It is August 7th, 2002. It is a bright, warm day. I am born; a boy, twenty-one inches, seven pounds, two ounces. My ‘ami and ‘ab give me the name “Najma,” which means “star.” On the two-hour drive from the hospital, they are hopeful. They have been married seventeen years. They have just restarted the clock of child-rearing.
It is August 7th, 2003. I still have the scar on my forehead from when I tried to walk, and I’m tentative about trying again. I jabber often, I can say “‘ab,” which means dad, and “‘ami,” which means mom. I am working on saying “Yana,” which is my sister’s name.
It is August 7th, 2004. I am two years old. I often run with my mother as she goes to the store. Then, before I fall and get the dust from the road in my eyes, she scoops me up and hands me off to my sister, who attempts to rein me in. I know that Yana is my sister because she never looks away when I am hurt.
It is August 7th, 2005. My ‘ab gives me a small bear. It is brown with soft fur and a strip of fabric that Yana found around its arm. I give my ‘ab and ‘ami big hugs after this, I am very grateful for my gift. The strip of fabric is red and has green, black, and white stripes. It reminds me of the flag down the street.
It is August 7th, 2006. I can say the numbers wahid through eshr, one through ten. I can also say most words, but Yana is trying to get me to say “hill” instead of “heel.” This is difficult for me, but I am trying. Yana helps me make a fortress outside with some dirt and stones.
It is August 7th, 2007. I am five years old. I like to play with my friends. I make up songs and sing them to myself as I lie in bed, “uhibb amy, uhibb amy.” Mommy and Daddy come to my bed and give me hugs and kisses before leaving me to fall asleep. The world is calm and quiet.
It is August 7th, 2008. I find a beetle outside, struggling to travel across a small pathway of dust. My cousins, Mohammed, Johnny, and Asil come to our house for my birthday. We play lots of games and sing songs, but Yana and Asil will not let us play with them.
It is August 7th, 2009. I wake to the sweet smell of my ‘ami baking maamoul bi ajwa. This is my favorite dessert, she made it for me because it is my seventh birthday. I get a shirt with blue and green stripes. I wear it, and decide that I will wear it for as long as I can; it is my favorite.
It is August 7th, 2010. Ramadan is soon. My ‘ami and ‘ab will fast all day during the holy month, as well as Yana, but I will not, because I am eight years old, and ‘ami says I will not take part in Ramadan until I am about twelve or thirteen. I am happy to eat in the day for now.
It is August 7th, 2011. My ‘ami says these are hard times for a nine-year-old boy. I saw hundreds of people with signs over the last few months. Now I only hear scary sounds, like screaming and loud bangs. Neither my ‘ami nor my ‘ab will tell me what they are, nor will Yana. They only cry. They tell me that my cousin, Mohammed, was killed. Then I cry.
It is August 7th, 2012. I question everything as I lose my sister Yana, then my mother, my ‘ami. My ‘ab goes out to fight. I am scared.
It is August 7th, 2013. I am eleven years old. I live without any trace of a family. Now I live with a family who lives down the road, in a quieter place. They are not my family. They do not give me hugs. They do not make the meals my ‘ami made. They do not sing the songs my ‘ab sang. My eyes are dry from the flowing of so many tears, dry like the dust outside that swirls around the tanks that drive around the city that sits in Syria.
It is August 7th, 2014. Today, I journey away from the crumbled remains of the place I used to call home. I wonder if there is any purpose for my life. All my family is either dead or missing. My ‘ami and ‘ab are dead. My dear sister, Yana, is dead. My aunt is missing. My uncle is dead. My cousins, Mohammed and Johnny are dead. Asil is missing. My entire existence is crushed, my bones and my muscles ache with the thoughts that run through my head. There is no hope.
It is August 7th, 2015. I am cast away, there is no use for me, no purpose for my existence. I am an orphan, and that is the reality that waited for me this birthday, my thirteenth. I do not understand why this happened. I do not understand how this happened. I am angry with the people that lead my country, and I am angry with the people who are attacking my country. I now return to a place that is safer in Syria, but it is still uncertain. I wonder why I am fighting to live at all. I suppose I am hoping for a better future. But how can that future be accomplished without my family? They were everything to me. I do not cease to think of them for one moment, they are always on my mind. I treasure the images and words I can recall, but that is all I have of them.
It is August 7th, 2016. Today is hopeful. I am journeying to Germany with others from my city, but I cannot help but be worried. Worry is a feeling that has become so natural for me. It is always there, always gnawing at my thoughts. I can only hope for a brighter future.
It is August 7th, 2017. Today is my fifteenth birthday. I feel as if I am a completely new and different person from the boy I was five years ago, even one year ago. I have an empty place in my heart and my thoughts, one that was occupied by my family. I remember many beautiful memories of my ‘ami baking me treats. I think back to Yana reading me stories and playing outside with me. My mind replays the words my ‘ab spoke to me, only days before he died, “we can only continue, there is no place for regret.”
Though not all is calm as it was in the years of my childhood, there is hope. Though not all is at peace as it was in the years of my childhood, there is hope. Though not all is happy as it was in the years of my childhood, there is hope. There will always be hope. All there is for us to do is continue. There is no place for regret.
A little note: this year, I’m taking a class with a co-op on writing. I like it. One of the assignments this semester was to write something for a writing contest. I found one from a college called Bennington, and I decided to enter it. My piano teacher, Leah Wendt, gave me the idea to write about a Syrian refugee. This required more research then I first assumed, but with help from sites like this one, I learned enough to write a fairly-informed piece.