Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr al Rebeeah and Winnie Yeung
Setting: mostly Homs, Syria
I read it as a(n): paperback
Source: my own collection
Length: 217 pp
Published by: Freehand Books (1 May 2018)
Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Abu Bakr al Rabeeah was born in Iraq. His family moved to Syria when he was nine in the hopes of escaping the escalating violence in Iraq. Of course, that was right around the time the Syrian civil war was getting started, so Bakr and his family essentially leapt from the frying pan into the fire.
As he grew up in a country sundered by war, Bakr and his friends found small joys and ways to be happy. Playing soccer or video games were evergreen favorite pastimes, and he loved learning more about his faith and attending services in his nearby mosque. As the violence in their city of Homs grew worse, Bakr learned, along with everyone else, to avoid the soldiers who would randomly stop citizens, never to go anywhere without his documentation proving who he was, and what to do if there was gunfire or a bomb explosion. Eventually, Bakr and his family gain a highly coveted spot in the UNHCR refugee program and were relocated to Canada, where they all had to learn an entirely new way of life.
My summary probably makes this book sound boring AF, but it was definitely not. It was beautifully written, almost poetic in parts, and packed in a ton of detail and information is such a slim book. It also really highlighted a lot of things I think more people, Americans in particular, need to learn about.
For one thing, it is absolutely horrifying what humans can become accustomed to. When Bakr first arrived in Canada, one of the things he had the hardest time adjusting to was how quiet it was. He said there wasn’t a constant background noise of gunfire, explosions, screaming. When a bomb had gone off near his home, the community ran towards it to try to help because they knew the ambulances would be a long time coming, if they came at all. A couple days afterward, Bakr and his friends came home from playing soccer and saw that the site of the explosion still had a lot of blood and body parts. They sighed and went and got buckets and things to clean it up with, and other neighbors came out to help. I cannot imagine a child (he was only about 10 at the time) seeing something that awful in the first place, let alone having to help clean it up, gather body parts to take to the authorities, or be in any way involved. It is heartbreaking to know that this is the reality for so many people.
Another thing that is important was Bakr’s relationship with Islam. I think there are still far too many people who assume Muslims are terrorists. That is ridiculous; it would be like assuming all Christians are members of the KKK. It was really nice to read how Bakr’s parents raised and taught their children always to love people, even if they were not kind, because that is what they believed Islam is. Bakr loved the peace his faith brought to him. His father taught him that extremists and the soldiers who were fighting and hurting innocent people were not Muslim because they were acting in ways contrary to the teachings of the Quran. I’m atheist so religious devotion of any kind is utterly baffling to me. However, I have tried to educate myself about a variety of religions and it seems that there are crazies on all sides but the vast majority of people are just normal, peaceful folk who wouldn’t hurt anyone and who just want a safe world for their children. I really don’t know what’s so hard to figure out about that. I think everyone who has children must want a safe world for them.
I definitely recommend this as a fast, easy read dealing with difficult topics.