I met a young man on a trip to Canberra. A fellow passenger on a bus, he told me he was from Aleppo, Syria.
He asked me to guess his age. I picked 22. He was 17. He came Australia ten months ago, but his English was already fluent.
We avoided talking about the war, choosing instead to focus on the process of settling into this country. He told me English was very difficult for him as it didn’t fully convey all that was in his heart.
“In Arabic, ‘I love you’ can mean many different things. Depending on your expression, your voice, it can mean what you say, or the very opposite,” he explains.
It made me think of the term “refugee” and what a loaded term it has become. It may be something that elicits pity and compassion from many, but for others it can be a derogatory term, spat out to show one’s disdain for another. For those who have fled conflict and persecution, that term is a label from which they would like to break free.
I can understand it. They were once someone other than a “refugee”. They were once doctors, accountants, engineers, teachers contributing to their community in their home country. “Refugee” is an experience to them, not something that defines who they are. They want to reclaim their former self and return to normal life as soon as possible, leaving their experience of fear and flight behind them.
My new friend on the bus wants to join the police force. He says he loves Australia; New South Wales and Sydney in particular. As soon as his English is good enough, he tells me he is going to take the test.
I hope he gets to fulfil his dream here. I hope he finds a great community of friends, gets to leave that term “refugee” behind him, and embraces another one – “Aussie” – as he settles into his new home.
Via the Daily Prompt: Passenger