Karim Suleiman is 27 years old and was a citizen journalist in Hama, Syria. In January 2014, he and a colleague were hit by an army barrel bomb; his friend was mortally wounded and Karim’s leg was mutilated. They touched hands on the ground and bade one another farewell. Karim later woke up in hospital in unimaginable pain. Doctors in Syria and Turkey wanted to amputate his leg and Karim searched all over Turkey until he found a doctor willing to try and save it. His family settled in Turkey and over a year later, with the help of Journalists Without Borders, he was granted asylum in Germany, where he has been since 2015. He spent over a year in a military hospital and now, after five years, has started to walk without crutches.
When leaving Syria, he told his beloved to continue without him as he did not know what would become of him. And yet, years later, they remain in touch. Recently, they were betrothed in Turkey and she will join him in Berlin soon. He was reunited with his family in Turkey after 6 years; he kissed his siblings and then stooped to the ground to kiss his mother’s feet in honour and relief, despite her protests. He comes from a poor family and his father has two wives and Karim has 8 brothers and sisters.
During the first period in the military hospital, Karim wanted to kill himself because of his extreme suffering from the pain in his leg but more so because he felt desperately bereft of his friends and family members, especially those who had been killed (his brother and brother-in-law were tortured to death in prison; his sister’s son calls him “baba”). He said that what changed the most in his life on leaving Syria was his sense of security. Despite the war and hardship, he went to bed at night feeling secure there, surrounded by his family and love. He misses this profound sense of unconditional love and belonging.
However, in hospital made friends with doctors, nurses and other patients, and a close friendship with a wounded Russian military man. Karim taught himself German using YouTube and by reading while he worked hard in physical therapy. He was released to a refugee residence where he studied German formally but could not take care of himself at home. Other refugees brought him groceries, cooked food and so on. He hobbled around on crutches and was asked by German volunteers to help with the refugees. He agreed and found solidarity and so much satisfaction helping people that he became a social worker. He now works with the municipality and loves his job. He has just as many German friends as Syrian or Arab friends, and speaks German fluently. He has travelled multiple times to European meetings of journalists, speaks publically, and has met with very high-level government officials from Europe and the USA about Syrian refugees and the situation in Syria.
He says what he misses most of all about Syria is driving around his town after work, greeting everyone as he passed. He often joined neighbours and friends to sit in front of their houses and each brought something to share from their home like watermelon, seeds or tea. But he cannot reminisce without thinking about one after another of his deceased friends and neighbours. He says those born in the 1990s in Syria are known to be a decimated generation. Those who survived often did so with great suffering and a precarious life. He was once taken in by ISIS and accused of being a heretic for smoking a shisha in front of his house. From this experience, he learned the importance of talking to his assailants and destabilizing their thinking. He intends to live his life in Germany. He is joyful and determined, and knows that what got him out of the wilderness was helping others even when he himself needed help.