Photo credit: IOM/Tiago Figueiredo
"I was born and lived for most of my life in Damascus, Syria. I left with my family when the war broke out. We lived in Cairo, Egypt, for three years until we were relocated to Portugal in 2015. This was the second time that we started again from scratch and this new beginning was more difficult because of the language and the cultural differences.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and FC Porto were all I knew from Portugal. I really enjoy football and I've already gone to the Sporting stadium twice to watch the football matches. I also like “pastéis de nata” (Portuguese custard tarts). I eat one every weekend.
My first year in Lisbon was horrible. I felt isolated because I did not understand the language. Life only became easier when I began to understand and express myself in Portuguese. It was also complicated to remain live a job for so long, not only because of the money, but also socially, as I did not know many people. Support from the Pão-a-pão Association – which resulted in the opening of the Mezze restaurant – was essential to our reintegration.
The most beautiful day I have had in Lisbon so far was the day they opened Mezze – a restaurant which serves Syrian food and only employs refugees. This restaurant has given me motivation. At the beginning I was only waiting tables, but now I have more responsibilities because I am the only one who speaks Portuguese.
Despite being in Portugal for almost two years, I am still not used to some of the religious and cultural differences. According to my Muslim upbringing, women and men do not greet with kisses on the cheek. When this happens I always get nervous and step back, for fear of being misunderstood by other people.
For now I intend to stay in Portugal. I never wanted to go to another European or Arab country. I have been often asked about potentially going back to Syria once the war is over. Even though it is my country, we have lost everything: the house, the restaurant we had there, our friends, our family… It would be a completely new beginning in a post-war country. Every day I think about our neighborhood there, our street, our restaurant, our friends, and my father who died in the war – it seems that everything happened in another life, a life I miss a lot.
A migrant or refugee who arrives in Portugal needs to learn to speak Portuguese. There is no other way to understand how life functions in Portugal, because the language is the key to the country. In Syria we say that “if you have a tongue, you never get lost.”
I like Lisbon very much. Here the streets are clean and organized and hte people are nice and welcoming. In spite of everything I still do not feel at home – life has to calm down first."