Surviving the war used to take up my whole life. Now I can start to live again.

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Photo: Ștefan Jurcă on Flickr

Start Rania’s journey with Part 1: We Could Hear the Warplanes Overhead.

I once heard a song by Asmahan, a famous Syrian-Egyptian singer from the 1940s, called “Merry Nights in Vienna.” My dad told me that British intelligence killed her because she was a spy, which is pretty weird. But I think that must have been the first reference I heard to Vienna. That and the Billy Joel song about Vienna waiting for you.

I’m so grateful to have been given the chance to remake my life in Vienna. Back in 2013, living through the war in Syria, I thought…


But at night, I could hear the woman next to me singing her girls to sleep

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When the Greek navy ship brought us to Lesbos on March 3, 2016, volunteers from UNICEF and the Red Cross were waiting for us at the port. “We are happy you are safe,” they told us, smiling.

They took us in buses to a refugee camp at Moria, about a 15-minute drive up the hill.

Lesbos was so beautiful. …


I felt like a victim of the world, somebody that no one cared about

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Photo: Paul Downey on Flickr

I had never been on a boat before.

When I was 12, I was on holiday with my cousins, and one of them pushed me into a swimming pool. I’ve been terrified of water ever since. My hometown, Raqqa, in Syria, did not have many swimming pools, and it’s pretty unusual for children to learn how to swim. Sometimes we would go to the lake at Ja’aber castle near Raqqa with my family on weekends or to Lattakia on the coast for holidays, but I would never try to swim. I always stayed near the shore.


Islamic State soldiers take over our city, and we learn to live with terror

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A house sparrow in Raqqa. Photo: Beshr Abdulhadi on Flickr

What does “terror” mean to you? It’s a word you probably hear often, but what does terror actually feel like?

For me, terror felt like knowing that a bomb could drop from the sky at any moment, whether we were shopping for food or in bed, asleep. Terror was hearing someone scream that ISIS is doing a public execution right now, only five minutes away from where I was standing, so I felt nailed to the floor with fear, muscles tense and adrenaline coursing through my body. …


I was studying for my high school exams when the trouble started.

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When we were small, my mother, Khalida, tended her beautiful garden with roses and grapevines and many other plants I can’t remember the names of. Each had its own season, and she cared for them all year round. Even when she got cancer, in 2004, she was still taking care of that garden, right up until she died. It was her sanctuary.

There were six of us at home with my father: my three sisters, one stepsister, and one stepbrother. My dad, Mustafa, worked hard to make our house beautiful, and when he came into some money, he let me…

Rania Ali

Syrian Kurd, aged 23. Aspiring journalist, documenting the odyssey of Syrian refugees. Game of Thrones fan.

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