Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 January 2020

Our childhoods have been stolen by war, but we can still reach for the stars

Memories of gazing at the Syrian night sky with my grandfather fuel my dream of becoming an astronaut – and of working for the betterment of all humanity

'When I look up at the stars, I feel so simple under their grandness," writes Batoul Haj Mousa. EPA
'When I look up at the stars, I feel so simple under their grandness," writes Batoul Haj Mousa. EPA

When I was little, I used to really, really love stargazing. I still remember the first time. One night, while visiting my grandfather’s village, we decided to go on the roof. The houses were far apart, and the night sky was so clear. I immediately fell in love with the stars. They never looked like that in the city.

Looking up, I wanted to understand what was happening, what they were made of and why some of them moved. This is when I decided that I was going to visit the planets one day. I was going to be an astronaut.

In 2013, my family and I left Syria for Reyhanli, in Turkey. Although I was young, I remember the long journey. First, we left Aleppo, the city where I was born, and moved to a town in Idlib, an hour away from the Turkish-Syrian border. We spent a year there, but it was filled with death and brutality. When the fighting increased and everyone left their homes, we, too, left for Turkey.

As Turkish customs and traditions are different from ours, Reyhanli was almost alien, compared to Aleppo, but I tried hard to get used to my new life. After we got to know people, the differences felt smaller. Now, I have both Syrian and Turkish friends.

Even though I didn’t live in Syria for long, what I saw there shaped my desire to be an astronaut. We used to have dreams, but when the war happened and we left our country, we began to let go of them. People would tell us to be practical, to become engineers to rebuild the country, and doctors to heal its people. They would tell me and my friends: “Don’t you dare have far-off thoughts and imagine that you can become anything out of the ordinary.”

But Syria also needs dreamers like me, people to pursue what others think is impossible. Why can’t Syrians travel to America and work with a company like SpaceX? When a Syrian does this, they will be able to proudly claim their identity and say: “I, too, am Syrian.”

This is my dream, and I can’t let go of it.

Syria needs ­dreamers like me – people who pursue what many think is impossible. Why can’t we become astronauts?

When I look up at the stars, I feel something beautiful – like I am a star, too. I wonder: “What would happen if we were up there?” I feel so simple under their grandness.

When I go to college, I want to study astronomy or astrophysics. Then, after graduating, I’d like to work with an organization like Nasa or SpaceX. I see these places as homes for ideas that seem unimaginable and unachievable to most. I want to work with people who have dreams like mine, who won’t look at me like the rest of the world does – like my dreams are strange. I hope we can all work together for the benefit of humanity.

Syria is not just a bunch of destroyed houses. The country is its people, the many generations who can change society for the better. Yes, Syria has suffered the consequences of war, but its people are resilient. They will accomplish their dreams.

Although I am only 16 years old, I have seen a lot. I have lived in Syria and in Turkey, and I don’t know where I’m going next. But, one thing I do know is that I’m not just a Syrian who has fled the war. I am also a student who wants to achieve her goals – who wants to reach the stars. That is what people should know about young Syrians, like me.

To other people who have dreams like mine, we must be very strong. Despite all the pain we may feel and the moments where we think we can’t do anything, we must persevere. In the end, we may die, but our contributions will live on and our discoveries will last forever.

To the young people who have had their hopes and aspirations mocked, if we are resilient, we can do anything – even we, who have lost our childhoods to war.

And, now, to the whole world, I hope that you help us achieve our dreams. Hand in hand, we can reach the stars and beyond.

Batoul Haj Mousa is a 16-year-old Syrian who lives in Reyhanli, Turkey and attends Karam House — a community innovation space for refugee teens. Translated by Tina Al-khersan, Karam Foundation communications co-ordinator

Updated: June 19, 2019 12:02 PM