Hear My Story: Amal
Stories of tragedy, courage, and hope reborn: these are the voices of the refugees served by Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. Learn more about the refugee experience from those who have lived it first hand.
What is your name?
Amal Al-Basha Rayyan Al-Ali
Can you tell us about where you’re from?
All of us are from Syria, but Duaa, my youngest daughter was born in Turkey.
What was life like before coming to the US?
We were in Turkey for a year and a half before coming to the U.S. Our life in Syria was a pretty normal life. We weren’t very rich, but we weren’t very poor. It was a little bit harder in Turkey. The hard thing about Turkey was where we were living. It was like camping in the mountains, there weren’t fans or air conditioning. The medical care there was perfect, but what they gave for food stamps and other needs was not enough. It was really hard because there were so many of us from Syria there in Turkey after the civil war.
Did you come to the US with family?
Yes, I came here with my husband and our six children, three females and three males.
How old were you when you came to the US?
I came here when I was 44. My son Ibrahim was 15, my daughter Fatima was 14, Abdullah was 13, Mohamad was 9, Rayyan was 5, and Duaa was six months.
What was your first impression of Columbia?
When I came here, I was shy and I was confused because everyone was different. Afterwards, I realized the people had kind hearts and were willing to help, and I was excited. When I saw that people would smile at me and get to know me, I felt good. The people here have nice hearts and are so helpful. If you need help with something, you can ask for help.
What surprised you most about life here?
When I came here, I didn’t understand the system here. I didn’t know what was good, what was bad because I didn’t know the language, and that made me scared. I didn’t know how to talk to the police, I didn’t know how to pay my taxes, there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I was also scared for my children.
What do you think of Columbia now?
It’s very nice and quiet, and there are good people. The hardest thing is still the language. I want to talk with the people, I want to talk with the community, but I don’t know the language well. I am working on that because I want to try. I’m reading and writing and trying.
I was excited to come here because life in Syria was hard. Here, they help me a lot, and I’m so happy, so excited to care for my children and give them a better quality life.
How has Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services helped during your transition to life in the US?
They’ve helped a lot; they taught me how to drive, they helped me pay the rent and bills when I first came here. They’ve helped me all this time, and they’re still helping me right now when I have questions. They’re good people.
What was your first job here? What was the first school you went to? Where are you now?
I worked as a housekeeper.
Rayyan: I went to Blue Ridge first and now I’m at Parkade, and I love it there. My favorite class is science.
What is your dream for the future?
Learning English, and then one day I want to buy a nice car and a nice house. Those are my three goals that will be my accomplishments.
My oldest daughter is in Turkey with her husband and her son. They live in the camps, and they’re short on money, food and everything. I want to try and bring her here. She has refugee papers there, but she doesn’t have a passport or anything to come over here. Any small thing to help bring my daughter here would be good. Any way I can help her, I want to.
What is your favorite thing about your home country?
I miss so much about Syria, such as my house. We used to have a nice garden and it was by the beach. Visitors from all countries would visit the beach. I’d make coffee, tea, cold or hot for visitors. I miss that so much. I miss my mom, my brothers, who are still back in Syria.
Are there any family or cultural traditions you keep?
We celebrate Ramadan, but it’s not the same here. It’s hard to do it the same way because the community is smaller.
What does being American mean to you?
I’m so happy, because being in America is a dream. I live the same as everyone here. I don’t have anything different from others.
What does being a refugee mean to you?
I’m so excited to be here; I don’t care if I’m a refugee or not, because the life here is so much better than in Syria and Turkey. If I need help, I can ask for it. I don’t have to worry about not having enough food. I love my country, but there’s the war. I have my children, and they are very young. I’m scared of them getting hurt. It’s enough for me to bring them here safely. I’m grateful to have been able to come here. My family, God and everyone helped me come here. I’m so thankful for that. I’m excited for my children to have a good life where they can learn and thrive.
I’m also excited to one day speak perfect English. If I stayed in Turkey, I wouldn’t have any choices for me or my children. I wish I had come younger so I could earn a degree or something, but I don’t think for myself anymore. Now, I’m busy thinking for my children. With my family, my work, I’m very busy, so I have less time to focus on myself and learn English.
What does World Refugee Day mean to you?
I love this day. This day makes me excited and we remember the community. I love everyone who comes from all the different countries, and I’m excited to celebrate. I just want to live a safe life, away from a country with war.
What would you tell yourself when you first arrived in Columbia?
When I came here, I didn’t know anything, but now I know how to drive, where to go. Step by step, my life is better.