I spent the afternoon with a new Middle Eastern friend. We had an hour long English class scheduled and after the class we had some free time so we ate a Gyro together and he told me his story. For reasons of security, I am not writing his real name or including a picture. The story will be an example of the types of people that we are spending time with.
Abbas was a university student in Syria when the Arab spring washed over that nation. Many students were joining in the protests and he was swept along with the tide. His father had a good job in Syria and he had a bright future. When the government began to crack down on protesters and Abbas was identified his entire family were put in danger. As fighting broken out, he was hit with shrapnel from a bomb. Since then it has been hard for him to do stairs - and impossible to play soccer.
The Syria government didn't play games with protesters. Abbas knew people who had their finger nails pulled out with pliers. Others didn't survive the interrogation. Abbas speaks good English, but he didn't know the word for torture. When he described his fears of being arrested he described what would happen to prisoners this way: "You will beg for the death, but you will not be able to find it."
(In other words, the torture is so bad that you beg to die, but the torture will be prolonged.)
From Syria he fled with his family into Lebanon and from Lebanon he returned to his native country of Palestine to be with his college girlfriend. They were married in Gaza but it was hard to find a job that paid the bills. When Abbas and a small group complained to the Hamas controlled government, the police responded with brutal repression. Abbas was beaten with a night stick and had his teeth kicked in. He was given refuge in Egypt and then journeyed to Turkey and later to Greece.
He now has a daughter and hopes that his small family can relocate to a European country where he can find work. "I have been unable to find peace for five years," he told me today. "Every night I go to sleep and I cannot rest. My mind is turning over about the things that I need to do. I long for the day when I can find peace. I long to finish my degree (in Civil Engineering) and find a job. I just want to have a house where I can keep my things and come home to see my family after work."
I asked Abbas what went wrong with the Arab spring. He reflected on it for a while, then summarized his comments by saying. "When the government began to shoot the protesters we asked the world for help. At first no one came. Then foreign fighters came and began to fight the government." (The resistance group was first called AL Nusra. After it split in two, the radical jihadist segment started to be called "ISIS" or "DAESH.") He concluded by saying, "We asked the world for help, and the wrong people came to help us."
Pray for Abbas and his family.