A while ago, I was watching an interview with Syrian teenager Yusra Mardini talking about her love of swimming and how she was accepted in a special swimming school in Germany, and her perilous journey crossing the Mediterranean. I was proud, I had a glimpse of optimism that some youths escaped the ugly war are able to present a bright future.
One sentence she said made me smile in irony; she said: I was sad because I couldn’t lift up my country’s flag.
Of course Yusra is too young to remember what happened to the list of talented athletes in Syria, the talented ones who would be able to have a bright promising future, and all was taken away from them either before 2011 or after.
Long time ago, I came to aware the fact that anyone in Syria who belongs to a lower class, or have a lower position at work, anyone poor and belong to a simple family, especially when that person is a woman, one is meant to be jostled by everyone else above his/her social status.
We were driven to believe that this lack of social empathy is in the nature of Syrians. I know better now, that such act to break any creative spirit is a character structured into society by the fascist state. Creativity and talent has no place in the Syrian society because those who show them are prone to deviate from the uniform of society. In Syria, anyone in the spotlight must be recruited and used.
An athlete like Yusra will never find the coach and training she needs in case she was in Syria. As a matter of fact, she must pay for reaching excellence one way or another, or be protected by someone “of a heavy weight,” as we say in Syria in reference to someone can reach deep in the interior structure of the regime. Going international from Syria is a very risky business, the image of the totalitarian regime is important, and the image any Syrian should represents must be in concord with what the regime wants to represent.
Many Syrians didn’t have the means or opportunities to thrive. They were hindered from even pursuing a way upward, from seeking any way to chase a shadow of a dream. Many might not have the aid they need to compete on international level, but they were not allowed to try without a full control.
As a woman, Yusra might not be able to compete as a swimmer. In Germany she is protected from any certain images she might feel ought to show. She is protected from society’s prejudice against women in swimming suits. I read and heard many pathetic comments about what she is wearing, and possibly she will not be protected by the Syrian regime, unless the regime wants to use this issue for its interests. In Germany she is offered training, instructions and support. Things that she would be probably denied from having in Syria. The young swimmer deserved all help, she is talented and smart, and she found them in Germany.
In case Yusra remained in the pre-2011 Syria, the Syria that was in negative peace and emergency laws for more than 40 years, then it is unlikely that she would be able to carry her flag. In case she wanted to hold up a representation of her, then the Olympics flame could be the best representation of her spirit and strength.
Some people gossiped that her family supports Assad regime. The smart girl remained neutral and innocent, she did not contaminate her waters with taking sides and with political views, and she is too young to carry such burden at the time many athletes were killed, arrested, took sides and carried weapons and driven away from their dreams. Yusra and another Syrian swimmer Rami Anis, for the first time in their lives and in many Syrians lives, are going somewhere. Hope is a necessity in refugees lives so they can open up and give their best wherever they live.
So dear Yusra, I doubt that you would be able to hold your country’s flag without losing your freedom to be simply a devoted athlete. Unless you know a high rank officer in secret police or army, chances are you might not be able to get a seat in an airplane to Rio.
In a final note, I respected the formation of team refugees, I just hated the name and would like to call them: Earth Team. I felt a bitterness when the refugees talked about how they wanted to be seen as humans, and that they are just like the rest of the world! Did anyone have any doubt that they are?
How borders and single identities are absurd!