“I was born and raised in Denmark. I have roots in Palestine. My grandparents fled from Palestine to Syria and basically lived their whole lives in a refugee camp that later on turned into a city for Palestinians.
Both of my parents were born in Syria. My father came to Denmark in 1972 as a guest worker and eventually stayed, which is why I’m here today. I was raised in between two cultures – the Danish and the Palestinian – and stories of exile and displacement have been unavoidable parts of my own narrative despite the fact that I have never experienced it myself.
But here I am now, writing books about the conflicts of war and the importance of the stories that we inherit from generations before us.
I often think to myself:
"Stories are inherited and they stick with us. Ever since I was a little girl, I remember the stories my grandparents told me about their exile from Palestine to Syria. The stories were told as if they were afraid that this part of our identity would disappear if they weren’t repeated enough times.
The town that my grandparents came from no longer exists because the Palestinian people were displaced due to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. So I can't even visit to explore my roots.
When my grandparents left Palestine, they kept their house key. They thought that they were to return in a couple of weeks. Weeks became months. Months became years. Years became decades. They never returned. The deep feeling of being convinced that they would return kept living in them, and now that feeling lives on in me. Even my parents would tell me stories about Palestine as though they had been there themselves. They never have. This is how great of an impact stories can have on us."
"The greatest injustice was that my grandparents could never return to Palestine – a country that officially no longer exists, but yet it does. With my Danish citizenship, I can go there on holiday, though. My grandparents always told me that even though they weren’t allowed to return, at least I could. For their sake. There is something beautiful about that.
As an ethnic minority, it can be difficult to talk about the things that hurt, because our family history already has enough hardship as it is. I rarely tell my parents about the hardships of modern work life – horrible bosses, or the feeling of being stressed out. I don’t want to burden them even more. I think that it has to do with the cultural heritage that I was brought up with. I don’t know what it is like to grow up in a refugee camp. I don’t know what it is like to own nothing. So who am I to complain about stress at work? I have never said “I’m stressed out” in Arabic – it’s somehow very foreign to me.
Because of that, I’ve become tougher, I am always aware that things could be so much worse. Having said that, I’m not trying to diminish my own or other people’s problems. I’m just trying to put things into perspective."
"All I want is for us to make room for people to be people. Perhaps it’s about coming to terms with the fact that my own story can’t stand alone without my family’s narrative. Perhaps my grandparents’ trauma, experienced when they fled and sought refuge, plays a role in defining my own identity, even though I was born far away from war. Today I seek refuge in the stories I was told as a little girl. Perhaps this is why stories are inherited, because we connect them to a sense of belonging.
Perhaps this is why my grandparents kept their house key for so many years."
Sara's grandparents kept their house key which she featured in her poetry collection:
in a small fisherman’s town by the sea
my grandfather is searching for answers in the waves of the ocean
grandmother is finding fragments of comfort with her forehead to the prayer rug
their children have question marks in their eyes
the home is packed up in a backpack
the day is quiet
the key to the front door never meets the lock again
opens its arms and makes room
takes in the small family
on paper, it says stateless refugee
a temporary identity becomes permanent
each night melancholy is served
so that the children never forget where they came from
decades heal the loss
home is where you can sleep with windows wide open
Baba lands in the airport on a wary spring day
he retells the story of the house key that has was passed on through generations
molded with dignity like an unshakable anchor
when the neighbours throw a glance that says you don’t belong here
he knows better, because home is never just one place
but fluid and chaotic
like the ocean
that once upon a time whispered a silent answer in his father’s ears
These stories are recollections of human experience in the lives of refugees and displaced persons – present and past. Their stories are the strongest proof that they are just as empowered human beings just as you and I.
In 1997, Nicole fled Eritrea to avoid military conscription. Her story is a story of female empowerment and strength. Coming to a new country, Nicole had to overcome the challenges of being “othered” due to her birth name, Rahwa.