Tasneem Abdalrazaq

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Sweden
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I am Tasneem, born in Syria, of Palestinian origin. I am of twenty-two opinions, twenty-two chances, twenty-two experiences, and perhaps many more things besides.

I sought asylum in Sweden in 2015, and before I came I was fighting to make my way in Istanbul for two years. Despite the struggles I had then, those years are really important to me. I learned a lot from them, and they transformed Tasneem for the better, though with difficulty.

The first thing I did after finding out that I was coming to Sweden was enrolling in an English-language learning institute, because the big slap on the face I got in Turkey from not knowing the language taught me that I need to start taking steps forward even if it seems really premature. And though I rejected the idea of going to Sweden, I was still preparing for it in every possible way. Of course there was a sense of depression over the change in general atmosphere and all the different things I expected to encounter, but still, I was excited. I decided I’d finish up quickly in order to travel, and I told myself don’t just sit there passively, you can help yourself and help others.

The second step was learning Swedish. I was annoyingly persistent when I started, like if I saw anything on the ground in class I’d call the teacher over and point to it and ask: what’s this in Swedish? It got to the point where the teacher started calling me over herself if she saw something out of the ordinary to say: Tasneem, this is called such-and-such, and this made me really happy.

Whenever I visited the dentist, or the supermarket, or anywhere, my curiosity came right along with me. I always had a notebook and pen in hand, and this gave me about a 70% extra boost. Because I was so insatiable, a month and a half after enrolling at the language school I decided I’d give a presentation about a writer I admired a lot. But I read in Arabic of course, and I wanted to talk about the writer’s life in Swedish, to surprise both my teacher and myself. So that’s exactly what I did. It took me about 6 hours to work on my presentation, and I was so afraid of making mistakes. I almost stopped several times, not wanting to continue, but then I’d tell myself: “whatever, onward!” It was enough that I’d decided to do this on my own without anyone asking it of me. I worked with great enthusiasm and practiced my pronunciation really well, and the next day I really surprised my teacher; I presented my reading and my blood itself was boiling out of nervousness. My teacher’s reaction? She said it was the first time and I was the first student who gave a presentation after just a month and a half of learning. I felt so proud I started to cry, even though now when I think back to what I said I laugh at myself, because all the words I used were so easy and simple, but at the time it seemed incredible.

After all this initial excitement I went through a period when everything made me depressed. From the general state of things in the world to my friends to the place, to everything. I’d take my frustration out by reading. I’d go to the desk and sit there for 5 to 6 hours reading a book in Arabic. I was oblivious to time passing as well as my surroundings. My mother started pulling the book out of my hands, afraid that something bad would happen to me. Until one day I thought to go see a psychologist.

Really, I’ve had so many good people come through my life, and every time I encountered one of them I’d say: I’ve never encountered a person this good. But honestly there was someone completely different to the rest. He didn’t contribute anything tangible but the moral support he provided was so vital to me. He’d always say: “believe in yourself, and stop imagining that you live in darkness, stay out of the darkness altogether.” And after that I started saying to myself: this country is mine, why shouldn’t it be mine? Who said I’m just working in vain? I’m putting in effort for my sake, for the sake of this country. It might take more from me than it gives back but in the end, in return for my effort it’s giving me safety. Dignity. Love. Kindness. And it’s helping me financially, because elsewhere it’s giving me something without expecting anything in return, not even a thank you. This country is still teaching me my own mother tongue lest I forget it, so shall I reward it with negativity? Certainly not!

And so out of love for this country and because I sought to integrate with every last fiber of my heart, I started defending it unconsciously, feeling proud of it, getting annoyed whenever anyone disparages it. I don’t know why. But this is where I’m at now.

This was my story and I am Tasneem.