As today marks World Refugee Day, we reflect on the plight of many escaping war zones for a chance at a better life. In her winning essay entitled ‘The New Normal,’ penned as part of the Turning Points program, a grade 12 student from St. Malachy’s Memorial High School in Saint John, New Brunswick courageously opened up about her experience living in Syria as war began, moving to Canada and the shift in the things she perceives as “normal.”
“After four years of struggling and not giving up, the government of Canada gave us a chance to rebuild our lives and live in peace,” she wrote. “Normal is different now, but I can smile. I can be happy. The mind-splitting images are facing. Here, I can eat. I can play and I can go to school. Humans are funny animals; many of us adapt so easily to different situations. The sounds of bombs and screams are not something anyone should be used to hearing. Here, I can dream. Here, I can have a future.”
You can read her award-winning essay submission below.
The New Normal
Back to school shopping, celebrating holidays with friends and family, and even having fancy things; these are normal kid things right? My childhood, however, was different than any other ordinary kid. I’m from Syria and I’m seventeen years old. My story is definitely different than yours. I used to go to school and study so hard and I dreamed of being a doctor, but the war in Syria changed everything. My life was altered forever one fateful day.
I was in grade seven when my world began to change. The war started and many people began to leave the country. My family and I were on a reckless spinning wheel. We were stuck between going nowhere and being pulled somewhere. It became unbearable. We had to stay in our old Arabian house day in and day out. We didn’t have any place to go. Hope coursed through my veins as I longed for my return of “normal.” I just knew we would make it. We had to. We had to save our lives. The world had to have something to offer us. Our home. Our world. Our lives. All were being forced from us with a barrel of a gun.
I remember it was a Monday. It was one of the coldest, windiest days of winter. I woke up in the morning, brushed my teeth, and wore my ugly pink and blue uniform that I hated so much. I hastily got ready for school. It seemed like it was any normal day. Little did I know normal would not return for years. While I was talking to school, the street seemed to be empty. Like a crocus pushing through the snow, I was alone in my increasingly unwelcome circumstances. The sounds of busy busses, chatty children and crowding kids were as silent as a Canadian winter morning. All I could hear was the sound of the wind. It was so strange, but I kept walking until I got to my school.
Normal… The next thing I knew, I had arrived at my seemingly abandoned school. The doors were open, but nobody was there. Fear crept in. I saw two tanks next to the open doors. The sight of crimson red filled my mind. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Blood was everywhere. As I looked all around all I could see was death. This couldn’t be real. Arms and legs were thrown on the ground like a scene from some movie, only there were no cameras. I was terrified.
Boom. Boom. Boom. My heart pounded in my ears. I saw the school’s open doors and I quickly entered. I had to get out of the street. I saw that brutality had totally destroyed my school. It seemed no one was there. My heart was in my throat. Arms. Legs. “Move!” I shook like the roof of the building. I thought I couldn’t move. “Think!” My mind raced. “Where did everybody go?” “Why am I still here?” “Should I run?” “Should I hide?” Questions stuck in my throat. The spinning scene blinded me for an instant. For a brief moment, I could ignore the images that pounded in my brain.
At that moment, I felt like the war had begun on me. This wasn’t a joke. It was real. In that instant, my future loomed in front of me like a disappearing cloud of ghostly dust. Would I really be able to make my dreams come true? Would I ever be able to to go to school and become a doctor? The hopelessness of that place overwhelmed me. Am I going to die? Mysterious questions sprinted through my brain as my feet tried to catch up.
Safety came into reach as I ran as fast as I could to get home. I saw my house… the door… silence. My mother popped out of the kitchen and was surprised to see me., but I acted like nothing had happened. I told her that the schools were closed and that everyone in down had left but us. She said nothing, but the silence between us was deafening. The images screaming in my brain wouldn’t stop. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
After four years of struggling and not giving up, the government of Canada gave us a chance to rebuild our lives and live in peace. Normal is different now, but I can smile. I can be happy. The mind-splitting images are facing. Here, I can eat. I can play and I can go to school. Humans are funny animals; many of us adapt so easily to different situations. The sounds of bombs and screams are not something anyone should be used to hearing. Here, I can dream. Here, I can have a future. Here in Canada, I can…