Today’s post is a guest post by a good friend, a reminder of the things we’re thankful for.
I went to Paris and I fell in love with a Syrian refugee.
I went to Paris and I lived with a right-wing, white-French baroness who wouldn’t let me have Firas over to study or for cake on my birthday, and who told me that the North Africans would crawl in our windows if we didn’t turn the alarm on and shut the metal shutters.
I went to Paris and one night the bus Firas and I were on was held up by some French hooligans near the Palais des Congrès. I couldn’t go home because ‘Madame’ wouldn’t let me have Firas over under any circumstance, and I was afraid to take the bus or a cab at 3am by myself to the banlieu where I lived. Firas made the executive decision and hailed a cab. He took me to his family’s home, about 30km outside of Paris, we knocked on the door, woke his mom up—she had never met me, but she opened her doors in the middle of the night and told me that her place was my place—and since then I have never been treated as any less than family by his mom and sisters. They are Syrian refugees, too.
I went to Paris and I moved out of Madame’s house, and Firas and I lived briefly in a tiny apartment in the 10th. It turned out that the individual from whom I was subletting hadn’t told the owner of the apartment that I was there—hence I was living illegally and could have had my visa revoked. Once again, Firas and his family swooped in and saved me. I lived with them for over six months.
I went to Paris and I strolled the Seine with this Syrian refugee; we picnicked in the Champs de Mars, we taste-tested bagels and burgers all over town, we fed pigeons and explored the Ile-de-France. During my holidays, we traveled to the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. We spent everyday together. He likes Adventure Time, and video games, and the blues, rock n roll, Gospel Trash and opera; he cooks and plays classical and acoustic guitar well. We’ve talked politics, history, philosophy, religion, literature, technology—serious stuff and silly stuff. He’s just like a US-boy, except he’s the person I fell in love with and he’s a Syrian refugee and his background is different—but it’s not wildly different like you might have been told.
I went to Paris and I learned a lot about the world. I learned that Cambridge O-Levels, passed with distinction, don’t count as a high school education in France. I learned that if you’re a Syrian refugee trying to learn French at a French university, so you can get a job or an education, if there are too many Erasmus students, you are the least important priority. I learned that not all passports are created equal—that not everyone can just hop on a plane and visit another country as easily as Americans can. I learned that there are different ‘levels’ of refugee: one allows you to have travel documents that are valid for two years and allows you to naturalize pretty quickly; the other gives you travel documents that are valid for one year (effectively containing you in the Schengen area unless you time your trip just right, within the first 6 months of your renewal, so your passport is valid 6 months after the trip as required by law). I learned about delicious foods I’d never tried, like foul halibi and za’atar. I learned about a culture and a country that I had never considered. I learned how to love a person and accept love from that person.
I went to Paris and the man I love is stuck in France with limited travel documents and ever-decreasing prospects for joining me in the US, where he can get an education in English and where I am finishing my PhD.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I have the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’d like that unalienable right to extend to pursuing happiness with a certain man who is kind and loving and sweet, charismatic and talented. But borders and ignorance have allowed us to forget that we’re supposed to hold that some truths are self-evident.
I went to Paris and a family of Syrian refugees did everything they could to help me while I was there; this Thanksgiving, a day that’s all about family, I wish I could return the favor.
Emerson Storm Richards is a writer and PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Indiana University. Her (non-academic) writings have been published in the Gainesville Sun and the Seattle Times.