“My dog Mars is coming over from Syria! I missed him!”

“My dog Mars is coming over from Syria! I missed him!”

“In early April my parents are coming over to the Netherlands, together with my dog. His name is Mars. It’s a Caniche Bichon, kind of like a white poodle but much nicer. Do you want to see a picture?” She speaks fluent Dutch. Karla Nabki was only 17 years old when she left Tartus in Syria for Europe, in 2015, together with her older brother Attalah. Since last autumn she has been living in her own apartment in the Tuinwijk, near the Noorderplantsoen.

“This is my first time living on my own. I even had to learn how to cook. I was able to fry an egg, but not much else. Now I sometimes make shakrya, that’s rice with chicken and onions in warm yoghurt. Potatoes? No, I don’t find them very interesting, let alone a vegetable and potato mash. But usually I eat at my brother’s place; he lives nearby.” This morning she went to school, to the ISK, the international transition class, doing math, sports and biology. Starting next summer, she wants to attend another transition class so that she can obtain admission to university. “I want to study nutrition and dietetics.”

The living room is empty and sparsely furnished: a table, two chairs, a couch and some stacked crates  with stuff in them. A lightbulb suspended from the ceiling and white walls all around. One of the walls bears the proverb  ‘Home is where the heart is’. That was already there when she got the place, and she just left it there. Meanwhile she is high-spirited and leads a busy life: “I go to school five days a week and do a lot of homework. And we perform regularly with our choir, the New Life Choir – we started it at the refugee centre at the Van Swietenlaan. Not too long ago, on international women’s day, we performed for a group of a hundred women who work for the local municipality. And in the weekend I usually hang out with friends. I have quite a lot of Dutch friends and we go to the cinema, have dinner together or hang out in a bar. I had friends in Syria as well. They would like to leave like I did, but that’s not possible anymore. They’re not jealous; they’re happy for me. Syria used to be quite a good place to study, but I don’t miss it, It’s just so much more free over here. Back home, everybody is always sticking their nose into your business.”

Karla’s father used to be a dealer in car parts, her mother was a housewife. “We lived in Homs until the rebels took over. Then we moved to a village near Tartus, on the coast. I was 14 or 15 when the war started, but I wasn’t scared – my parents made sure we felt safe. Later, our home in Homs was hit by a bomb, and there was a fire. My parents lost everything. But they saved up money, so my brother and I were able to get from Turkey to Greece. For 3000 euro per person, you’d have a reasonably safe boat.  My parents said: ‘We lived our lives, you are our top priority.’ I understood that. When we said our goodbyes I said to myself: ‘You have to be brave, no crying now.’”

Because Karla was under 18 when she left, her father Haisam and her mother Daad have been able to get visas for the Netherlands. A ticket to a new life. “First they need to learn the language and integrate. Luckily I know people at church who want to help them. We are Syrian Orthodox – what is that over here, Catholic or Protestant?” Her parents will get their own home. What will Karla do? “They want me to live with them again, but I’m not so sure. You’ll be a child again, you know: ‘Where are you going? And with whom? And when will you be back?’”

At home with Karla Nabki (18)


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