Nour AlNatour, 33, is a Syrian refugee who came to Chicago in 2016. She lives in West Ridge with her children Malek Abudaken (13) and Massa Abudaken (9). The three of them left Syria to escape the civil war and spent about five years living in Jordan. AlNatour is now looking for work and in school learning English.
Tell us about your journey from Syria to the U.S.
We left when Malak was 8 and Massa was 4. I left because the Syrian regime started attacking our houses. I don’t want you to think that at this time in Syria we were OK and just watching TV or something. Things were so bad. There was no electricity for 15 days and it was very cold. After 6 p.m. we couldn’t leave the house, as it wasn’t allowed. Tanks were outside and there were checkpoints at nearly every corner. The secret police would come every night, and they would rape my neighbors. These women were just normal people; they were not related to rebels or people against the government.
I felt so afraid because soldiers would do anything to take me down—maybe plant something in my bag to fake the reason just to take me to interrogation. Then, I stopped sending Malak to school. You just don’t know where the bombs will fall. We were bombed once, so we had to run away. After my husband sent us to Jordan, he died in Baramke, the transportation hub, when three bombs went off there in 2013. He planned on joining us in Jordan, but he couldn’t.
Did your husband expect your family to stay in Jordan or to seek resettlement elsewhere?
We went to Jordan with the hope that the war in Syria would calm down and we would return one day. No one in Syria really wants to leave their country. Imagine when we planned to leave, we had no passport; we got them one week before we left. My sister was in Jordan before the war started, and she would always say, “Come to Jordan to visit.” Honestly, we would make fun of her and say, “Why would we leave Syria to go to Jordan when we have everything here?” All I can say is that it’s really hard when you are walking on the streets as a widow and a refugee in Jordan and a woman curses you and says, “Why are you here? What are you doing here in our country?”
What led you to come to the U.S.?
When the situation started to get bad in Syria, the Jordanians opened their door—but later everything changed for us. In Jordan, they started treating us badly. Egypt started to treat Syrians badly. Lebanon started treating them badly. We have nothing to do with politics, this isn’t in our hands. We were forced to leave our country. I didn’t choose to come to America, but my case through the UN brought me here. I’m thinking that those who were resettled in Canada and Europe are lucky, now I am here in the U.S. in this situation.
Were you given any other option besides the U.S. for resettlement?
I asked the UN if I could be resettled to Canada. They said the U.S. was the only country open to me. I asked for Canada based on its reputation for refugees, specifically Syrian refugees. I had never heard that Canada treated Syrians poorly, especially the president there, he has been open about welcoming Syrians. But, I wonder, where should we go? Where is a place for Syrians in this world?
What has your experience in American been like?
It’s different than Syria. In Syria, women stay home and men work. Here, one of the difficulties is going outside to find work. Now I really want to work day and night to cover my expenses.
My children didn’t learn how to read and write in Jordan, and I was working so I had no time to teach them. The UN workers told me that Europe and America are really good places for kids to grow up and learn to have a good future. Now, I am looking for work and my kids are studying in school.
What do you think of this new executive order and how it will impact your family’s future?
President Trump is making us feel not accepted here. America’s reputation is that it is a free country for immigrants, and now that he is doing all of this, it is the opposite of what people think. He didn’t make a wise decision, or think through how it will impact all these lives.
I can tell you that President Trump’s Executive Order is not the real America. I’ve walked down the street and seen with my own eyes how real American people treat immigrants. I was walking down the street while it was snowing and an old lady waited for me to open the door, she knew I was Muslim because of my hijab, and she treated me so kindly waiting for me in the snow to keep the door open.
If someone from local or federal government were to read this story, what would you want to tell them directly?
I want to tell them, first, Syrians won’t depend on anyone. We like to be independent. In all the countries we went to, we built our lives from nothing. I will be loyal to the U.S. if it becomes my country. This will be the country of my children. My kids have no memories from childhood in Syria, and they are building their childhood here. If anything happens later, they will sacrifice their lives for this country.
When I grew up, I have memories, neighbors, streets where I was a child—but for my kids, every two months they were in a different house. They never knew a childhood. Now, they will start building their memories, meet new friends, schools, then they will only be loyal to America, the country that gave them what was lost: a childhood.
What do you think will happen to Syrians in America?
Now Trump is busy stopping refugees from coming here, but once he finishes he will turn inside and start attacking the Syrians inside, I believe. He has an idea about Islam that our faith is aggressive and conservative, but we are not like this. “Islam” comes from the word “peace.” Like Obama said, our greeting is peace be with you, assalam alaikum.
What is your reaction to protests at O’Hare where lawyers went to defend those who were detained the first weekend of the ban?
I was so happy because people acted on behalf of immigrants and refugees. I really wanted to go to the airport and hug everyone. There are good people who went to the airports. I can’t judge Trump now, maybe he is good, but American people are great so their president should be great.
Do you have family in Jordan and Syria still? Will they be able to visit?
My brother and sister are in Jordan. They don’t want to leave, and they have hopes they will return to Syria again. I have a brother in Sweden and a sister waiting for asylum in Jordan. My nephew, who is in Belgium, was planning to come visit in three months, but after what happened he had to cancel his trip. We were really shocked with this executive order. How can America issue an order like this?
Your children never learned to read because of the war. How are they doing now that they are resettled in Chicago?
My children are going to school. I’m studying English now at Truman College. They are happy they are in school.
Did you bring anything from Syria that is precious to you?
Only my kids. I was in Jordan for 5 years, so I lost most of my possessions. I brought my Qur’an certificate [a diploma for studying the Qur’an] from Syria. But just don’t think I am conservative because of that. I would help anyone in the street, no matter their religion.
This interview was conducted in Arabic on January 28; it has been translated and edited for length and clarity. See interviews with Chicagoans from each of seven countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban here.