This is Salwa


Salwa, an ODA  freshman, never imagined that she would have to hide from gunfire on her way to the airport in her native Syria. Her family was on their way to Amman, Jordan where they believed they would find refuge from a month of fighting in Aleppo, Salwa’s home.

Nor did she imagine that she would have to pack her suitcase for this trip in a period of a couple hours instead of a week, the original plan.

The day before the Battle of Aleppo, a siege against the government led by opposition forces, her father found out that the city would be invaded, and they had to escape as soon as they heard the news.

Salwa and her family are not alone. In case you missed it, the world is facing its largest refugee crisis since World War II, when people were escaping Nazi Germany.E5120DDD-0218-46B0-85E0-0DA1BF5D58ED

The war in Syria took a drastic turn some time ago, when a radical religious group ISIS joined the conflict. Now things are becoming a lot more confusing as more powers are joining the fight.

For the citizens of Syria, the turmoil in their country has forced them to escape their homeland and find refuge elsewhere. There is no family living there that was not affected by the war – be it financially or otherwise.

Fortunately, Salwa left Syria before the worst of the assaults began. The family was planning on packing and leaving within a week, but Salwa’s father heeded warnings on the news that the next day the dangers in the city would escalate. The family had mere hours to pack. As the fighting on the streets broke out, the family called a cab to get to the airport.

On their way to the airport there was fighting in the streets, Salwa’s family successfully ducked from the gunfire, but the taxi driver right in front of them was killed. Incredibly, the family’s flight to Amman, Jordan left as scheduled. The flight from Syria had begun.

Back in Salwa’s home city of Aleppo, Salwa was leaving behind everything she knew. Every Friday, Salwa’s family would have a marvelous dinner at her grandmother’s house. Her family and all her relatives would gather at her Nana’s house, who would prepare feasts for the crowd.

8618B135-C5CC-4CF8-AA9C-846DE8CC1D7FThe guests would delight in her grandmother’s dishes such as zucchini or eggplant stuffed with ground beef, rice and nuts; salad made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur and onion, and seasoned with olive oil; or Syrian lasagna.

Salwa loved everything equally, but she especially the time with her large family.

When not eating morsels from her grandmother’s feast, she loved playing basketball with her cousins at her grandparents house. Her grandfather bought his grandchildren a basketball hoop, and installed it for her in her house in Aleppo. Salwa recalls how often the hoop would break. She remembers how her grandfather had to fix the hoop for her constantly, and how angry her grandfather could get when they broke it again.

“The best time of my life I spent in Syria. If you asked me what my worst day was in Syria, I wouldn’t be able to think of an answer” said Salwa, reminiscing about Aleppo.


But Salwa had to leave the family gatherings and her old life behind to escape the war, just like the many refugees fleeing violent fighting and chaos today.

After a year living in an apartment in Amman, Jordan, the family was cleared to come to the US where her father’s brother was a practicing oncologist in Lakewood Ranch.

When she first came to the US, Kayali could barely speak English. She visited it only once, in 2006, but she was very young then. Having to learn academic subjects taught in her school, Salwa quickly picked up the language from teachers and students. Her only experience with English before was learning it in Jordan for only a year.

When asked whether she wants to go back when the war is over, Salwa said that she would love to stay here. Although she says she misses absolutely everything back home, she says the US school system is much different, and in some ways better from Syrian ones.

“In Syria, you just memorize it [the lesson] and you forget it in a week, because you do not get the meaning,” says Salwa.

Salwa’s family anxiously waits to see how things will turn out in Syria.  Although they hope to return someday, Salwa says she loves the US and hopes to continue to study here.

Salwa has one of the most intriguing stories in the ODA community, and a  facinating journey as a refugee. Think of her next time you have a hard time being away from home, and how hard it is for her to miss hers.