Manar Alhashemi

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

Manar is 30 years old and lives in Norway. This is a translation of the transcript of his recorded story:

"I am Manar Alhashemi from Homs, Syria. I am currently a resident in Norway and working as a musician. I arrived in Norway in September 2014, and on the first day of my arrival I entered the Norwegian asylum system. There are three "refugee camps" for specific stages and periods ranging from approximately 14 months. During this period, you complete all your papers and official documents in this country to start your life again.

I stayed at the first camp for a short period of about a week. During this time, you are lost, knowing nothing, recovering from your journey, and the official papers are progressing slowly. In the second camp, I started to form an idea of the way people are. I can also say that in this camp, the first key to this country appeared when I asked the language teacher: “Who are you? What are you doing?”

The language teacher was a retired woman, about 70 years old, who was very active and wanted to help people, especially with the language. In that period, people were not forced to learn the language. It was voluntary and those who wished to attended language classes during that waiting period.

My teacher asked me: “What do you work as?” I answered: “I am a musician, I love music”. She said: “What do you play?” I replied: “Guitar”. She asked: “And where is your guitar?” I answered: “I do not have it with me, I was barely able to bring my clothes across the sea!”

The next day, the teacher came to the class with a guitar. It was a new guitar, and she told me: “Manar, this is for you as you don't have a guitar right now. Take it and start playing it”.

I was shocked as it was a new guitar. I was like a thirsty person who had been given a cup of water. It was a very big thing, and from then on, my teacher Angriohna and I became friends.

After a while, I had to move to the third camp in central Norway in a town called Ryokan. The city was between two mountains in a valley and there was no sun at all from September to April. You could see light but you did not see the sun. On the top of the mountain there were three mirrors. They reflected the sunlight onto a small spot in the village so people could see the sun a little. There was something called the Sun Festival, when the sun began entering the village.

When I arrived, the city was gloomy, grey and very sad. In the first week, I got very depressed and I did not know what I was going to do. I asked myself where I had come to and what I had done to myself. There was no sun and it was snowy, reaching -24 sometimes.

Then, I started saying yes to every opportunity from an event to small parties or anything that was organised through the camp, church or other people. I would go and do anything to meet and talk with people. I took the guitar that Angriohna had given me and I started organising small and big parties, small events, voluntary events and courses for children in the camp. Through musical activities I met Eilin and Astern, two women of about 50 years old who are Norwegian language teachers and refugee rights activists. They helped me and my friends there and we became friends and prepared food together and we went out with each other. They helped me with a lot of things, especially asylum matters at that time. They had a third friend called Birgate and tried to introduce us but she refused! I understood that Birgate had a problem with refugees or something and didn't feel comfortable getting to know refugees. They kept trying to get Birgate to meet us.

Eventually, Birgate agreed to meet and we became friends. We would go out together and she helped us with a lot of things. After a while, she asked us to help her paint her house.The house was very big and my friends and I helped her to paint it. She offered us money but we did not accept and considered it just help and entertainment since we had nothing else to do.

At the end of 2015, I was told that I must move to my final place of residence and here I became free. I started to live my life normally like everyone else. Without telling me, Birgate posted on her Facebook page that her Syrian friend who liked playing music was moving to Bergen, a city in the west of Norway, and asked if any of her friends there could help me. A woman called Sonova replied: “All my children are there. They are professional musicians and I used to live in Damascus for a short period”.

When I arrived, I met Sonova and she told me that her father worked for the United Nations and they had lived in Damascus for a while and she had liked Syria. One time I went with her and her family to a hut in the mountains built by her father. He had named it "Majdal Shams". Even some of the rooms inside had Syrian names like Hama, Gayta, Basri, Wadi Ram and Golan. The names of the rooms were engraved on wooden boards in the old Norwegian and Scandinavian letter, which are originally descended from the old Phykang language. It was a very nice thing, I don't know if I can call this a coincidence.

I can say that Sonova is the most helpful person and my biggest support here in Norway. She helped me with everything, teaching me the laws here and more about Norwegian society. She was always like the "reference" for me when I wanted to work or rent a house. I was like a child in a new city and I threw a party. It was a big party and I borrowed a guitar from Andhra, Sonova’s husband. It was relatively good guitar and better than my own. I would say that this guitar was the second key to my career, and after that party I worked more and more. I was asked to more parties and slowly I started to find work in music and things got better and better until I was able to play with a singer who is well-known here.

After almost three years, that singer is working with me on a new music project with a Norwegian production company with a long history of well-known and competent musicians. The project talks about refugees stuck in Greece who cannot enter Europe or return to Turkey. I can say that this project is the biggest musical work I have been part of and it has given me great musical momentum. What I want to say now is that everything that happened is not a coincidence, it is a network of acquaintances, people and a door that opens a door and a tune that brings us to a tune. Perhaps a dish of food can open many doors for you. In this life there is bad and good, let's always see the beautiful and good and see the funny side before we see the frown.

I am a Manar Alhashemi from Norway and this is my story."