Thursday 22 February 2018

Razan Ibraheem: I'll never forget the sound of bullets and bombs in Syria

Razan Ibraheem (35) is a journalist for a social-media news agency. Born in Latakia, Syria, she came to Ireland in 2011 to do a master's degree. Then the war escalated and she couldn't return. She lives in Dublin 2 with her sister and her niece

Razan Ibraheem came to Ireland in 2011 from Syria. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Razan Ibraheem came to Ireland in 2011 from Syria. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Ciara Dwyer

I wake up one minute before the alarm at 5am. Then I hit the snooze button for 10 minutes. I never get up straight away. I live in an apartment with my sister and my niece. They aren't awake at that hour. I'm very fast getting ready in the mornings - 10 minutes maximum. I think it's beautiful to feel that you are beautiful inside and outside. When you do your hair and make-up and decide what outfit you are going to wear, it's the artistic side of you.

I live in Dublin 2, and the office is in Dublin 4. For the past few weeks, I've been cycling to work. The journey only takes 12 minutes. When I was in Syria, I never had a breakfast. I'd go to work, and have brunch later on. I do the same thing here. If I am on an early shift, I start work at 6am.

I'm a journalist in a social-media news agency. I've been here for just over a year, and I love it. It's an amazing place to work - the atmosphere and the nature of the work. When I sit at my desk, I never know what to expect. I might be working on something in Aleppo or Damascus, Lebanon or Italy. The work could take me to 10 different countries, so I feel like I'm visiting all of those countries.

My job is to verify the content of videos and make sure that they are authentic. I work across all countries, but because of my Arabic language skills and familiarity with the culture, my focus is mainly on the Middle East. Watching video footage of Syria is extremely sad. These are my people. I'm watching my city, and other places I've visited before, and you can see that they are totally destroyed. People are being killed everywhere. Sometimes the content is horrific, but it's important that the truth is out there.

I came to Ireland in 2011, but it was never the plan to stay here. I grew up in Latakia, a beautiful coastal city. Both my parents were school principals, and they always believed in education. They told us that it could open doors for us. Education is free in Syria, so no matter what background you have, everybody is equal in the classroom.

I was first exposed to Irish literature in university. We studied Waiting for Godot and Ulysses. Then I wanted to do a master's abroad. I wanted to do it in an English-speaking country to improve my English, but also, I wanted to be exposed to different cultures and learn about other people. But I didn't have any money. So I taught English, and saved for 10 years. When I had enough money, I applied to study at the University of Limerick, and I was accepted.

Five months after the conflict started in Syria, I came to Ireland. At home, there was fear everywhere. You didn't know what was going to happen, but you expected something bad all the time. I'll never forget the sounds of bombs and bullets. It still haunts me. I was very thankful that I got a visa to come to Ireland. It changed my life. I didn't know anybody in Limerick, but the people were so welcoming.

When I finished my master's, the violence in Syria escalated, and I couldn't go home. I already had a job waiting for me over there. I was in a limbo. It was one of the most difficult periods in my life here. Then I decided that I would start from zero. I had no other option. I knew I had to be strong.

Eventually, I was able to bring my brother here - thanks to the Syrian Humanitarian Administration Programme (SHAP). My sister had been in the UK, and she joined us too. I was separated from my parents for five years, but eventually they came over on holidays to see us. I wanted them to stay here, but I couldn't uproot them. They told me that they want to die in Syria. I miss them a lot, but I talk to them almost every day.

When I finish work, I try to have a space for me and the people I love. Also, I try to do something positive to promote the beauty of the Syrian culture. We planted some jasmine trees in parks in Ireland to symbolise Irish-Syrian friendships. Jasmine is huge in Syria. It's about getting away from the war, because we Syrians are happy people. Even though we live difficult lives, there is happiness inside.

I love the Irish culture of going to pubs. Irish men are a bit shy. Although when they are drunk, it's a different matter.

For the past two summers, I have worked as a volunteer on the Greek island of Kos, meeting boat refugees. I was watching the news in Dublin, and I thought, 'I can't only be a witness'. I decided that I had to do something to help these people. It was one of the most difficult, heartbreaking, but positive experiences. We would go down to the beach at 2am and wait for them to arrive. You saw the sadness in their faces - all that trauma. And what they had been through was unbelievable. We would hug them, and then give them food and dry clothes.

The majority of these people came from Syria. Before I brought my brother to Ireland, he was thinking of getting on a boat, too. One day I saw somebody I knew on a boat. It was very depressing. He was an interior designer, and he designed maybe 10 of the top restaurants in my city, but he fled. He knew my friends and my brother.

The first year I helped out, it was a more positive experience. These people couldn't wait to start a new life. They are now in Germany and Sweden. But this year, it was a more negative experience, because they are trapped in refugee camps and not allowed to travel or work. They have no hope. I feel that it is my duty to see what is happening and speak up for them.

My life is really hectic, and I involve myself in lots of projects. Often I'm not home until 11pm. Before I go to sleep at night, I listen to the news from the Middle East. When the war ends, I want to return to Syria. I feel it is my duty to go back and give the people my strength. I hope that the war ends soon. We can only hope.

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