The first time Tarek Nemr had to leave his father’s side was to get into a taxi to drive him from Syria to Lebanon in order to fly to Jordan for refuge. He couldn’t simply fly from the Syrian airport, as it was a war zone. He was 16 years old and had never been away from his family before.
“There was no way to say goodbye, but we did say goodbye,” he recalls of that day. Seven years later, he has an apartment and two jobs here in Canada, a world away from his hometown of Damascus, Syria.
In talking to him, you would not be able to predict the hardship that Tarek has been through. Instead, you would find kindness, humor, keen intellect, and a great deal of modesty.
“I haven’t suffered nearly as much as others, so it’s not fair for me to be the voice for all refugees,” he explained. And though that may be true, Tarek has been through more than most of us can imagine.
Tarek will be giving the Augustana and Camrose community insight into that hardship at his talk “A phone call away: My Syrian refugee journey” at the 20th annual augustana human library on Monday, October 1. He will act as a human book that the audience can ‘check out’ in order to learn about his life in Syria, the events that led up to him leaving the only place he has ever known, his journey to Canada, and what his day-to-day looks like now.
He will also discuss the Syrian civil war for those who are unsure of how the conflict arose and will touch on how difficult it was for him, a single young male, to enter our country.
Since arriving in Canada, not everything has been perfect for Tarek. From disgusting internet comments to dirty looks on public transit, he will talk about the racism that he has experienced while sharing his story, or simply reading an Arabic book, here in Canada.
Nancy Goebel, head librarian at Augustana and human library coordinator, is a personal friend of the woman helping to run the organization that sponsored Tarek and at whose home he stayed when he first arrived.
But it was more than a tacit connection that brought him to Augustana to tell his story.
“I get frustrated with our culture, because people don’t realize what a privilege it is to be in a place you can trust,” Goebel explained, as one of the reasons she thinks it’s important for Tarek to tell his story. “I trust the government, even if it’s a government I don’t like, because I know they’re not going to hurt me. They might not stand up for what I want but I don’t stay up at night wondering if I’m about to get bombed,” which was a reality for Tarek back in Syria.
Along with the human library kick-off event, Tarek will be speaking in a number of classes here at Augustana, and then will offer a short presentation at the Camrose Public Library on Tuesday, October 2. He will also be taking part in a Lunch & Learn back at Augustana on October 3 to answer questions that members of the community can submit in advance online.
Although we will get the great pleasure of hearing from him in person, Tarek’s reality is that he can only speak to his parents through the phone and skypes with a little sister he has not yet met in person.
Though clearly missing his family, Tarek has begun to create a new one here in Canada.