“My grandmother Nadia: the journey of a refugee” is a first-person short memoir on Nadia Kahlouf’s refugee journey in 2013 written by her granddaughter, Rita Audi. As the real and dangerous situations of millions of Syrians fade to become just a speck of data that many overlook, books like this are necessary to understand the harsh reality of this crisis.
“My name is Rita, and I am a 19-year-old student living in Toronto. When I immigrated to Canada eight years ago, I began a journey in a land that changed my life forever. Canada is a home that welcomed me, embraced me, and provided me with every opportunity that I never dared to dream of before. But there are millions of people left in my country, Syria, who continue to suffer and fight for basic human rights every day.”
Syria fell under a totalitarian regime back in the 1970’s when the Assad family took power. During that time, Nadia Khalouf was a teacher and lawyer who saw her work become drastically suppressed. She wanted to teach the children how to think, but the curriculums changed to praise and glorify the regime. She believed in equality and integrity, but there were no such things in the justice system. She wrote poems and short stories for different publications which advocated gender equality and values that were not well received. As she shared those thoughts with the world, she was in danger; freedom of speech was robbed and killings by the regime were common.
The Syrian Civil War began in 2010 when the population started to protest against the government’s suppression, and it is currently in its tenth year of war. An article by BBC explains the development of the conflict more deeply.
Rita: “Ever since the beginning of the civil unrest in 2011, millions of innocent citizens were killed, tortured, forced to relocate, starved, and stripped out of almost every basic human right. Right now, there are over 9.3 million people who are food insecure in the country. That is more than half of the population, and this number is rising every single day. Syria is suffering, and it is suffering in many unimaginable ways. Above 80% are below the poverty line, meaning that many families are forced to choose which kids they can feed every night. Over 6.5 million people are internally displaced and living in camps with very minimal supplies. Schools and hospitals were destroyed by bombings and airstrikes, and children were killed in several chemical attacks. Right now, the price of meat is too high for many families, and the economy is flatlining. In fact, the first positive COVID-19 case was just confirmed in Northwestern Syria, and the spread of this virus will cause very dire and disastrous conditions within the area”.
In her memoir, Khalouf begins to narrate how she was living in the United Arab Emirates when the civil war started, but her permit to stay there ended in 2013. She knew that she had to leave the Middle East; if she went back to Syria, her life would be in danger. One of her daughters was with her, the other in Canada, and her son in Turkey. Through the entirety of the book, the hope of getting her children to safety is declared as Khalouf’s main goal, and that selflessness in the middle of a life-or-death situation proves that the power of a mother’s love knows no limits. Yes, Khalouf wanted to leave the Middle East, but she wanted her children to go first.
Khalouf was an elderly woman when her journey started, and she suffered from serious medical conditions. In the pages of her memoir, she retells her moments in the sea, in jail, and dealing with smugglers. Khalouf urged her children to go and traveled alone for the rest of her journey; she had to cross borders where she was captured, was tricked by smugglers who took almost all her money, was hit by a car, and put in jail without her medicine. She was afraid to ask for a drink on a plane in fear of being discovered. This book is not just about the lows of her journey, however. It is a story of strength and determination amid adversity; it does not lionize the fact that she underwent a life threatening situation. Khalouf did not stop writing during her travels: she wrote articles about the corruption of Syria’s regime, the situation in the country, her experience in Santorini’s prison, and so much more.
After her stay in Turkey and Greece, she flew to Italy and then Sweden, where her son and one of her daughters had settled in after their own escape. She was determined to learn the language, help her Syrian peers who had gone through the same journey as her, and write about the injustices millions of Syrians were experiencing so that the world could hear about it. The reader feels the situations alongside Khalouf. One can feel the desperation in her writing at some points, such as her realization that the smugglers had taken all her money for resources that did not require that much money (like a fake passport), or the time she spent the night screaming in prison because the rooms were overcrowded and went without food. However, Khalouf’s determination was stronger than that: by the end of the book, readers can feel a little ray of hope as well as the strength in her spirit inspiring everyone to keep going.
The memoir aims to spread awareness about the plight of refugees everywhere. It is a raw representation of the stories of millions of people, a necessary representation. These are not just numbers or statistics that one can see in the news. Every single one of those people have stories the world should listen to, so as not to normalise the situation that is currently going on in the Mediterranean area. The reading experience might feel unreal; it is a privilege to learn about those situations from a book rather than real life, and that is why turning our backs on this situation is not an option. The book also aims to fundraise for people left in Syria who need help and support. In this case, all the royalties are sent to a family living in Northwestern Syria: Sameeha and her nineteen grandchildren, who live in extreme poverty and find it difficult to even have a meal every day. She lost her six sons during the war, and is the only provider for the family. In addition to this, one of her grandchildren was recently hit by an airstrike, losing a leg, his hearing, eyesight and speech, and is in need of medical attention. They can be helped by buying “My Grandmother Nadia”, which is available for order on Amazon, and it costs $2.99 CAD. 100% of royalties will be donated to Sameeha’s family. There also is a video that covers the situation in Syria, the purpose of the book, and family receiving the donations (also available on Rita’s Instagram account as an IGTV).
A reader’s opinion:
“This is an incredible, heartbreaking, and personal story of one woman’s refugee journey. After hearing so much about Syrian refugees in the news, reading this personal and emotional memoir was an eye-opening experience! A beautifully and well-written story by Khalouf’s granddaughter Rita; although I knew Khalouf would be safe in the end, reading the story had me on the edge of my seat. This is another very important part of history that we must not forget, and I highly recommend reading it!”
There are more ways to learn about the situation in Syria, and how to help. The non-profit organisation “Syria Relief and Development” are providing humanitarian relief in the country, and through their Instagram account @syriareliefanddevelopment they share information to educate and update people on the current situation. Money can be donated to them as well as to other organisations aiding the people affected by the conflict like the White Helmets, the Syria Emergency Task Force and the Molham Volunteering Team. Educating ourselves and raising awareness about this situation is extremely important so that this story is not once again ignored, and it gets the international attention it needs.
Bea is a rising Junior in the Autonomous University of Madrid, studying to be a teacher. Her dream job would be working for education institutions and promoting change in order to achieve a feminist education. She is specially focused on amplifying the historical women whose time silenced. She would also like to work on interculturality and inclusion in education, as she believes an educative system with those values will lead to social change. In her free time she enjoys watching TV Shows, movies, listening to music and dancing.