Lubna Abou Kheir

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Production Team:
Available Collateral:

I am Lubna Abou Kheir, a writer and a theatre actress from Syria. I graduated from the Higher Institute of Performing Arts, Department of Theatrical Studies. I am currently residing in the city of Zurich, Switzerland.

I have been living in Switzerland for about four years, or let us say three and a half years. During this period, many things have changed within me. Maybe I have changed completely. I don't know. I will not know until I return to Syria and compare my life in Switzerland and my life in Syria.

I am human, and before I entered the Higher Institute of the\performing Arts, I loved everything that happened on the stage. I have the ability to sing, dance and write well. I was obsessed and passionate about this place, measuring one meter by two meters, called the stage.

In my first year at the Institute, I became more of a reader and writer, then became a full-on reader. During my fourth year when I was about to graduate, I became a valuable judge of the actions of others, and that was not what I wanted!

I went on a journey to reconnect with something more like me. Something that would lead me back to the person with a lot of talent and things to say on the stage. I got lucky and was awarded a scholarship in Switzerland to improve myself and become a better writer. I traveled to Switzerland stayed there for a month and a few days, and then returned to Syria.

Of course, as human beings, and without meaning to, we start comparing there and here, them and us. I did not intend to return to Switzerland or to settle here because I had absolute loyalty to Syria.

Then, a political problem occurred so I had to leave the country as soon as possible. I came here to Switzerland and I stayed here. Now, why do I talk about loyalty? We come from a country that is hard for the world to understand due to its complex identity. You can not say that Syria is a Muslim country or a Christian country or an extremist country. Syria is a small country with everything but has so much loyalty.

As people, we have loyalty to our president, we have loyalty to our wives, we have loyalty to our dead father. We have loyalty to the army, we have loyalty to our neighbours. If I was married then an immediate loyalty would be to my husband, my children, or my husband’s family! I have loyalty to something neutral and specific.

My loyalty might be to my religious sect and my religion. It might be to my nationality, unfortunately. I decided later that we are the country of absolute allegiances, that Syria is a country of absolute allegiances. Thus, we have loyalty to everything except our humanity and our experiences as human beings. I do not wish this on anyone.

The important thing was that I came to Switzerland and lived with a family of five - three children, father and mother. I lived with them for a year, then decided to move to Zurich. I looked for a room, and found one with an octogenarian. She is active and cultured and we lived together for a year and three months.

As we started to get to know each other, our relationship became based on our history and our stories and we got to know more about each other. This was not the case from the beginning but became like this after about four or five months.

One day we went on a walk in the forest. We had eaten our breakfast of an apple and greek yogurt with nuts and milk, and the lady had a coffee and finished her house work before we went out. Of course, this was her daily routine, and I learnt from it how to arrange my affairs and start the day.

I would talk all the time about myself, explaining that I was from Syria.

What happened is that one time when we were on our daily walk, she asked me, “Where are you from? And how... Where in Syria? How did you come... How did you come to Switzerland? She did not yet know the answers. I asked her the same questions in return and she answered, “I am one of the people who survived the Holocaust. I came with my parents as a refugee to the French part of Switzerland”. Here, there was a sudden silence in the conversation which lasted for a few moments. We were still walking in the forest. Then I asked her about where her father was from. Her mother was Dutch and her father was from Kyiv. She was not Swiss but resided in Switzerland.

She told me how they fled and the details of how they survived before the Nazis arrested them and subjected them to all kinds of brutalities as was the case with other Jews in Germany at the time. She said something very important, “Most of the wars in the world are because of allegiances to people or to unrealistic things”.

And, as far as I remember, I answered, “We are victims of stories of loyalty or the principle of loyalty but we do not have loyalty to our humanity. The reason is that we both live in a country we weren’t born in but we have become part of its society and must be effective builders away from our origins”. From that moment, I decided to be someone who was loyal to nothing else but humanity and someone who was looking for a place to live, a place that suited her.

I find that Switzerland is a place that fits my personality, a peaceful and quiet country. Imagine when we stop being people who have allegiance to unrealistic things! We will become better people, live better lives, and become worthy of our humanity.

The conclusion that I want to draw is that it is wrong to be loyal to things that have been imposed on us and that we didn’t have a hand in creating. I should not be proud to be Syrian or Arab. I could have been born in Somalia or Germany, for example, so this was not my choice. I could have been born in any place. It is a mistake and stupidity to be loyal to things that are decided upon by fate. What happens in Syria is that people... our society or people in general at the level of individuals ... are unable to develop themselves or the society in which they live. It is better that everyone goes to find the right place for them, whatever it is and wherever it is. This place could be Idlib, this place could be a conflict zone, this place could be there, this place could be poor. It is possible to be rich.

But at the end of the day, everyone should look for a place to rest. If I can develop myself from within, I will certainly be able to develop my community. What should be done in Syria is... or the best way forward to a solution in Syria... is to understand that it is a mistake to have loyalty to things that are purely up to fate. First and foremost, your loyalty must be to your humanity, to the people who love you, and to your principles… your human principles upon which you can build a society.