Amal has been living in Stockholm for 35 years. She previously worked as a translator but has recently retired, and is now an elected member of a municipal assembly and representative of a political party in Sweden.
She was very happy in her life and work in Latakia, and misses the sea. She worked in the rail trade as head of the business department. She and her family were known for never taking bribes and Amal threw people out of her office if they suggested it. She left Syria because she had been politically active and was in danger. A friend from the Ba’ath party whom she knew through work told her to leave the country within three days. Many years later, when living in Europe, she met someone who had been politically active with her in Syria, and he told her that when he was under interrogation (and being tortured), he was mainly questioned about her.
She visited Syria 4-5 years after leaving, “protected” by the presence of her Swedish son. She gained passage to Sweden initially because her sister was sick, and she was given a visa to enter and care for her and her two sons. She then applied for asylum but was rejected several times before she married a Swedish man and obtained first residency and eventually Swedish nationality. She taught herself Swedish, read a lot, and after five years began translating. As first she had worked as a seamstress but then and met someone who was studying translation but found it difficult because her Arabic was weak. Amal decided to take the Arabic test and began training. She then formally studied Swedish and started translating. She loves her work.
In the past, immigrants were not allowed to work in Swede, and had to take government aid. She was taken aback by the suggestion that she should take “handouts” and insisted on working. She was questioned by an official regarding her immigration and work status, and says, “he exhausted me and I exhausted him.” She explained that from their experience in Syria, Syrian immigrants do not like the police.
When she arrived in Sweden, she only knew one Swedish family. The family had visited Syria, and Amal had shown them around. This same family arranged for her sister to be treated in Sweden and hosted her in their house. These people are now her close friends. She has no superficial friends and was like this in Syria, rejecting social obligations and shallow relationships with neighbours. Her friends are not from work, and she follows the Swedish practice of separating work and private life. She avoids Syrians in social gatherings as she does not like the way they often criticise the Swedes and Sweden. She says “what are you doing here if you do not like it?” They answer that there are benefits to living in Sweden that do not exist in Syria.
She likes innovative Swedish relationship arrangements. She mentions “sarbo,” which is a couple that lives separately but shares trips, weekends and social gatherings.
She misses her life in Syria, specifically a boyfriend she had there whom she had to leave because she was not going to return. She says he was free and open, and would never ask her where she was or with whom, even if political meetings caused her to arrive at his house very late. He would smile and say he had missed her, and go get her something to eat.
She wanted to study psychology but at 45 years old she would have to go back to high school without a grant.
She is an atheist, and does not like religion. At 15 years old, she kicked the “corrupt” priest out of her family house. She likes the way that in Sweden, religion is not imposed and no one assumes that someone is a believer as they do in Syria.