Tala* is a spunky 17-year-old Syrian woman who rocks high-tops, skinny jeans and the most perfect cat-eye eyeliner I’ve ever seen. She raps and writes her own spoken word. She’s what we would call a fabulady Syipster (syrian-hipster, thanks noorhay for coining this term). I was paired with Tala for a debriefing activity on the second day of the healing circle, one that was all about recognizing our vital strengths and knowing ourselves. While talking about our favorite characteristics/what we love about ourselves, she mentioned that she’s proud of and loves how much she looks after and stands up for herself.
We talked about the personal, social and political obstacles in our life. I talked a little about being an arab, muslim WOC in the US. About how it sometimes got tiring to live and be. I talked about the misogyny, police brutality, racism and discrimination I grew accustomed to during high school and college. Tala knows a great deal about discrimination. She told me how difficult it is to find a job or to re-enter school as a Syrian refugee in Turkey. She’s been trying at it for a year, but still hasn’t been able to find something sustainable. As soon as they know her identity, the wage drops dramatically, she told me.
I don’t remember what she said when we discussed our fears. But I shared with her that one of my fears is establishing new relationships with people after college. I talked to her about how I had such an amazing circle of people in undergrad and how I didn’t really feel like expanding it, starting over, or coming to terms with the fact that people I love and used to see everyday multiple times a day are now thousands of miles away from me. She nodded and shared her own stories of losing friends at home, in Shaam.
Talking to Tala was fantastic. She didn’t make me feel guilty or weird for basically saying I’m at a point in my life where I have an aversion to new people. Instead, she said she was quite good at evading relationships/people when she wanted to. Like the multiple suitors who’ve been wanting to get to know her ever since she moved to Turkey. Below-average randos she has no interest in talking to. Sometimes her parents ask her to at least give them a chance, to meet with them or see them just once. She shared an instance where she finally agreed to see a non-Syrian, Arab suitor who came over. “I told them, OK sure, I’ll see him–no problem. So he came over. And when I first walked in, you know what I did? I walked in and said very sweetly with a straight face, ‘salam 3amo, keef 7alak?” and then I sat back and watched his face freak out because I called him ‘3amo’ (mister). It made him feel like a creep. And that was it.”
Tala is the queen of subversion. She goes along with things, with people thinking they are getting their way, but finds loopholes and subtle ways to drop what she doesn’t need in her life. I’ll def be using this tactic as needed, and I’m looking forward to learning more from her brilliance.
Til later–comrades, 3amos and khaltos.
*Tala’s real name is definitely not Tala.