What Is Happiness? - by Wassim Al Adel
An Essay by A Syrian Refugee girl named Sana
Last week I had the privilege to serve Syrian children in Reyhanli with the Karam Foundation’s “Zeitouna Program”. This is my third time volunteering with this remarkable program, and in each time, my workshops have been focused on trying to draw out the individual in each child, to try and encourage them to create their own space through writing and in doing so, perhaps ease a bit of the pressure that they must be feeling. For all the difficulties I encountered in getting there, be it the hell of flying Turkish Airways and dealing with their infernal customer service, to worrying about, and actually being, questioned at the airport upon my return by the British police (who were very polite and professional on both occasions), I feel the effort was worth it.
After four years of war and exile, I think the hardest thing many Syrian children are suffering from, apart from loss and physical hardship, is the struggle to be recognised as an individual and to remain one. The aid agencies come and go, and many of them look upon Syrian children as objects to be photographed or pitied. For their parents, stressed as they might be, they might be seen as a burden or a nuisance, while for the many militias within the country, both regime and anti-regime, they are seen as ideological vessels to be indoctrinated and trained for war, a corruption of everything that is pure and good about childhood.
During my week in Reyhanli, I wanted to gain the attention of the children by running a writing competition for the most beautifully written essay. The topic was disarmingly simple, and yet very complicated, “What is Happiness?” and the answers that I got were remarkable. I spent the whole of last Wednesday night, after a day of workshops with the children, marking papers, and the more I read, the more I caught glimmers of complex, intelligent and warm human beings who had a fountain of emotion and love to share with the world. A lot of the students wrote what they thought I wanted to read, but some, a rare few, broke out of the mould and the writing they gave me was beautiful and startlingly original. The one essay that took my breath away was written by an eighth grade Syrian girl called Sana, and she was one of the recipients of the beautiful journals and Parker fountain pens that were the prize of each of the four winners. All I want to do is share her essay here for posterity, so that the world knows what a Syrian child, caught up in events that are so much bigger than her, thinks and feels. I’ll leave the conclusions to you, the reader. Here is my translation of Sana’s essay:
What is Happiness?
Happiness takes on a different meaning for each individual in society. My happiness is to live on Mars alone, away from all creatures both rational and non-rational…
For example, I would like to lie down on the dusty red earth of that planet and imagine that I am travelling into space. I am pulled towards a mixture of bright lights at a great speed until they envelope me completely. I find myself in a different world entirely, and the planets here are different from those in our solar system. One planet looks like a large plate of candy and another looks like a mobile phone, but I am especially drawn by the beauty of a planet in the shape of a drawing feather. I go there, and when I land on its surface I see tall people who look like us, but they have no mouths or noses, or even ears. They only have eyes and their society draws. Some draw on walls, others on paper, and everybody draws in the streets.
Now I get up and go to a place that is hidden from the sun and write a brief summary of what I’ve imagined on a piece of paper — just some thoughts. I then write these thoughts as a story on another piece of paper, and when I finish writing my hand aches and my head hurts from thinking about how to structure the story and what its style should be like, as well as from getting new ideas and removing silly ones…I lie down once more and in a few minutes I am seeing strange dreams. For example, I dream that I have woken up from sleep and found myself in a place that has no colour apart from white. I am frightened by this place, and take a step back, only to find that the place I trod on has sprouted grass. Gradually, all the white space transforms into a forest from where I placed my foot.
This is a fantasy forest that has no harmful creatures or plants, like the Venus fly trap or any other poisonous plants. It is a forest filled with flowers and green grass and trees that have strange, delicious fruit that is round in shape and woodpeckers flying in the sky or perched on the branches. I remain asleep until the next day and nobody disturbs me.
This life is happiness in itself for me…It might be a dream that I will always dream or a dream that I can one day accomplish, and I don’t know if I will be able to reach it or if I will fail. I’ll settle for the fact that it’s just a dream, but I know that I will try to reach for it.