In the second installment of our “Bags and Belongings” series, in which we ask refugees what they packed in their bags and what they left behind, we meet Syrian badminton coach Mustafa Awad, who fled to Europe with his wife and three children aboard a boat from the Turkish city of Izmir. He brought with him his two most prized possessions – his racket and his Quran. Read the first installment here.
Professional badminton coach, Athens, Greece
We come from Idlib, a city that was once so beautiful it was nicknamed the Green, but is now known as Red Idlib from the amount of blood spilled over it.
We love peace and quiet, but the war forced us to leave and search for a better future. We started our journey four months ago and are headed to Germany where we want to be reunited with our son Khaled.
The best moment was when we arrived at the Greek island, after a trip that I remember as that of death. When we got to Izmir, 75 people had just drowned in the sea and everyone advised us against taking to the sea, saying that the storm would get worse. We set off at noon and arrived in Lesvos at 3pm in weather so stormy that the Red Cross boat rescued us 200 meters (650 feet) before the shore. Our boat was leaking and being tossed about like a sapling by the heavy waves. Parts of the wooden structure at the bottom of the boat where we were huddling had splintered. We sat there for the three-hour journey, holding on to our crying kids and bags, half of which we’d left behind in Izmir, and wondering whether everything might end any moment.
The bags we kept contained our Quran, clothes and my badminton racket. This last one I am delivering to my eldest son Khaled, who’s already reached Germany and is a professional player.
In Syria, I was on the national badminton team as a player and then a coach, so the badminton racket is my most important possession after the Quran. It’s extremely light and aerodynamic and Khaled used it to achieve great results in several competitions back home. But it’s not just about its qualities, it’s also a connection to what we had and what we’ve left behind.
I hope to get to Germany just so I can deliver it to him. We left none of our possessions behind in Syria. We owned neither our house nor our athletic goods shop in Idlib, so that was easy to get rid of. Then I sold our furniture for a third of its value and distributed the rest of our possessions to my siblings and friends. The most precious was a framed tableau of the Verse of the Throne from the Quran with a mirror in the middle that I gave to my mother, asking her to think of me every time she sees herself in the mirror. She put it at eye-level in the salon, where she likes to sit, so that every time she stands up she sees herself and thinks of me. She cried when I gave it to her. I also left with my brother the albums and videocassettes of our wedding.
My mother and father, who withdrew to their farm outside Idlib, are my strongest link to Syria. They refused to come with us, saying they are too old to leave their land. I’ve lost hope of seeing them. My biggest fear is that they might die without our being with them to send them off.