Chinese Malaysian, American Literature at Osaka University, Japan.
What it Means to be a Refugee: A Story of Iboo
I became friend with Iboo, a twenty-two-year-old Syrian, only a week before I had a conversation with him regarding his life back in Syria between 2010 and 2014. After knowing that Iboo had been exposed to issues such as wars, terrorism, homelessness, slavery, and refugee-becoming, I decided to interview him. On 26 November 2017, we made an appointment in Iboo’s apartment after enjoying a Syrian home meal made by him.
In 2010, Iboo was a hot-blooded teenager who wanted to do something under his cousin, the leader of a political party, the so-called “free army” or the “Harasham” (there’s no English translation for the name of the party) in Syria. During that time, the revolution had just started in the city called Daraa. The spark that set off this revolution was the spreading of a video clip in which a child was saying “We don’t want Asat”—an open opposition to the president of Syria. According to the news, the child was tortured by having his nails pulled out and furthermore, he was raped. The legal reason to do such things to a child is the assumption that he was a terrorist and therefore he can be tortured.
Since then, the revolution started and wars started between different parties in the country. Broadly speaking, there were three different parties in Syria: the government party called “Asat,” the “Harasham” or free army, and the others. Eight months later, the free army arrived at Iboo’s city, which is Derhafer. According to Iboo, the leader, which is his cousin, was put into a prison for six years after he fought for Iraq against the United State. After getting out from the prison, his cousin organized “Harasham” through using his previous military connection in order to lead a new revolution. Influenced by his cousin, Iboo joined his cousin’s army and started taking a part of the revolution. He then moved to Aleppo for training and worked as an ID controller in the street. However, as Iboo recalled, “it was not fun at all to stand on the street all day long because you might get hit anytime.” What stroked Iboo the most was the moment when he was almost hit by a bullet that had fallen only hundred meters right next to him. Also, seeing deaths around him while being at the front line of the army, Iboo deeply acknowledged that he liked nothing about this, at all. In short, the forty-five days of patrolling on the street—seeing, hearing and smelling deaths—was a total nightmare for Iboo.
Nevertheless, like the other young teenagers, Iboo was still drawn by the thought of being a soldier because he was taught that he had a right reason to fight: that he fought for faith and for self-defense. This faith led him to experience the largest and bloodiest battle in his life: the fight with Asat at the Gun Fire Academy. “At here, I experienced one of the most terrifying moments in my life. When I saw the air strike was everywhere, I thought I was going to die,” said by Iboo while his deep black eyes were looking into mine. He then continued by claiming,
“When the fourteen millimeters bullet hits next to me, I can really smell the flying sands and dust on my face. Even now I can still recall the exact smell of it. It was a horrible fight and many of our people dead. I thought I would have died too. Only when I saw the sunrise I came to realize that I was still alive…I was alive.”
The result of the battle was indeed, a failure. While transporting those dead bodies back to Aleppo, Iboo felt extremely depressed. A few days later, he left the town and traveled back to his Derhafer to visit his family after a forty-five day of zero contact. Suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, Iboo stayed almost a year at home. During that time, he developed a deep friendship with his little cousin, Mahmod, who was only one year younger than him. Meanwhile, Iboo’s cousin had expanded his territories and increased his arm power up to more than three thousand people.
After a year, Iboo returned to his cousin and started working as a meal maker. Disliked that job, Iboo requested a job transfer and he then was put into the position of journalism and media management, which he worked for five months and he requested to switch again. This time he worked as a housekeeper of a big villa in Ar Raqqah. According to Iboo, the eight months of being a housekeeper was quite stressful. He was required to be constantly aware of his surrounding in order to prevent any enemy that might sneak into the house and cause troubles. Meanwhile, his best friend Mahmod visited him and also devoted himself to the free army Harasham.
In 2014, ISIS has become stronger and thus it became the enemy of Harasham. After announced by his cousin that they would also have to fight ISIS, Iboo denied the order by claiming “I don’t want to fight ISIS. My only concern is Asat.” However, the situation was uncontrollable and since the war between Harasham and Asat has started, Iboo has become both ISIS and Asat’s target. Under this helpless circumstance, Iboo had no choice but to cut his beard and changed his outlook in order to escape the war zone. Sadly, Iboo was unable to take Makmod with him because everything was happening too sudden and uncontrollable. Leaving Makmod in Ar Raqqah made Iboo feel rather guilty but due to the chaotic situation out there he had no choice but to escape by himself. As a temporal solution, Iboo crossed the border of Syria and entered the land of Lebanon, where he had experienced the most awful and horrendous period in his life.
Text © Lay Sion Ng
Lay’s Previous Contribution To Edge Of Humanity Magazine
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