I had the outstanding opportunity to speak with Redwan Eid, the Syrian journalist currently residing in Lietuvą. Many of us can relate to the refugee experience being the children or grandchildren of refugees from Lithuania.
Take a moment to learn of the experiences of a refugee who was taken in by Lietuva.
Thank you Redwan Eid for taking the time to speak with me. I learned so much from you as a person and about the modern day refugee experience.
Interview with Journalist Redwan Eid
Redwan Eid is a Syrian journalist who currently resides in Lithuania. He has recently been featured in a multi-part series in the Lithuanian Tribune. I was immediately drawn to his story. Perhaps, initially, because we both are journalists, a superficial commonality, and then as I learned of his struggles, on a more basic more human level, I felt a growing connection to his story and his struggle.
I loved the Lithuanian Tribune articles. I thought they were insightful and well written. But I wanted to know more; my curiosity was increasingly piqued with every subsequent article. I wanted to know more about Redwan as a person, about Syria as it once was, and what the experience of leaving absolutely everyone and everything behind you to start again was like. So, with all these unanswered questions gnawing at me, I reached out to Redwan. He graciously agreed to an interview. I learned so much more than I had hoped: about the man, the journey, and the refugee experience.
It’s easy to view people as statistics, until you learn about the person himself or herself, that every statistical number in actuality has a beating pulse, fears, hopes and dreams. Thank you Redwan, you were more candid and honest than I had expected, and I thank you for sharing part of yourself with me.
Could you share a little about Syria- what it was like for you as a child, and how did it change in the past few years?
Well, to answer this question, I need to flashback in memory to the very early times of my childhood.
Syria as a child didn’t hold a special meaning, since a child would not realize that the land they are on can be different from other places. If the child even realizes that there are many lands with different names, all I could know about my country as a child is that “this is where I am, I live here”.
I am a child of two patriot parents, I can still remember how strongly my father expressed his emotions toward Syria and never chose to go abroad for a job in spite of the many, many tempting chances he had.
Still, as a child, a negative side about my country in my memory maybe took over. The prejudice I witnessed as a pupil in elementary school, where I, with others, could see how those children of people in authority, including the army and other high ranks in the regime, were given advantages over us. These ‘others’ were treated way better than the other pupils, and for nothing. They were tolerated for any mistakes they committed and were given all they wanted and desired in the school. To an extent, for them, the school was as a club to only hang out in. Now, as an adult, I can say the domestic rules of Syrian schools were tailored for their sizes!!
They didn’t have to do homework, nor study for exams. They would pass the exams whatever their efforts and, sometimes, with far superior grades.
I, with others, were still well-treated, but for our good manners and achievements in our studies only. Meanwhile the spoiled children of the people in authority were given the same treatment as we were, if not even sometimes better, despite their bad manners and low grades they achieved in reality. We were always surprised that eventually they were “the high-grade achievers”.
So that was a starting point for me in realizing that this country, “Syria”, has those issues, without being aware as a child that they are “issues” or what is the meaning of such a word!
Such stories affected our memories as children in schools. As we grew up, we realized that the prejudice of teachers and school headmasters in favor of those “privileged” spoiled children had another reason: our sectarian origins, as those children belonged to the same sect Hafiz Al-Assad and his men belonged to.
Facts like these are not understood by children at their age, nor would their families provide clarity, since parents would not willingly plant such ideas in the minds of their kids. But life can’t hide it for long and, with time, they learned for themselves!
Hence, as we grew up we learned that the regime was totally corrupt!
Otherwise, all the love I have towards my country is for the land in its moral meaning, as a country that I adore and wish to come back to later when the war is over, and to participate in reconstructing it.
For sure, to talk about my whole love for my country, Syria, I would need books and books to tell the people about, and cannot be summarized in mere lines.
How was the ability to live a normal life altered? Did you always want to pursue journalism?
The credit for me leading a normal life goes to my parents, and my parents only. I am a child of cultivated, well-educated parents who brought me up, alongside with my brother and sisters, on the basis of love and respect for our land and all people regardless of where they come from or what religion, race or colour they are, as well as other historical factors that have played a role in forming prejudice among nations. This was the base and, regarding my domestic life, my parents gave us all what we wanted. They were simple employees for governmental departments and used to earn a low monthly income from their jobs, but they did their best to please us and bring us up in a moral way.
At home, under their supervision, we might have been the most spoiled children ever, we had everything we ever wished to have. Regardless of how expensive it was, they just brought it to us the second day we asked for it, even if they would need to borrow money from friends to afford it. They just didn’t want us to feel like we wanted for anything: a doll, an electronic gadget and we couldn’t have it. They made birthday parties every year on a regular basis, not only to celebrate our birthdays and make us happy, but to teach us how to behave on such occasions when we got invited to friends’ homes for such parties.
I can still remember that, all the time, my father worked overtime at his job to afford the “luxurious life” we lived. Compared to many people I knew, we lived well. My mother also worked tirelessly, she used to tailor dresses for ladies in the afternoon and evenings to gain more money to afford the life she and my father wanted for us.
She is a brilliant mother, and has very beautiful, modernized taste. She studied the arts, so she cared about artistic things and tiny details, and paid serious attention to etiquette and other related details in our upbringing. Although rarely, she even painted pictures at home in her free time.
My parents indulged us a lot, but they would never tolerate two things: if we did badly at the school, or someone (mostly a neighbor) would complain about us misbehaving. At those points, they would firmly discipline us, and had no mercy in that regard!
As for my career in journalism, I am going to give you the very typical answer that we hear from actors and well-known celebrities, which is “it all happened by chance”.
Personally I had always thought that such answers were made up. I would think: “come on… how can such things happen by chance. Look at those people who don’t belong to the ground”. Then it happened to me.
I never planned to pursue a career in journalism specifically, but I wasn’t far from that. Instead, I always fancied being a news anchor, or an actor. But especially a news anchor. I always dreamt of getting such a job in a TV, but it was just a dream that I didn’t actively try to fulfill.
I like languages very much, and I have been fond of English since the first lesson I took as a child. Here I would again like to mention my mother, since she was the one who taught us English at home and helped us revise for the exams. Later, when I finished high school, I felt like I wanted to have a job using my English skills and that’s why I studied tourism, through which I hoped to get a job in the flight industry. However after I finished my studies, I did not work as a flight attendant or tour-guide. As it happened, at that time, a local newspaper launched in my city and they needed employees from different specialties. I applied there.
I remember that my teachers always paid me compliments on my gift in writing and expressing myself about the situation I was discussing. So I can say that I was always gifted in composition at school, which is “writing” in general. Although I acknowledge that “writing” is not “journalism”, I am a good news reader and follower of current affairs in general, so that helped me in doing my job as a journalist.
So, the whole matter happened “by chance”.
How did you end up coming to Lithuania?
I arrived in Greece, making my way from Turkey, where I had stayed for a year and a half. In Turkey I worked as an English teacher first, due to the lack of journalistic opportunities. Later I continued my job as a journalist for some Syrian news websites and a radio station, where I could feel like my dream came true as I was a news anchor, though only partially, as it was not on TV!
So after I made to Greece, I registered in the relocation programme, which allocated me to Lithuania. At the beginning, I was rather scared of going to a country that I did not know, nor its people and culture!
What are your impressions of Lithuania and Lithuanian people?
The answer to this question seems to be a continuation of the previous one; so honestly, I would say that I now feel comfortable here in Lithuania. I have many Lithuanian friends of various ages and they have been very welcoming and really tried to ease things for me and lessen the feeling of “isolation”. I initially felt isolated as a newcomer to the country who definitely felt strange at the beginning.
Lithuanians are nice and lovely, and, as I am starting my life here, and would for sure need help from some friends. I really cannot say enough about the generosity and courteousness I have been met with by my Lithuanian friends, even going so far as to offering to host me at their homes until I find an apartment in Vilnius.
I think I can confidently say that I love the Lithuanians and they are good-hearted people.
Still, I was met with some rejection and prejudice by a few Lithuanians, on the basis of my nationality or religion. However this small number never truly represents the majority of Lithuania. Secondly, I can understand that Lithuanian society is not yet prepared to receive refugees and still has fears in that regard, which is understandable. I am sure, with time, there is going to be a good relationship between the Lithuanians and refugees.
Thank you Redwan- it was both insightful as well as a pleasure learning more about your early life, your experiences, and your goals.