When we got the news, I felt the heaviness of the past year snap off like a dead branch. The season had shifted. He got the job he oh so wanted and that he had worked hard for and there were tears in his eyes.
Ever since leaving Syria, he had to settle for less – for whatever would allow him to survive Lebanon, Egypt then Turkey. It wasn’t until our second year of marriage – four years after we first met – that he allowed himself to dream again. There was now enough security and opportunity to risk becoming what he wanted to be.
He was tired of the war and its lasting repercussions. Not only had it taken his mother and grandmother, but it also took several of his best friends. It also threatened his identity. He never accepted the status of refugee. Although refugees are defined as people forced to leave their homes to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster and therefore in need of help, in reality, the label also carries stigmatisation rooted in racism and Islamophobia.
Refugees are often seen as either underqualified or unqualified and unable to adapt to Western values. Furthermore, refugees are vulnerable to becoming political pons. He wanted none of it. He was going to preserve as much of his wholeness as he could.
So when the call came, he proved to himself that he was so much more than what had happened to him and that survival need not define him. He put in the hard work and dreamt his way into a job in tech.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. From deep within all the anxiety I had been suppressing unfurled, sending waves of electricity throughout my body – leaving my legs weak and my mind fully awake.
The joy I felt for him opened all the gates. And I knew that these pulsating electric waves were my body’s way of trying to regain a sense of balance.
At 4 a.m., when the worst of it had subsided, I felt able enough to make myself a cup of tea. I then took a long hot shower after which I slipped into my robe and under my fleece blanket and watched old episodes of Sex In the City as I sipped my tea and drifted into darkness.
The next morning I woke up knowing that we had reached a milestone and that I had to learn to trust the universe more.
Moving to a new country is never easy. Although we managed to secure housing before leaving and we still had our jobs online – there were still many unknowns. We couldn’t keep our jobs because now they didn’t pay enough to afford a life in the Netherlands. We also wanted to fully integrate into Dutch culture and having online jobs wouldn’t allow us to do this.
Learning the language and being part of the real-life community was important to us and we knew that the only way this could happen is if we found work within the Netherlands. We knew this would take time but the closer we got to using up our savings, the more difficult the unknown became to process. What I couldn’t process, I suppressed.
There is a reason people don’t move countries. Having roots offers comfort, predictability, and knowing. For me, moving countries has been a journey of knowing myself. I have always loved beginnings and change and the way it’s challenged me to hone my inner strength and adapt to and learn from difference but I’ve come to the end of that journey. I can now say that I know myself and I know that it’s not possible to know yourself completely because what I’ve learned is that where you find yourself, you also find what you are not. You experience paradox and the ultimate task is to balance this paradox.
The uncertainty is certain. No matter where you go, or how much experience you gain, the unknown will always be the unknown. And it will always be there. You need to find ways to live alongside it.
That surge of anxiety tells me that I still have some work to do when it comes to processing uncertainty. When it becomes too much my need for control increases I have a habit of increasing my need for control
It’s clear from that surge of anxiety that I have still a lot of work to do when it comes to processing uncertainty. My instinctual habit is to increase my need for control and this comes out in various ways. Instead of relaxing into the uncertainty and reminding myself that it’s temporary, I begin to pick on my partner’s habits that normally don’t bother me. I overthink the choices I’ve made up till now and fantasise how things would have been different if I had just done what was expected of me. I enter into moments of paralysis where I overthink what things mean and how they reflect on who I am. I begin to give in to fears – both real and unreal as they intertwine.
What is missing is patience. Trust that if you put in the hard work something has to give. The ability to lean into the slowness without colouring it black. Being gentle with myself.
The past four months have been quite a rollercoaster ride. Processing our paperwork and getting our BSN numbers, navigating the job market, going for interviews, getting health insurance, and managing a higher cost of living on a small budget have been stressful. But also worth it.
Yesterday was my husband’s first day at work and although it was a little overwhelming, he couldn’t be happier. One season has ended and another one has begun.
*Photograph taken by Annie Spratt