Agonies of the Other World

By ANAHITA BORDOLOI

I wake up in the morning to the sound of my dad gently nudging me awake. Meanwhile, somewhere on the other side of the world is a teenager my age who wakes up to the booming sounds of rockets descending on the streets nearby. My main concern every morning is whether my bus driver can beat the 7:15am traffic on the freeway so I can reach school early to spend time talking to my friends before class; but somewhere in Syria is a teenage boy whose main concern every day is to avoid being hit by a bomb and stay alive while walking to school. When I get my monthly allowance, I spend it on new clothes or shoes while somewhere else is a girl who saves every cent she can find in case her and her family’s lives are suddenly uprooted by the war and they need to flee.

The National Geographic’s Life Through the Lens of Syria’s Uprooted Teens opened my eyes to the extreme conditions of these teen refugees. I had been following the situation in the Middle East and the conditions of the refugee crisis regularly but it was not quite the same when I read the letter of Anwar Al Sayed, a girl only one year younger than myself, whose only hope in the world was for the war to stop and for her to return to the life she had before. I wondered what my life would be like if I was Anwar, and if imagining my life as a teen refugee was more than I could handle after a few minutes, then I don’t doubt for a second that I would not survive that situation for more than a couple of days. It’s difficult for people my age who live in war-free areas to imagine what the lives of those who do live in war zones are like. You see, we have grown up in such a protected and cushioned world of our own that we find it difficult to imagine an alternative to that. Even the unluckiest among us, those of us who do not have families and live on the streets, even they are better off than the kids living in war zones, because at least we do not have to try and avoid being shot randomly or blown up in an explosion or being shelled. After all, our concerns are so nearsighted: what are we going to wear today, where are we going to eat, what TV shows are we going to watch whereas there are children our age on the other side of the world who worry about whether their family members back home are still alive and if so, will they ever meet again, whether they will have a place to sleep after tonight and where their next meal is going to come from. Furthermore, the plight of the Syrian people is not a temporary one either. They haven’t lived in war-torn surroundings for days, or weeks, or months; they have been living through the war for years.

Thinking about it now, I have everything. Sure I don’t have the new MacBook Air but I have everything: I have a roof over my head every night, there is food on the table every day, I wake up to the faces of my parents every morning and I live in a city untouched by rockets or bombs or death and destruction.

I know that high school seniors just like myself are absolutely dying to graduate from high school and move away from home to be independent, to be “free” at last. At the same time, there are people our age who have been sent abroad, away from their families, so they can live in a safe environment and they yearn day and night to catch a glimpse of their parents’ faces. However, they can never video call on WhatsApp because they know they won’t be able to hold back the tears.

So the next time my mother says I cannot stay out for later than 10pm at a party, I will remember what I read in an Economist article about how 80% of Syrian teenagers cannot go out after dark due to safety concerns. Or when I feel as though my schoolwork’s pressure is too much on me, I will remember how fortunate I am that my school is still there unlike a quarter of the schools in Syria which have been destroyed by shelling and how the studies of 76% of teens are under threat. And the next time I complain about a painstakingly long visit to the doctor’s office, I will remember that 81% of Syrian teens do not even have access to a hospital near them. I will remember to consider myself lucky for having access to most luxuries in the world and I will remember to pray that all of the people uprooted from their homes and families will eventually be able to come back to their old lives.

I will also continue to wonder in amazement at the refugees’ undying spirit and willingness to keep moving forward, no matter what. Take for example, Yusra Mardini, the 18 year old swimmer on the Refugee Olympic Athletes team. Over a year ago, Mardini and her sister escaped from Syria with eighteen other people on a dinghy to Greece. The motor of the dinghy failed while they were in the Aegean Sea and the only people on the boat who could swim were the Mardini sisters who then selflessly jumped into the freezing water and pushed the boat onto the land, thus saving the lives of eighteen people along with her and her sister’s as well. She then made it to Germany and started training tirelessly for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to pursue her dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer but the refugee team helped her reach her goal much sooner in this year’s Olympic games in Rio. In an interview, Mardini discussed a common misconception regarding why refugees flee their country. She said, “I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees, but because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go.” I can only hope that many other young refugees follow Mardini’s example and chase their dreams until they come true.

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Originally from Jorhat, Assam, India, Anahita Bordoloi is a high school senior at the Awty International School, Houston, USA. Apart from playing violin, dancing Bharatanatyam and painting regularly, she also writes occasionally. Anahita has a keen interest in current affairs and plans to pursue International Relations and Developmental Economics in the future.