I was safe. I could start living normally, even though for a period of time I did suffer from panic attacks.
In Syria, George and I had only been friends, but in Bradford something changed. We never considered it when we were in Syria. There was this idea at the back of our heads, but it never really materialised until we moved here. After three years of being away from each other, it just happened.
I am of Muslim heritage. George is of Christian heritage. If we were in Syria, we would be in a relationship but developing it, being comfortable in it and choosing when we wanted to get married would be a lot harder. We would have faced a lot of rejection.
As it turns out, we have managed to get the support of our families. My family is not religious.
One time, with a lot of our Syrian friends in the UK, we decided to go to Brighton, rent a house and have a little holiday together.
On the second day, we went to the beach, and George started showing me pictures of us. I felt a rush in my stomach. Then I saw he had this box I gave him when he first left Syria all those years ago. It was an iconic box from Old Damascus. And inside, was a ring. He gave me beautiful flowers to put in my hair. Our friends were filming the whole thing.
Sometimes I complain about little things. I think: “I can’t find the wedding dress I want – it’s too expensive.” And then I look at myself, and think: “What am I doing?” It’s understandable that people can complain about silly things, but there are more important things in life.
Bradford by Tim Green / CC by 2.0
Damascus by Jan Smith / CC by 2.0