I Escaped A War Zone

Rex Larsen 

By Zain Shouman as told to Kim Tranell 

More than 4 million people have fled violence in Syria since 2011. Zain, 16, is one of them.

All I remember is hearing loud bangs, and then dropping to the ground. I was 13 at the time, just an innocent teenager. It was cold in our house, so I had taken my 2-year-old cousin down to the entryway, hoping we could quickly step outside to get a little sun. 

But almost as soon as I felt the light, I heard the gunshots. I pulled my cousin close and shielded him on the ground, where we lay trembling.

I wondered: Will we survive, or will we die right here? Those were the kind of thoughts running through my head for a full 15 minutes, until I realized the gunfire had stopped.

That was the day my family finally decided to leave Syria. And while I didn’t know it then, we were leaving for good.

A Peaceful Life

Until 2011, my life in Syria was normal and happy. I’m from Daraa, in the southwest of the country, and I lived there in a house with my mom—who worked as an accountant—and my younger brother. (My father passed away when I was 9.) Our city was pretty populated and very lively. You would always see families walking and kids playing in the street—I can’t remember ever being scared for my safety.

In fact, Syria was such a safe and stable country that refugees would come to Daraa to escape violence or unrest in their homelands. Every day at school, I studied with students from war-ravaged places, like Iraq and Palestine. Now I am one of them, and I never expected that to happen.

Torn By War

The changes occurred quickly. Once the fighting erupted in Daraa (see timeline), we stopped going to school—it wasn’t safe to travel there each day—and couldn’t leave our home to do normal stuff, like play soccer or see friends. We’d stay inside, watching TV and leaving only at certain times to grab necessities, like food. Imagine being cooped up, with no end in sight—that was my life for an entire year!

When we finally decided to flee, we were lucky. Daraa is close to Jordan, so my family was able to drive there to stay with my mother’s sister. I couldn’t say goodbye to my friends, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal. I thought we’d be gone for two weeks, maybe two months—tops.  Little did I know, I would never go home again.

A New Chapter

After two years in Jordan, my family received great news: We were moving to the United States. For refugees like me, the process of being admitted to the U.S. can take a really long time. It involves many layers of security checks and interviews with U.S. officials. A year after learning we were approved—in August of last year—we were finally on our way.

So far, I like my life in Michigan. The students at my school have been really welcoming, but it’s still hard. I feel like, until my English gets better, there’s a barrier that keeps me from really getting to know my classmates. That’s just motivating me to work even harder at it, though. And I’m helping my mom and brother with English too.

I’m very grateful for this opportunity to start over, but I will never forget my old life in Syria. I am still wondering where my friends are—the ones I didn’t get to say goodbye to. Are they safe?

I may never know, but every single day, I hope so.

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