‘The Great Trek’ by Natalia Markanycz

Threats to my country, Iraq, have been increasing, but I never anticipated to be forced to flee my home. evenings of dreams gradually transformed to evenings of horror, as threats to inflict pain on us grew closer. I didn’t understand since I was a youngster who should have been surrounded by toys, not firearms. My mother cried all night, unsure whether to abandon everything we had ever known for an unknown future.

Then I heard something. Not far from my village, the Iraqi capital had been devastated. “Perhaps it would be all over soon.” I told myself this to help me cope with the tension that was eating me alive, but the days just became colder and the bombs got louder. I had to sleep with my shoes on, ready to run if my town or home were next. This became a fact. It was time to leave. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a loud “BANG!” My mother grabbed my hand tightly and we escaped, leaving the life I was pleased in behind. There was no time to pack my favourite outfits, no time to say goodbye to friends, no time to thank the people I wanted to thank.

We were compelled to trek through war-torn Iraq to reach Syria for refuge.  Days on foot, tiredness was all we had, and we survived on the generosity of others who shared their food and water. I couldn’t cry any longer; my nation was gone, and I’d have to start afresh. The noises of jets flying overhead were frequent, and I began to wonder if the people I used to know back home were still alive. My mother and I had crossed the border together with the few other survivors and were transferred to a refugee camp in Syria. Was I finally safe, ready to begin again?

We had few resources, yet we were still alive. My back hurt from the hard floor, and I couldn’t sleep despite being away from Iraq. Strangers crammed next to me, the noises of planes buzzing overhead. The little changes hurt the most; I couldn’t eat my grandmother’s cooking when I came over, and I couldn’t play outside with my friends since none of that mattered.