Nujeen, p.19Nujeen Mustafa
When you get to know us you will see we are not that different. Like I told you, the reason we don’t have a family photo is we never imagined something like this would happen to us.
I wanted to go into space and find an alien, but here sometimes I feel like one.
I miss my room on the fifth floor in Aleppo watching TV. Now I have a real life. Sometimes I try to block it out by putting on my headphones, switching on the TV and taking myself back to the old days. I feel like the old Nujeen is being erased and a new one being generated. I miss my country, even the house with cats and dogs, and I miss the way the doors of our homes are always open. I miss the sound of the azaan – the call for prayer that used to rise up to our balcony. I heard that some refugees have even put an app with the call on their phone. I feel guilty having left my homeland.
Most of all I miss Ayee and Yaba and my sister Jamila and I fear I won’t see my parents again because they are old. I worry about being left alone.
I don’t miss Syria when I think how difficult my life was. When I remember how scared I was, how much danger we were in, I think Thank God we are here. Only God knows when this whole thing will be over, and the Syria we knew will never exist again. I long for the day when death will become abnormal again for me. Maybe one day we will get our Kurdistan, our Rojava. Just now I was watching a YouTube video called ‘10 Countries That Might Exist in the Future’ and guess what was number one? Kurdistan!
And I wonder. If we ever go back, will we recognize each other? I have changed and my country has changed.
Coming to Germany was my dream. Maybe I won’t be an astronaut. Maybe I will never learn to walk. But there are lots of good things in this society and I’d like to put them with good things from my society and make a Nujeen cocktail.
I go to school proud in my new yellow T-shirt that says ‘Girls Love Unicorns’ and my silver necklace from a soap-opera star and I can dream. And now you have read my story I hope you see I am not just a number – none of us are.
Total distance 3593 miles, total travel cost 5045 euros (for me and my sister)
27 July – Aleppo to Manbij
56 miles by minibus
August – Manbij to Jarablus
24 miles by Uncle Ahmed’s car
$50 (46 euros) to cross border
On the same day – Jarablus to Gaziantep (Turkey)
107 miles by Uncle Ahmed’s car
ONE YEAR ON
22 August – Gaziantep to İzmir
691 miles by plane: 300 euros each
İzmir airport to Basmane Square
18 miles by taxi: 15 euros
1 September – İzmir to Behram
156 miles by bus and taxi: 100 euros
2 September – Behram to Skala Sikamineas, Lesbos (Greece)
8 miles by boat: $1,500 (1330 euros) each, plus 50 euros each for life jacket
3 September – Skala Sikamineas to Mitilini
30 miles by car (lift from volunteer)
9 September – Mitilini to Athens
Taxi from Pikpa camp to ferry: 10 euros
261 miles by ferry: 60 euros each
14 September – Athens to Thessaloniki
312 miles by train: 42 euros each
Thessaloniki to Evzonoi
55 miles by taxi: 100 euros
15 September – Evzonoi to Gevgelija (Macedonia)
1.2 miles on foot
15 September – Gevgelija to Lojane
125 miles by taxi: 200 euros
Lojane to Miratovac (Serbia)
1.9 miles on foot (or by wheelchair)
15 September – Miratovac to Belgrade
243 miles by bus: 35 euros each
Belgrade to Horgoš
124 miles by taxi: 210 euros
16 September – Horgoš to Röszke
7.5 miles by bus: 5 euros each
Röszke to Apatin
78 miles by taxi: approx. 125 euros
16 September – From Apatin through fields into Croatia, then by police van to a small village (name unknown)
Small village to Zagreb
209 miles by bus
17 September – Zagreb to Žumberački road
21 miles by taxi: 100 euros
Žumberački road to Slovenska Vas (Slovenia)
0.6 miles on foot
17 September – Slovenska Vas to Perišče
2.5 miles by police van
18 September – Perišče to Postojna
100 miles by bus
20 September – Postojna to Logatec
17 miles by bus
Logatec to Maribor
99 miles by train
Maribor to Spielfeld (Austria)
14 miles by taxi: 5 euros
20 September, midnight – Spielfeld to Graz
31 miles by bus
21 September – Graz to Salzburg
173 miles by train: 60 euros each
Salzburg to Saalach bridge
5 miles by police bus
Saalach bridge to Rosenheim (Germany)
50 miles by bus
22 September – Rosenheim to Neumarkt
137 miles by bus
Neumarkt to Nuremberg
27 miles by taxi: 50 euros
Nuremberg to Cologne
267 miles by train: 115 euros each
23 September – Cologne to Dortmund (refugee centre)
59 miles by train: 45 euros each
24 September – Dortmund to Essen
30 miles by bus
15 October – Essen to Wesseling
52 miles by minibus
Me and my brother Bland – he has been with me for every important event of my life.
At home in Manbij 2002 (aged three) in a special white dress Yaba (my father) bought me as a gift back from Mecca where he had gone on the Haj pilgrimage.
On the terrace of our apartment in Aleppo – my only interaction with the outside world.
At Newroz 2009 – our traditional Kurdish new year celebrations – which was the only time I ever went out. We were made by the regime to go to a rocky place outside the city.
Yaba (my dad) and Ayee (my mum) in traditional Kurdish dress.
Me and my mother on the edge of the Queiq river dam for a family picnic in 2009.
The river flows through Aleppo and in 2013 was the scene of an awful massacre when 110 corpses appeared shot in the head. (EPA)
Here I am at a family barbecue on the bank of the Euphrates river celebrating Newroz 2011, just before revolution then war swept the country.
After a series of operations in 2010.
President Bashar al-Assad and his British-born wife Asma in 2003. When he took over in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, we had great hopes but they soon faded. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)
Aleppo, with its ancient fortress in the background. (Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)
Much of the city has now been turned to rubble and hundreds of thousands of people have fled. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Some of the biggest demonstrations against the regime in 2011 took place in Hama after Friday prayers in July and were brutally put down; the city had been the scene of a crackdown by Hafez al-Assad in 1987 which left around 10,000 people dead. (John Cantlie/Getty Images)
Daesh militants moved into Syria in 2014 and set up their capital in Raqqa. (Handout/Alamy Stock Photo)
Arriving on the beach in Lesbos after crossing in a dinghy from Turkey on 2 September 2015.
Being taken away by Croatian police in a prison van – we were terrified we would be fingerprinted and forced to apply for asylum there.
Talking to BBC
The Serbian-Hungarian border – we got there just as Hungary closed the fence and stopped letting people cross, leaving us stranded and forced to find another route.
In Germany at last, but waiting in a queue for five hours for a bus to a camp. Nasrine’s brithday, 21 September 2015.
Tired, bored and wanting to see my brother! In a refugee camp in the German city of Rosenheim.
Almost at the end of our journey – the train to Cologne.
Reunited! Nasrine and I with Bland in our new home in Wesseling.
Meeting US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power in Berlin in June 2016.
The ancient city of Palmyra once ruled over by Queen Zenobia used to be a favourite tourist site. It was captured by Daesh in 2015 and many ancient buildings were destroyed, including the Arch of Triumph which had stood for eighteen hundred years. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images)
At Cologne Zoo, looking at the animals I knew about from the documentaries I used to watch all day and night in Aleppo.
Playing wheelchair basketball in my new chair in Germany, June 2016.
Exiled from their country; my brother Mustafa and my parents in Gaziantep, April 2016. I miss them terribly.
Thank you to my family for so whole-heartedly embracing this unexpected extra child and always showing so much patience with me.
I thank God for giving me everything I have and I pray for the story of my life to have a happy ending.
The last year has been a journey I could never have imagined back in our fifth-floor apartment in Aleppo. I have gone from the girl who never left her room and saw the world outside only through TV to crossing an entire continent using every form of transport – all that’s left is a cable car, submarine and of course spaceship!
I am just one of millions of refugees, many of whom like me are children, and my journey was easier than that of many. But it wouldn’t have been possible without all the kind people who helped along the way, from the old ladies and fishermen on the beach in Lesbos to the volunteers and aid-workers who gave us water and helped push me.
I can never express enough gratitude to Mrs Merkel and Germany for giving me a home and my first ever experience of school. There, I have been helped enormously by my teachers Ingo Schrot, Andrea Becker and Stefanie Vree and my physiotherapist Bogena Schmilewski. Thank you to my German guardian Ulrike Mehren for guiding me.
Thanks as well to the writers of Days of Our Lives who had no idea they were giving an education to a little girl in Aleppo. In particular to Melissa Salmons, who worked on the script of EJ and Sami – and for the kindness of its wonderful fans especially Giselle Rheindorf Hale.
I’m incredibly grateful to Christina for putting words to my story, and her family Paulo and Lourenço for their support (even if they do like Cristiano Ronaldo and, by the way, congratulations Portugal for winning Euro, shame it wasn’t Spain!)
Thanks Fergal Keane, Nick Springate and Robert Magee for bringing us together! Christina would like to thank all the people who helped in her reporting of the refugee crisis, in particular Babar Baloch of UNHCR, Alison Criado-Perez of MSF and the Catrambone family. We would both also like to thank Hassan Kadoni. Thanks also to our agent David Godwin, and fabulous editor Arabella Pike and her team Joe Zigmond and Essie Cousins, fantastic copy editor Peter James, designer Julian Humphries, and to Matt Clacher and Laura Brooke for getting so much behind the book.
Above all to my sister Nasrine for pushing me all across Europe and putting up with all my information even if she didn’t always listen.
The page numbers in this index relate to the printed version of this book; they do not match the pages of your ebook. You can use your ebook reader’s search tool to find a specific word or passage.
Ahmed (uncle), 7, 104–7, 130–1, 133–5, 137, 140, 142–3, 145–6, 161, 223
Air Force Intelligence, 63
al Arabiya, 137
Al Darb, 41
Al Jazeera, 45–6, 54, 95, 197
Al Salam hospital, 38, 43
Alawites, 29, 52, 57, 108
Albert, Prince Consort, 115–16
Albright, Madeleine, 243
Assad launches all-out assault, 256
barrel bombing, 72
burning of souk, 72–3
chemical attacks, 87
family leaves, 69–71, 76
family moves to, 24–5
family return for belongings, 86–7
film from, 255
missile attacks, 86
and Syrian revolution, 58, 60–73
and tourism, 31
Aleppo University, 38, 66
student protests, 60–3, 65–6
Alexander the Great, 4, 59, 168, 171
Alexander I, Tsar, 116
Algerian family, 232–3
Ali (uncle), 38
alphabet, Kurdish, 17
America’s Got Talent, 99
Anastasia, Princess, 11
Arab Revolt, 15
Arab Spring, 45–9
Aristotle, 4, 140, 164
Armstrong, Neil, 40, 72
al-Assad, Asma, 30
al-Assad, Bashar, 12, 29–31, 36, 106, 199, 211, 216, 253
holds elections, 119
personality cult, 29
posters, 62, 64
receives Russian backing, 65, 255
and Syrian revolution, 48, 50–4, 57, 65, 67, 73, 95, 107–8, 201
al-Assad, Basil, 29–30
al-Assad, Hafez, 29, 50, 53
al-Assad, Rifat, 53
Assos, 4, 140
Athens, 161–3, 184, 200
Austria, 137, 179, 182, 197, 203–13, 217
Ayee (mother), 13–14, 19–20, 26, 38, 63, 118, 267
and arranged marriage, 246
enjoys watching tennis, 41
and family’s return to Manbij, 70, 77–8, 82, 104
leaves Manbij, 109–10
and Mustafa’s marriage, 97
Nujeen dreams about, 196
and Nujeen’s arrival in Germany, 215, 246
and Nujeen’s departure, 113–14
and Nujeen’s disability, 23–4, 27, 33
returns to Aleppo for belongings, 86–7
and TV, 40–1, 43
al-Azma, Yusuf, 16
Azmar (cousin), 85
Ba’ath party, 19, 49
al-Baghdadi, Abu Bakr, 102
Bahrain, 48, 117
balloons, to protect mobile phones, 5, 133
BAMF (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees), 221
barrel bombs, 72, 256
Barzani, Masoud, 225
Bavaria, attitude to refugees, 219–20
Beauty and the Beast, 18, 259
beheadings, 94, 102–3, 105, 119
Belgrade, 124, 175–6
Ben Ali, Zine al-Abidine, 48
Berlin, 222, 260, 262
Berlin Wall, 132, 260
Bieber, Justin, 243
birds, sense bombing, 68
Bland (brother), 21, 24, 26–7, 38, 41–2
and arrival of Daesh, 94, 103
and family’s return to Manbij, 70–1, 77, 79
fears conscription, 66, 71
granted asylum, 261
journey from Syria, 104–9, 114–15, 122–5, 152, 177
and Nujeen’s arrival in Germany, 220–1, 232–3
and Nujeen’s journey, 121, 125, 156, 196, 215, 217
and Paris attacks, 238
and Shiar’s film, 92
and Syrian revolution, 45–7, 51–2, 58, 60, 63
Bocelli, Andrea, 102
bones, number in human body, 131
Bouazizi, Mohamed, 48
Bozan (uncle), 85–6, 103, 118–20, 154
Brain Games, 8, 144
Braun, Eva, 60, 260
Bremer, Ulrich, 250
Brin, Sergey, 27
Brussels attacks, 256
Budapest, 179, 183, 203, 209, 238
Bulgaria, and asylum route, 122–5, 152
Cameron, David, 225, 266
Catherine de Médici, 259
Catherine the Great, Empress, 116
cats and dogs, 21, 24–5, 69, 71, 104, 115, 129, 159–60, 267
Central Council for Muslims, 249
Christianity, 179–80, 194
Christians, 23, 25, 28, 56, 58
coastguards, 7–8, 142–3, 146–7, 149
Cockta drink, 201
Cologne, 219–20, 222, 224, 231–2, 266
attack on Henriette Reker, 235–6, 263
New Year attacks, 247–50, 262
Cologne Zoo, 258–9
conscription, 66–7, 184
Cook, Captain James, 35
Croatia, 185, 187–9, 191–3, 197, 238
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