Mahdi al Nasir

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

I am Mahdi Al-Nasir, from Deir Al-Zour Syria and I used to live in Damascus. I worked with the Syrian press from 2008, then I started working with Syrian TV in the Levant. After that, I travelled outside Syria in 2012, and the reason for my exit was my opposition to the Syrian regime. Declaring my position in my workplace caused me to be harassed on TV or in the workplace. I had to leave at the end of 2012. I went to Egypt and stayed there for about five months, and after that I went to Turkey. I was still working in the press.

I worked in TV broadcasts and on various channels. After my travels, I started working in dubbing for a company called Tariq Al Arabi Tariqan in Egypt. I dubbed Turkish series. I worked on Radio Rozana, which is currently in France, as a correspondent from Egypt.

I travelled to Turkey since my mother and siblings were there. I worked on the "Hawa Smart" radio and co-founded a station with a group of colleagues and worked on this for about five months. After that, I went back to work on Radio Rozana in a studio in Gaziantep, Turkey. I was the administrative coordinator and program coordinator there. I worked as a presenter for the morning program, a news program, and some special reports.

I stayed in Turkey from 2013 to 2017 and after that I travelled  to France in August 2017. I decided to leave Turkey after all my brothers and my family travelled to Germany and settled there. When I did this, I left work on Radio Rosna and I worked in the "Syria" channel in Istanbul, for five months and co-founded this channel. After that, I got a visa to travel to France, so I left everything and went.

Currently, I reside in the city of "Metz" in the north of France, and the reason for choosing this city is that it is a border city with Germany. My siblings and my mother live in a city close to the German border. I did not know French well when I arrived and I did not know where I would live as I did not have papers to be able to rent and there was a shortage of housing. This is why I crossed the border from France to Germany on a daily basis as the distance is less than two hours to reach my family.

By chance, I got to know an organization called "Welcome" that helps people who arrive in France when they are not married, like me. It provides them with housing for 6 months with a different family every month.

I have lived with 6 families but I never spoke French. Even my studies had nothing to do with French, and on top of that I did not speak English well. For me, the way to communicate with these families was through the translation application on my phone. I wrote to them in Arabic and the app translated into French and vice versa. This was my way to communicate with these families.

Once, while I was living with one of the families, we went to a café, and we communicated, as I said, through the translation application. We used to have long conversations through that medium.

And in the same cafe, there was a family that was surprised by us. I mean, by how we communicated through the application. So a woman from that family came closer to get a glimpse of what was going on. She already knew the family that I was sitting with. She asked us what were we doing.

They answered and talked about me. In brief, they told her, “This is a  young Syrian man, who recently came to France. He has no housing so we have accommodated him for a month, and after this month he will go to another family.”

The woman liked the idea of hosting someone, then asked the family if she could host me personally. They confirmed that she could. They connected her to Welcome and she took all the necessary steps to host me.

That woman and her husband hosted me, and I lived with them. I was supposed to live with them for a month, but there was no new family to receive me after the end of the month, so I stayed with them for another month. After that, I got residency and my papers were ready to rent a house to live on my own in France. However, there were difficulties with this but the family helped me a lot to get a rented house, and at the same time they offered me to stay with them. They kept my room and my place, and they considered me as family.

From the beginning, they treated me as their son. But I insisted that I live alone. Here in France, there is a sponsorship system. If I am a foreigner, I must have a sponsor or a permanent work contract, so this family sponsored me and helped me buy things for my house. They gave me some of their own things and they never left me. We still communicate until this day.

They left my room in their house as it was, and they did not host anyone else in it. I go to their house, hang out with them and sleep there every once in a while as if it is my family’s house. I have the key to their house, I go off on vacation to see them and I even spent the first period of quarantine for Coronavirus with them.

I think that every person who goes to a foreign country or a country that he is not familiar with, or does not speak its language, will face difficulty in the simplest things. Even if he wants to go to the supermarket, he will find difficulty, if he goes out of the house he will find difficulty.

This family, Emmanuelle and Silvie, tried as hard as they could to not make it feel that hard. When I lived with them, they gave me everything I needed. If I had appointments to arrange formal and informal papers, they would go with me. At first, the communication between us was through the translation application that I was using but later they got me a tutor to teach me the language because my papers at that time were not yet completed so I could join a school class. The teacher would come two or three times a week to give me lessons in French, to strengthen my language, and so that they could communicate with me. They tried as much as possible to make it possible for me to learn French in that period.

I had a Syrian friend who lived in France for a long time and who spoke French, and from time to time they asked him if I wanted and needed anything. My friend would ask me and then the communication between us started if they could not express something or we did not understand each other through the translation program.

It was difficult for a journalist writing in Arabic like me to find a job in the city I live in. My plan at the time was to learn the language in this border city, and after that I would go to Paris as it is the capital and has many Arab media institutions. I used to say this to Silvie and she said to me, “Is it reasonable for you to leave your mother and move to Paris? And if it is about work, I will try as much as possible to find you a job.”

I work in the Arab press as a freelance journalist or via the internet but I like to have access to the French press. Silivie managed to secure me a job on a radio station called "E-RT" which is a local station in the province and nearby cities such as my city "Strasbourg" and another city called "Nancy". For some time, I worked with this French radio station.

I can say that Emmanuel and Silvie did not only help me with work, they helped me with a lot more. In fact, one of the very main reasons why I have not left the city or moved, is Emmanuel and Silvie! I didn’t want to leave them, even though I left their house about two years ago. I still have a copy of their house key and my own room is still there. I can go there when I want to visit them and sleep there. I feel like I am someone who goes to visit his family to spend two days, and really this is what I do on vacation and during quarantine due to the Coronavirus. I spent ten days with them until I was able to travel to my real family in Germany. I have reached a point where this is not only a French family but my family.

To be honest, they helped me build relationships with many French people. Not only me but also my friends who needed help or work or anything, I would tell them and they never failed to help me or my friends. This is my story and this is my feeling of belonging to the French city of Metz, and to this family specifically, and to the French.