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Telling West Virginia's Syrian Story: Part Two, Zain

zain_drawing_0.jpg
Ikram Benaicha

About 2 million Syrian children have been relocated due to the Civil War. Many of these children are still on the run with their families looking for security, either in neighboring countries or in Europe. But there are some Syrian kids living right here in West Virginia. 11 year-old Zain is one of them. Still, he is not a refugee, he is the youngest of a Syrian immigrant family.

Zain is a 5th grade student in South Charleston. His parents asked us not to reveal his last name because they are afraid of the Syrian government, and they don’t want to attract any attention.

The family left Syria before the civil broke out there, so the kids could get a better education in the United States. They came to West Virginia because they had family here. Zain has spent more than half his life in the United States, but he still thinks a lot about Syria.

Unforgettable Memories

When I ask Zain what he remembers from Syria, he tells me about the toys he left behind, and a family farm he’s heard of, but never had the chance to see with his own eyes. It is in Al- Salamiyah, a part of western Syria that hasn’t seen the worst of the fighting.

Zain’s parents tell me they support the Syrian regime and are willing to go back to Syria once the war is over. They arrived in West Virginia two years before the civil war started.

Zain's family are permanent U.S. residents. They hold green cards and they’d like to apply for permanent citizenship someday,  but applying is expensive, and they can’t afford it right now.

Zain asks his parents many questions about Syria. He is very curious to know what’s going on in his homeland.  

What is Happening?

Zain is confused about the political situation back home, it is not even clear who's fighting whom, or who is the enemy. If the war could only end, he would be happy. He even comes up with a suggestion that goes against his parents’ beliefs. He thinks that "the Syrian president should quit to protect his country, Syria." He Googles Syria sometimes and looks at the pictures.

I asked Zain about whether he’s ever been discriminated against or made fun of at school because he’s Muslim or because he’s from Syria. He looked confused. And then he said “Are we Muslim”? His parents don’t make a big deal of religion all what they care about is to remain safe.

The Gathering

Zain and his family are sitting around a table in their living room, eating dinner, and watching TV. They are watching a Youtube video of an Egyptian Play that makes fun of an Arab dictator.  Every Friday evening they’re together like this, around the TV, in their apartment in South Charleston. It makes them feel like they’re home.  to hear Arabic and to laugh together.

After they’re done watching TV, Zain heads into his bedroom to play video games. He invites me to play Dragon Ball Z, the new game he got as a Christmas gift. This might sound odd that a Muslim family celebrates Christmas- but they’ve adopted some of the cultural traditions of most West Virginians since they moved here six years ago.

The Hope

For now, Zain says he is happy to be living in West Virginia. He feels safe. Even though, he says he’s eager to go back to Syria - someday, when the war is over. I wonder what he will think of this country he left so long ago. If it will be like the Syria in his imagination, the country he’s pieced together from stories his family tells and from pictures on the internet.


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