When the country’s condition went from peaceful protesting to a full on Arab spring, Maan Alhmidi knew that for his own safety, it was time to leave the only home he’s ever known, Aleppo, Syria.
“I woke up and made the decision to leave,” he said. “Ten days later I said goodbye to my family and friends and left.” Alhmidi left Syria in February 2014, three years after the civil war broke out.
“It was easy to leave Syria at that time, the borders were opened, I just took my passport and went to Turkey.”
Alhmidi who is currently studying media and communications at Algonquin, was working as a freelance journalist in Aleppo. “I knew that it wasn’t safe for my life or for my work.”
Before the revolution Alhmidi had no plans on leaving Syria. “For the first three years of the war, I was there, I was going to protests; every day I waited for it to get better but it just got worse,” said Alhmidi. “I didn’t want to leave, but sometimes you have to do things you don’t like for your safety.”
He reflects on the first days of the war and saw that nobody expected to see the situation escalate to such extreme measures. “Millions of people wouldn’t just leave their home country for no reason, obviously the situation over there is very bad.”
Alhmidi split his time in Gaziantep and Istanbul Turkey for three years while living in limbo between Syria and Canada shortly after he left Aleppo.
“I called my friend who lives in Turkey and told him I was coming,” he said. “He said okay you can come stay at my apartment.”
During that period he spent his time working odd jobs and teaching himself English. “I learned from watching movies, mostly dramas, and from reading subtitles,” he said. “I think it’s important to be a global citizen.”
Now living in an apartment complex in north Nepean, just a 10 minute bus ride away from the college, Alhmidi’s life is much different. “It’s a good place to live, I have some nice neighbours and it’s quiet.”
While living in Turkey, Alhmidi phoned his friend who’s been living in Canada since 2008 and simply asked “I want to come to Canada, how can I do that?” He and his friend did some research and began the process of getting him to Canada.
By Mar. 7, 2017 Alhimidi finally arrived in Toronto then made his way to Ottawa. “When I arrived at the airport, there were many other refugees from Syria, Turkey and Iraq, but I didn’t know any of them so I was technically alone.”
A fairly universal opinion on Canadian temperatures, Alhmidi found the weather to be the biggest shock.
“It was -25 when I arrived, in just nine hours it changed 40 degrees.” Aside from the weather, there were many other aspects about Canada Alhmidi wasn’t familiar with. “I didn’t know much about Canada, I wasn’t shocked by many things but it is different. In some ways better and in some ways worse.”
For Alhmidi the high cost of living as a refugee and a student stuck out to him.
“For me it’s a better situation than for others, because I can speak English and can get a job and also I’m living alone, but I can’t imagine, it must be hard for people with big families.”
Alhmidi left behind his own big family including his sisters and two younger brothers. “I keep in close contact with them.” But the idea of a family reunion is out of the question. “It seems impossible,” he said. “I have family in Turkey, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Germany and some in the Netherlands and so on.”
As for his family living in Aleppo he says “the situation for them isn’t good, but they got used to the circumstances, it’s been more than six years now, so the people that haven’t left the country have come up with their own solutions on how to live.”
According to UNICEF most Syrian residents are currently living without the basics and are presently facing a water crises. “They have a system now, if you don’t have electricity and fresh water you have to establish resources to survive,” added Alhmidi.
The Syrian native remains unsure about the future of his home country.
“Syrian people need a real solution, they don’t have a plan. They need to take a step forward.”
He added that he would possibly move back to Syria if the conditions improved, but he also says that it’s hard to make that judgement right now because “nothing is clear when it comes to the future of Syria.”
Alhmidi stressed that life before the revolution was comparable to daily life in Canada. “It was a normal country it’s not just war and refugees. There are people who went to school and worked, same as here,” he said. “They’re civilized people.”
Alhmidi described his pre-uprising life as very good.
“The conditions weren’t perfect because it’s a third world country but it was acceptable. I was living with my family and studying in university, I got my master’s degree, I was working and I had many friends. My days were full.”
The war has directly impacted Alhmidi and his family. “I actually lost many friends, many cousins, they’re dead because of the war.” He continued that the main effect the war had on him were psychological.
“For days, for weeks, for months you feel sad because you miss people in your life and you’ll never see them again.”
Now living as a permanent resident in Canada, he still finds his future unclear. “These days, in this period, I feel kind of lost, because I just took a very big step in my life so I’m not sure what it’s going to be like in the future, but I hope it’ll be better than now.”
Alhmidi remains hopeful and optimistic, and even after all that has happened, Syria remains his home.
“I still have positive thoughts when I think of Syria.”