This is part 2 of the interview which was done by Andrea Šmider, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. Click here to read part 1.
We continue our conversation with talking about S.’s new life here, in Croatia, but this time in a different setting. This time we are sitting in a coffee shop, in a local shopping centre. It is quite crowded, and S. is sitting across from me, watching all the people pass by. The first question comes naturally: I ask her about her impression on Croatians.
Her experience with Croatian people, thus far, has been mostly positive, as most of them she met seemed open and friendly.
“Croatian values correlate with my own, and that’s why I like it here. Family, friends and hospitality seem to be as important as they are to me. People that worked with us in Porin I like especially; they are good people.”
She says she enjoys having the freedom to invite her new friends to her apartment, as that’s something she wasn’t allowed to do in Iraq. Most of her time these days, however, is spent on cooking classes, which she attends daily. Apart from working on getting a qualification as a chef, it is also an opportunity for her to bond with people, making new connections and friends .
“I like it there. Everybody is really nice and people seem to really like the food we are making. It really is a chance for me to connect with some like-minded people.”
When she finishes the course she will get a cooking license, after which she hopes to open up a Kurdish restaurant.
“Maybe after working as a chef for couple of years, I can open up my own restaurant serving Kurdish meals. I’m thinking it would be a good idea, as that would be something new for Croatia.”
But of course, there is that dream to be a teacher here in Croatia, something that, for now she says, seems to be only a mere possibility. She seems discouraged by the language barrier. In fact, that is one of the hardest things she finds about her new life in Croatia.
“One of the hardest things here for me is the language. Having a proper Croatian course would really help me learn it faster, which would help my independence as you need to know the language to be able to get any kind of job.”
Interested to know what could improve life for asylum seekers here in Croatia, I ask her to tell me one thing that she feels would help the quality of her own life.
“Well, apart from a language course, I find myself confused with some Croatian traditions and holidays. So what I think would help asylum seekers here is some sort of course where they will be able to learn more about Croatian tradition and customs.”
When asked how else she spends her days here, she mentions one of her hobbies: making traditional Iraqi dresses. She showed me the dresses back in her apartment, when we were doing the first part of the interview. Rather than just describing them to me, she got up and started getting the dresses out of her closet. I was amazed at their beauty – they were all rich in texture and equally vibrant in colour.
“Those dresses are some of the last things I decided to take with me. I left so many of my things in Iraq, because you really have to choose what you are going to bring with you … but I just couldn’t leave them behind.”
S. seems to be a person of many interests, devoting her time and energy to a lot of different things. And so naturally, I’m interested to know how she pictures her life 5 years from now.
“I imagine myself in a nice house, with a good stable job, surrounded by good friends and, of course by that time, I have already learned Croatian. There are too many problems in my country, especially as a woman… I didn’t come here to live a crazy life; I’m not in my twenties anymore and I have no interest in that. I just want my own place and space, where I will be able to recharge my mind, body and soul. I just want my peace.”
I am truly thankful to S. for sharing her story with me, but mostly for making me realize that freedom and equality are the needs of all of us, and whether you have them or not should not depend on where you were born.
I believe that positions of power come with the responsibility to use that power for the betterment of those who don’t. Even though most of us don’t hold powerful political positions, we still can and should use the power that we do have, freedom and equality, to fight for those who need it.
So let us all dare to believe that we CAN make a difference, because, as the famous quote goes, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
As a final question, I asked S. if there was a message she could share with the people of the world, what would it be? And so with that message I am ending this interview.
“When any person is unhappy they want to change their life for the better. And so, my urge to change mine has brought me here to Croatia – I can say my new country that I love and respect. And to every other asylum seeker out there: love and respect the country that opened its doors for you. Even though there are still a lot of things in my life I wish to improve, I can finally say I am happy. Wishing good for everybody.”
Andrea Šmider (22) currently lives in Zagreb, where she studies Social Work at Faculty of Law. After volunteering in a refugee camp, she stayed active in the field of refugee rights through attending different conferences and seminars. The urge to learn more in that field has led her to take part in the project Young Peace Journalists. She hopes to continue in that direction in the upcoming years. Her other interests include reading, spirituality and music.