Ahed Festuk

From Syria to the US

I arrived in the United States of America on November 14, 2015. I was forced to leave my home country due to an ongoing war, after spending five years without my family under drastic conditions and in fear of my life. I was an activist against the Assad regime in Syria and against ISIS.  My friend made a movie about my experience as an activist and because of this movie, I was invited to come to speak to the UN.  I got a tourist visa sponsored by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and at the same time, I decided to leave my country and seek safety elsewhere. 

On that day. I drove to Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, but was held at the Turkish borders for three days. I was stuck in no man’s land and I had to sleep in a car during this time because I was three days early for my flight according to the Turkish border security officer. I had no food, just a bottle of water, A few hours before my flight, the Turkish officer allowed me to pass and I went directly to the airport to catch my flight to Washington DC. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see my parents before leaving but I had a feeling that it would be a long time before I saw them again.

I arrived in Washington after a 13-hour flight full of flashbacks, memories of family and friends left behind. At that time, I barely spoke a couple of words in English. Thus, I had arranged for my friend to speak with the immigration officer over the phone when I reached there. When I reached the check point, I realized that my phone battery was dead. I told the police officer that I didn’t speak English and he asked for an interpreter.  Unfortunately, at that time no one was available. Subsequently, we tried to work it out with what I had in hand. I handed all my documents and the invitation for the conference. I barely understood a word from him, I had only memorized this phrase “I have a conference”. In the end, he smiled and stamped my passport to allow me to pass through. A few days later I realized I had to face a new reality where I was and that everything in my life would change: no more bombing, airstrikes and bloodshed around me. After that, I had to think about the challenges I had in my future in the US: the first of all was the English language and my documentation as a political asylee. After a while, I found out places and people are ready and happy to help Syrian people. I’m very grateful for my life in America and the people I’ve met here.  However, hopefully I can go back to my country one day. 

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