Myriam Keyloun is a Syrian refugee living in Montreal, Canada. Editor-in-Chief Amanda caught up with her over email to get her perspective on the Syrian war, what she wants others to know about refugees and her hope for the future.
Amanda: Tell me how you made your way to Canada from Syria.
Myriam: I left Aleppo on June 13th, 2012. I flew to Istanbul and the plan was to stay there a month and then come back to Syria. At the end of July it was obvious that it was only going to get worse in Aleppo, so I stayed in Istanbul where I worked as an English teacher for three years.
In August 2015, I moved to Lebanon where I worked as an English teacher in a refugee school while I submitted my application to come as a refugee to Canada.
Within three months of submitting my application I was on my way here. I arrived in Montreal on January 13th 2016.
A: What was your life like in Aleppo before the civil war?
M: I talked about wanting to leave Syria, travel and live abroad since I was 16. I didn`t leave until I was 27. If the war hadn`t started, I would have probably continued to live in Aleppo.
My life before the war was like any other person`s life in a city where no bombs are falling constantly and where you can go out with your friends without worrying whether you’ll make it to the next day.
I worked, I spent time with family, hung out with friends. I had a normal life. My only regret is that I took it for granted. How was I to know that one day [my life] was all going to crumble down around me?
A: What kind of things have you done to feel a sense of normality during tough times?
M: My friends have been the source of my strength. Since the beginning we stood by each other, and ten years later, although separated by the war and scattered all over the globe, we’re still a big part of my each other’s lives – the good and the bad. Having them in my life, even if only virtually, gives me comfort and hope for the return of the good days.
Having my family here with me brings a big sense of normalcy into my life as well. Having dinners at my parents’ [home], shopping with my aunt, going out with my cousins and playing with my nephew and niece. I won’t take these for granted again. I learned my lesson.
“Although separated by war and scattered all over the globe, [my friends] are still a big part of [each other’s] lives.”
A: Tell me straight up how you feel about the muslim ban in the U.S.
M: I don`t dwell much on American politics. It’s nothing but a freak show across the border.
All I can say is that even though the ban seems to focus on Muslims, it doesn’t mean that myself, as a Christian, would be allowed entry should I ever decide to visit the US. Christian families have been banned and put on the first flight back to the Middle East as well.
The Muslim ban doesn’t change much of how things were before Trump became president. He just does a good job at letting it be known to the whole world.
A: What do you think people can do to be more supportive of those fleeing war?
M: It’s very important to remember that behind all the newspaper articles and online reports there are human beings who lost a home and a life. We’re not mere statistics. We’re not an article on a political To Do list. We’re not the subject of studies.
We’re human beings and we’re trying to restore a sense of normalcy and dignity. We’re trying to build new lives on the rubble of our old ones, and many of us can’t afford the time and energy to grieve for what we lost.
If you meet a refugee, if you work with one, if you live next door to one, keep that in mind.
A: What is your life like now in Montreal? Do you have any future plans?
M: Being in Montreal is like being in an arranged marriage – it wasn’t by choice and it wasn’t the result of love. But Montreal is beautiful, warm (metaphorically), and welcoming. How can someone not end up falling in love with it? But it takes time.
I live a pretty simple life. I work, spend time with family and take care of my cat that I was finally able to bring from Istanbul. I would like to go back to school, make friends, see more of Canada. It’s only been a year. I have plenty of time to figure out this new life.