Maria is 11 years old and comes from Syria. At the time that she told this story (August 2016) she was living in a refugee camp in Northern Greece.
Life at home was amazing. I went to kindergarden, it was nice. All the children played. My mum was always very good with us, no matter what I asked my parents would be there for me and I for them. I dreamt of registering in school, and studying and I wanted to grow up in Syria. I still want to grow up in Syria and I want to see my siblings get married. I was seven years old when I went to school, I loved it. All the teachers loved me and I loved them. I loved English and when I grow up I want to learn English so I can pretend to be Western, so I can go on TV. I would like to be a translator and I want to teach children English.
We had a nice house, we had a pool in our house and I would come back from school and after I had finished studying I could swim. My brothers loved swimming. My dad made the pool so they could practice. My Dad was a truck driver, he travelled all around Syria and came home at night. On Friday mornings he would always swim with us. My brothers taught me to swim and I can swim in the middle of the sea. I love sport a lot. I used to want to train to play football. I liked football and I wanted muscles. Half of the boys called me a tomboy, the others let me play. When I did all the sports training, they taught me some self defence moves and I used them. I used to dream of seeing my cousins. We played in a football field near our house and they decorated it all over. My mum could see me when I played. I used to love to draw. I wanted to do it professionally. One of my cousins taught me how to draw. Now looking at you I can sit down and draw you.
We would go on road trips in the truck. We would go to my grandfather’s house. He lived in an Alawi area and there was no bombs there. They protected the Alawis. We used to go there to get a change of atmosphere. My gran was staying with us and she had a heart attack so they took her to another place. I dream of my life returning to the way it was.
The war started when I was six years old. I remember everything. It came to my town when I was seven. On TV I used to see bodies falling, in the news constantly, and I asked my Dad: why are these people dying? And he said: Bashir wants to annihilate the people. And I was afraid, because I would watch TV and I worried the same thing would happen to us. Then I saw Damascus on TV and Homs. For a year they were burning. First Damascus and Homs were burning, then it was our turn. When I saw Homs burning I immediately knew all Syria was going to burn. In real life whenever I saw a plane fly by and drop bombs, I would ask my dad: why are they doing these things? And he would say: They want to burn all of Syria.
I really wanted to see my cousins and I would dream that I would die before I met them. In my dream I would see an F 16 come above us and drop a bomb and my heart would start beating fast. I don’t dream that any more. When they started bombing my city I still went to school, they put us in the basement. For a little while the war stopped and that is when I went to school. Then it started again. The teachers would tell us: if we hear an F16 go inside the building, so it does not hurt you.
The first bomb I saw was on a neighbour’s house. I saw the F 16 go low and then I saw them drop the bomb and I was really scared. I thought it would hit me. Because when you see a bomb falling it looks like it is going to hit you. So I ran and hid in the bathroom.
They had told me before to go there because it was a safe place. When it hit, two of our bedrooms were destroyed and the kitchen. The bathroom stayed standing. My grandparents and friends were in there, like fourteen people. It is a big bathroom but we were all huddled. I was on a chair right in the middle. I lost my hearing because it ws so loud. I was deaf for four days then I started hearing again.
Two of my neighbour’s children were killed. The were eight years old, a boy and a girl. I used to play with them at school. I felt it was unfair. I used to cry a lot. I and my friends went to the funeral. That is what happens if a child dies. My friend, their family and I, we went and buried them.
I stopped going to school when the bomb dropped on the school. It was the same day. My father took me to school. We were walking towards school and it was the same F 16. The bomb dropped on the school, so we sprinted back home, then we saw the other bomb falling, so we ran inside the bathroom. I saw my friends running out of the school, only teachers died, because all the children ran into their parents arms. I pissed myself when I saw the first bomb, that’s when I lost my hearing.
After that there was no more school to go to and that is why I cannot read or write. Two days after that day we left the city and we went to another. It was in an area of Syria where Daesh were in control but we did not know that. For the first year it was OK. I played, I went to Koran classes in the Mosque, where you had to memorise the Koran. There was no war there.
Then this woman started coming to my father, saying: I want to marry you, I want to marry you. Then she reported him to Daesh, because Daesh says each man must have two wives and so she reported him because he did not want to marry her. They pointed a gun at his head, so he agreed to marry her. So they got engaged, but he didn’t marry her. The whole family escaped to Turkey. It cost us 4000 dollars. It was very nice there and we stayed one month.
Except that woman, she followed us to Turkey. We are a religious family but she was not religious. She was religious in the Daesh sense. She was not a true Muslim. In front of Daesh, she covered her face, she pretended to be religious, but there was nothing going on between her and God. As soon as she was out of Daesh territory she would wear trousers, a T shirt and a loose scarf.
A true Muslim wears a headscarf. You wear it at thirteen. When I leave Greece I want to wear one, when I go to another country, because Islam says we should cover our hair and most people in my country wear one. But mostly it comes from the heart. I can tell a religious person from their eyes. So if they have a warm face and a loving heart they are a true Muslim. I love religious people, but non- believers are angry and mean. I am not talking about Western people. They are all very nice. But Syrian non- believers are not nice. I met a lot of Syrian non-believers and only one was nice, the others were not. There was another woman living above us, a non- believer and she was not nice to her children.
Then we left Turkey on the boat with smugglers. We wanted to join my brother in Europe. My Father had to pay I don’t know how much. It was two hours on the boat, the waves were big and it was crowded, fifty people. We had life jackets. My cousin’s boat flipped when they were on it but they were saved by a big boat and taken to Greece.
I wasn’t scared, I was scared at the beginning, but when we were on it, it was very nice. The captain was another Syrian, it was night time and in the middle of the sea we saw a light flashing and we thought we will go there. The boat stopped working a couple of times. People got in the water to help. Then we got to an island. People gave us clothes and a room to dry ourselves and there was a little park. Then we went to Mytilene for four days. We slept in a room and a Syrian cooked really good food and they gave us cards to get a boat to Athens. When we got to Athens, some foreigners, Westerners, gave us a caravan. It was near the water and I would wake in the morning and hear the sea, but there was a fence and so we couldn’t go to the sea. But we played a lot and went to the beach. We stayed there two or three days. Then people told us there is a camp in Thessaloniki which is better than Athens. So we got buses, it was nine hours because the police stopped us for three hours on the way.
The borders were open and we wanted to go to Idomeni, but the police stopped us again and made us go back to Eko. We were the first in Eko. And I am glad the police stopped us because it was raining and the tents were awful. At the beginning I was sad they would not let us pass, but then I was glad they made us go back because there was not enough tents. So we went to Eko where there were white tents like here.
The people in the Eko Garage were amazing. They gave us food, they gave us fried potatoes and cake. Eko was better than here. We had TV there in the café and on a projector, they sometimes had movies at night. And there were not too many people. This camp is crowded and dirty. That one was clean. There were a lot of fights, but I am just remembering how I liked it there.
Then people came and told us we had to move. The doctors stopped working, they stopped the food and we had to cross the highway to get food. But there was no place to put a tent on the other side. We came here in June. It was so nice when we first came here, but now it is a long time. There was a field to play in and they used to give the children toys, and there were no fights around the camp. Now there are many fights. But now all the troublemakers are travelling so maybe it will be better.
I will tell you about my day: I wake up and brush my hair. I brush my teeth. If I have laundry I do it at the taps. It is not hard. I really like washing clothes. Then we play with the Spanish volunteers and afterwards I have breakfast: zatta, eggs and rice that they bring us. We wash it and make it better. After I eat we go with the Spanish and do drawing, or play with plasticine or sing. After that I go and shower because I am very sweaty. Then I sit in the tent for an hour, then I go around and play. Girls and boys play separately unless they are playing with a ball, because if we play with boys they make fun of us. We say every person is free to do what they like. All the girls are friends and love each other.Then I go to school, and then I go and get food for the family. I use the little car, I made it before you came here. I stole the wheels from a big garbage can. I broke them off with a rock and took them. The supermarket gave me the box.
Sometimes Dad comes and takes me into town and we walk around until night. Then I go back to the camp. I don’t like this life. I want to live in a house and I am getting too tanned and I want to rest. I do sleep ok and my dreams are nice. In my dreams see my brother in Germany coming and hugging me.
I am imagining me in the future being able to read and write. I want to go somewhere, anywhere. But if I end up in a bad country I will be sad, because I have already had some bad experiences. I don’t want to go to France, because people have told me they are mean to Syrians and don’t treat them well.
I want to be a teacher very much. I would like to teach English and Arabic, And I want to teach everything to seven and eight-year-olds.
Read what happened next to Maria in picture stories.