My Syrian Soul Brother, Part III: Danger at Sea

Marwan’s place of employment in Ankara turned out to be a sweatshop. He left as soon as he could and taught English in private schools. But when the schools closed for the summer, he was on the brink of starvation (and hid it from me). It was time for him to move on. This is his story:

I wanted to leave Turkey but couldn’t afford it. Then my uncle left Syria with his two daughters, ages three and five. “Get ready to leave,” he said when he arrived in Turkey. “I’ll take you out of here.” I only packed some clothes. There were no goodbyes or farewells.

We stayed at a hotel in Marmaris for a week, waiting for the smuggler’s call. We were nervous the whole time. The plan was to take a fast boat: it’s safer for children. But the smuggler was arrested. The only way out now was a rubber dinghy.

A few smugglers came over to talk to us, but they had overloaded their dinghies. This could mean death at sea. We were running out of time. It was the end of the summer. Soon the weather would get worse; roads would be closed.

Then we found a smugglers’ middleman from our hometown. He guaranteed our safety. “Thirty-six people on the dinghy,” he said. That’s a good number.

We took the bus to Bodrum with a few other boat passengers—many left Turkey illegally from there. Upon our arrival at the bus terminal, policemen took our passports and ordered us to leave Bodrum immediately.

Everybody freaked out.

I stayed calmed and told them to follow my lead. I bought a bus ticket to another city, and so did they. When we got on the bus, the police gave us our passports back. Now I had to convince the bus driver to let us off at the first station without raising his suspicion.

If we didn’t get back to Bodrum in time, we’d miss our boat and get stuck in Turkey.

I quickly befriended an English-speaking Turkish guy (my Turkish is poor). “Are you in danger?” the guy asked.

“Not at all,” I replied. “Our friends are picking us up at the next station.”

The guy then convinced the bus driver to stop for us. There were taxis nearby, and we went back to Bodrum. We contacted our middleman, and he instructed us to meet him in the mountains. But we were late; the taxi had gotten lost. When we finally arrived, he took us to a restaurant where the big smugglers hang out. It was already 9am.

Our smuggler wanted to take more money for my nieces: usually there’s no charge for kids. Then my uncle rushed to buy us life-jackets. Soon it was time to leave. Taxis arrived one by one, taking a few people at a time, not to raise suspicion. We had to wait on the rooftop of a hotel in downtown Bodrum with the rest of the passengers – mostly women and children.

After five hours’ wait, around 3am, the smugglers arrived with the taxis again and took us to a high hill. Turkish men told us to follow them, screaming Yalla (“come on” in Arabic).

The moon was full, the weather was clear, we felt safe.

We walked for 1.25 miles. I held a newborn baby in my arms. No flashlights were allowed. When we arrived at the shore, people filled the rubber dinghy with air. It was 4:30am when they were done. The smugglers called out for the dinghy driver to steer the boat. No one responded. I asked in Turkish, “Where is the driver?”

“We don’t know,” one of them replied. “He should be here already.”

They kept calling out for him, and then they tried to convince me to drive the boat, saying the police were coming.

I couldn’t take such responsibility.

They kept pushing me.

A fight was about to break out. Children had started to cry; the tension had increased. One of the smugglers took me aside and said repeatedly, “Drive the boat. Do it,” and I kept saying, “No, I can’t.”

He tried to hit me, but his partner stopped him. Then the driver showed up. We carried the dinghy to the water, and everybody went on board. The sea was calm at first, but it became stormy as we moved away from the shore.

It was pitch black. I could hear my heart beating. I was sitting on the right edge of the boat. If something happened, maybe I could jump out in time before the waves came crashing over us. Everybody seemed paralyzed. It was overwhelmingly crowded, and I couldn’t move…I felt powerless!

After arriving safely in Greece, Marwan traveled to Sweden and applied for asylum there. On the way to Sweden, he and his uncle and nieces had to sleep in dripping-wet tents for refugees and had to walk long distances in the rain with the children.

In October 2016, Marwan is going to participate in a show at the Royal Theater of Stockholm and tell his story.

8 thoughts on “My Syrian Soul Brother, Part III: Danger at Sea

  1. Donna Davis Everhart

    My word. What a harrowing account! Lilac, please share my comments with Marwan. His style of writing is stark and the sense of danger is in every word. I’m glad you let him tell his part, Lilac! It helps to give the reader the urgency about what was happening, and not only that, it’s amazing (to me) what someone has to know about navigating this area of the world.

    Great post! I hope Marwan is happy, safe, and it’s so exciting he will be in a show to tell his story. I hope we hear more about him, and how he’s doing!

    <3 <3<3

    1. Lilac Shoshani Post author

      Sometimes I give a voice to those who have no voice on my blog. But in Marwan’s case, he can express himself in such a powerful way. Rest assured that I will share your wonderful comments with him, dearest Donna! He will be so grateful and moved by you. I’m not sure though if he can respond on my blog for security reasons.

      Being a refugee is tough, but he is doing OK. I pray for the day he’ll get asylum and become a free man. And it will be my pleasure to keep you updated about his progress. Thank you for your precious friendship!

      <3 <3 <3

  2. Jay Meha

    Gut wrenching and inspiring at the same time. I feel for Marwan and thousands like him who have had to endure such hardship. And i bless people like you who go out of their way to assist those in need.

    1. Lilac Shoshani Post author

      It is terrible what people still have to endure in the 21st century, Jay. Thank you for your lovely sentiments and blessings, dear!

      1. Jay Meha

        Its a story of hope and faith, and how kindness can help pave the path through a hopeless situation. Its a tale of humanity, about the purity that resides in the hearts of those who help. You are to be congratulated, Lilac

        1. Lilac Shoshani Post author

          It sure is a story of hope and faith, Jay! Caring is the greatest superpower of all; it can completely transform people’s lives. You are a caring person too and look at all the good that you do… proud of you!

  3. Anna

    OH so glad our Marwan is safe.
    Lilac thank you so much for sharing this, you are such a blessing in the lives of so many. Your gift of love is a treasure. <3
    Longing for the day we are all able to meet up in NYC !!
    Marvin my man, we are going to dance together on streets of gold one day. 😀

    1. Lilac Shoshani Post author

      What an honor to have you here, Anna! 😀
      You are always there for Marwan as well and for many others. It’s your love that gives strength to people in their darkest hour.
      I can’t wait to meet up in NYC as well! That would be one of the happiest days of my life.
      I’ll be watching you dancing with Marwan on streets of gold (what an amazing image, Anna… sighing)!
      You are the blessing! <3 <3 <3

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