Justice

Here's What Happened When I Took a Family of Syrian Refugees to Disneyland

January 28th 2016

By:
Marwa Balkar

I would like to introduce you to the Alamours. They are a family of Syrian refugees who have been living in the states for a couple months now. I met them for the first time this month and I loved getting to know all their personalities.

marwa-at-disneyland

Our day at Disneyland

“In Syria, we would hear of Disneyland often. It is very well known. I can’t believe we are actually here. Thank you,” Alaa Alamour, a father of five, told me as we entered the happiest place on earth.

Alaa Alamour on a ride at Disneyland with his kids

Alaa and Mona are the father and mother of the five boys, yet throughout the day they treated me like their own child. They kept making sure I wasn’t tired or hungry, which was ironic to me because they were my guests. Mohammad is the oldest, 14, he was the caretaker throughout the day. He was by my side at all times, opening doors for me and offering to hold my bags. He was also the one who put on a brave face on all the rides as to not appear less manly than the second oldest. Qais, 12, was the thrill-seeker. He was excitedly bouncing all over the place, rushing to the next roller coaster. When he wasn’t doing that, he was making fun of his other brothers who were frightened of the rides. Ahmad, 10, was the mischievous one. Like any other 10-year-old, he wanted to climb everything. Karam, 8, quickly learned that if he waved at the employees then they would wave back to him. (So he basically spent the entire day waving at everyone and anyone who walked past him.)

The Alamours at Disneyland

Diaa, 4, loved me the most because I would open up the packets of Twizzlers he was hiding in his pockets from his parents. The most memorable moment of the day was when we walked through Cars Land. The older boys excitedly spoke about how much it resembles the scenes in Pixar’s "Cars." Karam believed that the movie’s main character, Lightning McQueen, actually lived there. The parents were laughing loudly and pointing at the littlest, Diaa, who was near one of the rides, dancing to the music. They told me they had never seen him dance before.

I was holding back tears the entire day. In the beginning, I felt happiness just watching this family experience joy. They were having a day where they didn’t have to think about their woes. Their biggest worry that day was trying to get on the bumper cars as many times as we could before Disneyland closed. Towards the end of the night, I was holding back tears for other reasons. I began asking myself questions: Does this family know there are Islamophobic people in this country who hate them, because of where they come from and not because of who they are? Do these kids know that there are people in this country who think that they are evil? How can someone actually think that refugees like this family are evil? At the end of the day, they are just a family. They're a genuine, strong family.

The Alamours emit gratefulness. They were consistently thanking me for bringing them, and apologizing for the fact that I was spending my day with them — as if they were troubling me. The day ended early as I didn't want them to stay for the fireworks. As much as I knew they would appreciate the show, I didn't know how they would react to the sound. I didn't know if it would awaken emotions or distress that would ruin the day. This family has lived through the horrors that we see in the media, yet here they are stronger than ever. It made me realize that we have to stop looking at refugees like they are another species of human and recognize that they are just normal people. I’m excited to meet the rest of our future citizens. I encourage everyone to reach out to any incoming refugee families and get to know them. They'll make a difference in your life. I know they did in mine. More importantly though, you'll make a difference in their's.

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