I’m giving TOEFL classes to this Syrian student at the Princeton Review these days. My first impression of this early 20s kid was that he’s talks too much, annoyingly too much. In contrast to most of my students who are local, disagreement and voicing their own opinion is often equal to blasphemy. So this one stood out like sore thumb. He had a problem with the class timings, insisted on fixing the air swing on the aircon (I just said Aircon as opposed to AC. Minglish, much? Oh no) and was very comfortable in making himself a coffee in the pantry in the 2 minute break that I gave him.
On the third day of class, in the middle of discussing tenses he asks me ‘So you’re from Pakistan, is your family in danger?’ I just looked at him for a few seconds and then said No. ‘Mine is in Syria and they’re in danger’. He went on to tell me about how his entire family is in Damascus where there are bombings going on day and night. He’s the only one who moved to KL 2 months back and how he constantly worries for his family’s safety back home. He told me how a bomb attack at a cafe next to his house was the final straw in his decision to move out. ‘The entire house shook with the impact and the windows broke. I cant sleep at night and I call my parents between 2am and 6am Syria time because that’s when most of the bombings have happened historically.’
I told him I understood how it felt. But truth be told I didn’t. Yes, stuff like that happens in Pakistan all the time. But I have never experienced it first hand the way he had. Terrorism hasn’t impacted my life the same way it has impacted his.
So while he worked on the assignment I gave him, I looked up the political situation in Syria. Civil war, suicide bombings galore. Just two days ago, on January 15, the main university at Aleppo was bombed. 100 plus casualties, mostly students. As usual the rebels blamed the government and the government blamed the rebels. An all too familiar story sadly.
His story and the fact that he chose to share it with me explained a lot about his mannerisms. The fact that he had decided to leave war torn Syria behind, ventured out on his own seeking a better future explained a lot about his independent thinking and vociferous behavior that I initially found annoying. Since he went to elite private schools in Syria, I’m guessing he has the financial resources to keep him afloat in Malaysia, an option a lot of ordinary Syrians don’t have.
He probably shared his story with me since I was one of the very few people he knew here. The fact that I was Pakistani, may have made him feel I would understand what he was saying. The basic need to interact, share emotions, is what makes us human..