The calendar changed announcing the end of 2013 years while I was crossing the airport of Istanbul looking for gate number 203.The adrenaline rush kept me awake all night for my long trip from Egypt to Dublin with extra nine hours transit in Istanbul.
I spent the hours walking around, watching passengers everywhere, searching in their faces for a reason behind their journey. Some of them looked so relaxed as if starting a leisure trip. Some of them were maybe meeting with families and friends. Some men in suits passed by, which I assumed they were on a business trip. A couple didn’t stop kissing and hugging the whole time, they were apparently on their honeymoon trip. I sat on one of the metal seats facing the big window where all the planes stood out. I threw my head back and wondered if anyone here was travelling for the same reason as mine; For freedom, for safety, for survival.
I welcomed the new year at the airport alone with my luggage. My whole life was squeezed into those bags. The maximum allowed weight of luggage on the air plane determined which parts of my life should be kept and which should be set free, and it was not an easy choice to make. I had to let go of my cat, my books, my photo albums, my wedding dress, my random stuff collected all over the years that meant nothing to anyone but meant the world for me. If only I could squeeze my husband into my luggage. I miss him and there is no luggage allowance in any airline that would allow that. He wasn’t approved for a Visa. We, Syrians, do not get approved for a Visa easily. We are always considered a burden on the countries around the world. It’s not a normal process for us to prove our harmless intentions, owning sufficient funds or presenting our last six months payslips. We don’t deal with banks, we don’t have contracts with our employers and most of us didn’t own a passport before 2012. We loved it back there in Syria and we didn’t intend to leave our regular chaos life. I didn’t want to leave my husband back but it was not a choice. Someone had to leave that sinking boat carrying us in order to save us both and it was safer for me to leave the boat than being on it for one more day. I remember the day I got my visa approved and he got his visa rejected. I cried and he laughed. I was so afraid to leave him behind and he was so happy to know that I will be in a better place. My heart torn up that day but my mind managed to take control and push me forward. I hated my mind for making me do this.
The time passed by slowly before I heard my flight number being announced through the speakers for boarding. I moved my achy bones from setting the last hours and walked towards the gate 203. I entered into the long passage and inside the plane that will carry me away from here. Four long hours later, I arrived safe and sound to Dublin ِAirport. It was my first time in Ireland, the country of luck. I didn’t know much about this country and never thought I would be here one day. I was overwhelmed with everything going around. I carried my bags and walked with everyone towards the passport control counters.
“Be prepared with all the original documents: passport, contract, hosting agreement, company’s letter, and the manager’s full name and mobile number in case the officer wanted to check with him. Don’t waste his time. This process might take a while and it usually depends on his mood, but don’t worry. It’ll all be okay!” My college friend assured me on our last internet call. She was living in Ireland for five years now. I still remember the day she sent me an email with a job position at the company she worked in. “Apply ASAP!” she said with confident. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but I sent my resume. my humble resume. I did this million times ago with different companies around the world. Why would they go all the trouble to hire someone from overseas? I always thought of that, but this time I got the call. I did the interview, the series of interviews and I got the job. They want me and I couldn’t believe it. I sent to the HR officer an email mentioning and highlighting the fact that I am Syrian in case this passed their attention and she assured me it won’t be a problem in the Visa process, but something inside me wouldn’t rest. A voice kept shouting inside me “They will kick you back. You don’t deserve to be here. Your specie is just trouble”. I tried to shake the voice away as I double-checked the existence of all the documents in my purse and whispered a little prayer inside my heart, my trembling heart. I stood on top of my toes to take a look at the officer in front of me. All the previous airport officers that I had to deal with in my life passed through my mind. Growing up, I was taught to never argue with a government officer, no matter how low his grade is. He could make my life miserable, more complicated in every possible way and no one can do anything about it. I always observed my parents swallow their pride and smile politely to whatever nonsense or bad comments he will say until their process is done then as soon as they leave the place they would start cursing. Officers outside my country were never better either but they had different reasons. For example, in the Arabian Gulf countries, I was a less important human for them. In neighbour countries, like Lebanon and Jordan, I was hated for political reasons. In everywhere else, I was either a possible terrorist that is going to make trouble in the country or a possible refugee that is going to waste the government resources. And here I am now, It was my turn in the queue and I had no idea what I am about to face.
I stepped forward and smiled to the officer. He was an old man with a calm personality. He took my passport and was shocked as he said “Syria?.. Wow!”. I panicked. He will kick me out I knew it! He will arrest me or ask me to step aside and let someone take me to some investigation room while some experts investigate the integrity of my visa. I am not an illegal immigrant! I am not a refugee! I will not be a burden on the government, I will work, day and night. I will learn anything there to be learnt. I just need not to be in Syria right now.
I said in a shaking voice: “Yes and I am here because I have a job contract, here it is” I handed out the officer all the papers to prove my point.
-“How are things goin’ back there?”
The officer said in a concerned voice. This was one of the most exhausting questions I had to deal with since I left the country. I am never sure what people intentions are when asking. Do they really want to know? Are they really concerned about the situation? or are they just being polite and making a daily conversation? In all cases, I summarize the whole situation in one sentence: “It’s bad”.
– “Is it getting any better?” asked the officer .
– “No it’s getting worse actually” I answered in a low voice avoiding direct eye contact. I felt ashamed, embarrassed of all the horrible things that happened there. It all started as a call for freedom and an upraise against all the injustice for the past decades, but now everyone is fighting for the presidential chair, the throne, and only innocent people are getting killed. We are basically running a new season of Game of Thrones there and it’s not entertaining at all.
– “Do you have any relatives there?”
The officer insisted on knowing more, maybe he does care. But what if he is not? What if he’s just asking all these questions to know for how long I am staying here, or how many other miserable Syrians I would bring over to his country. I kept my answer foggy until I could know his real intention. “Well some were lucky to be able to leave but some are still there, refusing to leave, or can’t afford to leave.”
The officer took a glance at my papers and then started typing my data into the system.
Is that it? Am I going to pass? Is he convinced with my papers? Isn’t he going to ask for my manager number to call him and confirm my story? Does he really believe me? Isn’t he going to ask me about my intentions of coming to Ireland? Is he really smiling? What the hell is wrong with him? Why is he being so nice? I object!
He asked me to pause in order to take a photo of me. Afterwords, he wanted to take my fingerprints. I was confused as I found a digital machine for that job instead of old blue ink that never left my skin without taking a layer with it. I put my hands on it but felt my wedding ring preventing them from being in place. “Should I take off my ring?” I asked nervously, afraid it will ruin the process. The officer looked at my ring while trying to put my hand exactly in place and said: “Is this your wedding ring?”, hesitating to reply thinking if this would be a problem, me being married. I answered “Yes?”. He looked at me with a smile on the corner of his lips and said “Then don’t ever take it off”.
OK, he is nice! I have to report this! I have never met a nice government officer in my life. I was grateful for his appreciation of marriage, my marriage, my husband’s abstract presence in this ring. I smiled. The officer was the first Irish person I have ever met, the first nice one of many I met later. The process ended very shortly and without any complications. I put my foot on the steps of the electrical stair and let it lift me up to the new world. I am ready to face it now. I am not scared any more. I am human, I have rights. The door of the airport slid wide open as I took my first step on the Irish soil. I closed my eyes and inhaled the freezing breeze of freedom. I opened them back when I suddenly caught a glimpse of a policeman marching towards the airport entrance.
My heart sank inside my chest.
Oh God, he is going to arrest me.