project of Kristina Chimbaraite
My name is Rodi and I am Kurdish from Syria. I like music, dancing, and playing football. I am a very social person and I like helping people as much as I can. I have decided to stay in Bulgaria because I like the country and the traditions here are quite familiar so I feel like at home. I am living, working and having friends here.
What do you feel or imagine when you hear the word ‘loneliness’?
The loneliness for me… it's really hard. I have been in such a situation, been lonely until now. I do have supportive friends, I really have a back now, I’m not alone anymore. To be lonely – it’s very difficult. I can’t describe how it feels… people reject you from everywhere. You just want a friendship, you just want someone to talk to, and just because they hear where you are from they make a step back. You know, they’re like smiling, fake smiling to your face and the next day they don’t say ‘hi’ to you. It’s really hard.
Many times here and in Germany I was in such situations, just because I'm from Syria they reject me. Like… they don't show that of course, they cannot say that in your face, because maybe they're shy or something like this. This is how they are or who they are, I don't mind being rejected but in a good way, not in a bad way, that hurts my feelings.
Is there a visual image of loneliness for you? Or a sense?
There is. Actually, I have more than one picture. I used to be in the army. First, the feeling that I had during one of the dark nights: I am alone and I look around me… and just light from so far, voices from so far. I feel like I am not part of this world. What am I doing here? Thousands of questions in my head.
"I don’t know how can I really explain this feeling, but I don’t want anyone ever to feel like that"
Who are you? You have no one around you, you have no one to speak to, you have nothing to do, you are just waiting for your destiny. You know that something will happen but you don’t know at what time. Being really alone, it’s quiet, dark and cold. Everything just gathers together and gives you that feeling that you are not a part of this world. I don’t know how can I really explain this feeling, but I don’t want anyone ever to feel like that. Really… it’s really hard.
This is how people get these psychological problems when even with the people they start to feel lonely. They get used to this feeling because they are scared at that moment, and they could be in a bad mood all the time, they could become antisocial, they could start pushing people away. I used to be like this.
Could you share the first moment when it all started or the most memorable experience of loneliness?
The first time was when I lost connection with my parents. It's been around ten years now since I haven't seen them. Of course, we are in contact now, but I stayed for four or five years without hearing their voice, without knowing where they are, without them knowing where I am. We got separated because of this situation in Syria. So it started at that moment. I started to feel, how they say it, even if there were people around me, I was feeling not good. No, no, no… there’s something wrong, you know.
Yeah, that was the moment. I tried everything to contact my parents to tell them that I’m still alive, but no. One day after these four/five years I finally contacted my dad for a couple of seconds, only seconds when I said: ‘Hello, dad.’ It was 3am. First, when he picked up the phone he didn't say 'hello', he said 'son, is that you?’, I said 'yes, that's me. I'm alive, don't worry' and he said 'ok' and I heard him saying 'thank God that you're alive'. I heard him but the connection was lost again. But at that moment I felt like I have everything because at least now my dad new that I was alive after those years that crushed me and my family.
I don’t want to talk about this because it’s too emotional for me. They even put my picture with a black ribbon on the wall… That felt not real. You’re alive but you see that you’re dead in real life. That was hard. But I was happy later because I could contact them. We could talk, they got to know that I’m alive, they are ok, well… not really ok, but so far so good. At least we have contact now.
And could you tell more about your journey after that?
When I left the place where I was doing my service, I got to my hometown after walking for days, how they say, I passed my country on my feet because I couldn't use public transport. I just needed to survive to see my parents, but I couldn’t. I arrived in my hometown but I didn't find my home. There was only dust, nothing more. And I started searching for my family, one of the neighbours said that they didn’t know where they were because they left the place after the house exploded. Whole my village was under attack actually.
"I arrived in my hometown but I didn't find my home. There was only dust, nothing more"
And yeah… I decided to go to Turkey. I started searching for any chance to go outside Syria to search for my family because someone told me that they might be in Turkey. So I started my journey again, walking for three days and three nights. I crossed the border with Turkey illegally, I couldn’t find any sign that my family was there. And then, you know, how young people and old people, they gather: ‘Oh, I know someone who can take you to Europe, for some amount of money they will show you the way to cross the border. You can go to Europe at least to survive for now. And then you will find a way to find your parents.'
I was ‘ok, why not?’ I knew some guys who knew other guys, it’s like a spider net. I crossed the border from Turkey to Bulgaria… illegally. I got caught by police here, before Sofia. I’ve been in Busmantsi for one month, it is a closed central camp, and then I went to one of the open camps - Voenna Rampa. Then I got a status for being protected by the Bulgarian government. It wasn't easy. I spent six months here in Bulgaria knowing nothing, no language, no people, not knowing who was making documents, who would make an interview with me, who would talk to me… I just wanted someone to talk to me, but I couldn’t even speak English at that time. It became better, I started to go outside, started to understand some words in Bulgarian and so on. I speak Bulgarian well now. And yeah, these are small details about my journey from Syria.
Obviously, this journey was very lonely, how did you deal with it?
Sure. You don’t know these people. We crossed the border as a group. So you don't know them; they might kill you in the middle of the way, they could give you to the border police, they could leave you alone in that forest. As a soldier guy, I couldn't sleep all that time. I was always awake because I wanted to survive. I didn't want to stay alone anymore, it was enough. Really enough for a young man who spent four years in the army, nine years without family, without friends, without anybody to trust, to talk. That was really lonely.
"really enough for a young man who spent four years in the army, nine years without family, without friends, without anybody to trust, to talk"
At this moment you keep silent. You keep it in your heart. I didn’t even want to share my story because they might hate me. You don’t know the people, what they think about you… I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of thinking, a lot of crazy stories they hear every day. Because they hear stories that someone from Iraq or Algeria, refugees from other Middle East countries did something that made them scared. So I started to keep everything inside my heart without talking for almost two years. I started to work but without any communication. I did my job quietly, only asking what I had to do.
What helped you to move on?
Actually, one of the things I did to break through this loneliness was that I started to speak. I don’t care anymore if they will hate me or they will love me, this is who I am, I have to say it. I have to say: ‘Hello! My name is Rodi, I am from Syria. I am proud that I am from Syria because once it was a country of tourism. And it’s history – Syria.’ And I started to talk about my country, I started to talk about our food, about my parents, my grandparents, my friends there. I was telling stories how as kids we were making games out of nothing. We were happy even though we were poor.
That was our life. That’s who we are. And we won’t change just because someone says: ‘No, we don't want you.' If you don't want me someone else will, someone would love to hear my story because people are different. I started to believe that at the end of every dark tunnel there will be brightness. There should be. If there's no - make it. That was the way to go through these times. It was hard but I'm happy now. I have friends, I have a good job, I have people who care about me.
It’s not good to keep everything in a dark cave. No one will know who you are if you stay there. You have to take a step forward, otherwise, you will be forgotten. I didn’t want that. I knew that when I fall on the ground no one would catch my hand and ask: ‘Are you ok?’ I stood up once and twice, and three times, and six times until I became who I am now. And I will do my best to be better because my life is not here. Just because someone doesn’t want to talk to me it doesn’t mean it has to end up there. The world is so big and full of positive people, feelings, love. I don’t need someone who doesn’t want me. If you reject me, it’s fine.
First, I want to say that what you did really takes a lot of courage and strength not to give up. Basically to save yourself. And when you help others as well, when you feel like you have this capacity…
I did this. I started to search for people who need help because I knew that they are the same how I was. I want them to see that maybe you're in the camp now, but outside is much better and you have to take a step forward. Otherwise, you will stay in the same place and no one will push you. You have to do it yourself. Keep in touch with everyone around you, tell who you are, tell what you are doing… if someone hates you, it doesn't matter. There will be others who will love you, will accept you as a human not as someone from Syria or from Jordan, or from Bulgaria, or from Turkey… but as a human, because we all have the same blood, we might have different skin, but we all have one mother, one father, and we have brothers, sisters, lovers. We are so much, we are humans. If you think about the depth of the meaning of being human you will find help, support, love, negativity, hate, everything.
As you said you are in a much better place now, but does it still happen that you go back to this state?
Sometimes I remember it. I don’t go back. I remember the moment because I’m still alone. As I told you I’m still without my family, closest friends. But I don’t feel lonely, though I still remember. There are moments, for example, when I'm having a shower and disappear from the world, there's no one. Sometimes I prefer to take shower without light, you just hear the sound of the water and feel it like the border around your head. It reminds me that I used to be lonely, but when I stop the water and I start to hear voices outside and I say: ‘Yeah, this is it. That’s my moment. Now is the moment to step outside.’ This is it. You’re not going to take a shower your whole life. There’s a moment when you have to dress up and go outside. Somehow you will find people; you were not born to be alone. If you don’t find it in the place you are now, you will find it somewhere else. That’s what I did, that’s what I believe in.
This is a sensitive topic, but are you ok to tell a little bit more how is the situation with your parents now?
They are in Turkey now. When I started searching for them I’ve heard that they are somewhere in Turkey. I crossed the border and started looking for them in the first city, and the second city, but no one has heard about the foreign family. I speak the same Kurdish language like in these places; I knew that my parents wouldn’t go somewhere in Turkey where they don’t know how to speak the language. So I started to search in the most possible places. But eventually, with the help of cousins I found them, social media helped. We are in contact now and hopefully, I'll bring them here. I'm working on that actually.
Is there something you would like other people to know about loneliness?
There’s not much to add… as I said, when you realise that you don't want to be lonely anymore, you have to take a step forward. If I met a lonely person I would try my best to support because they think that somehow they are not acceptable in this world. They might go through some kind of situation that they hate everything around them and they stay alone for a long time. And I want them to know that they are not alone. You cannot reject everyone forever, there should be a way for you to love someone. You will start to talk to someone, you will start to move, and somehow you will find your way.
"when you realise that you don't want to be lonely anymore, you have to take a step forward"
I want them to understand, that I’m here, the one who was in the same situation, but look at me now and think about yourself. What are you going to do if you stay alone for a long time? You’re not gonna build, you will destroy yourself, you will start to hate people and stay quietly in that dark cave. And that is not good. I would refuse to stay there, I would break that cave from the other side through the mountain to find my way outside. I deserve life. And I will never leave someone I know in such a situation alone.