After fifteen months as a refugee in Greece, Nour Altallaa has come to recognize many of her fellow Syrians as they attempt to obtain asylum in Europe. Fellow passengers on the overstuffed rubber raft that took her from Turkish shores to the Greek Islands reappeared in the succession of refugee camps, hotel rooms and apartment buildings that she called home. She ran into these neighbors while waiting in line to register for her refugee papers, and while recovering from the birth of her daughter, now eight months old, at a Greek hospital.
By the time she reached the final stop on her Greek odyssey on June 12, at the Greek Asylum Services office in Athens where she and her family were to find out — finally — which European country will let them in, she felt she could recognize almost every person in the packed waiting room. Then her eyes landed on a figure who was familiar in a different way, and memories of her hometown, Deir ez-Zor, came flooding back.
“Miss Mariam?” she ventured hesitantly, approaching a striking woman with jet-black hair cascading down her back, an anomaly in a room where most heads were covered. Mariam Musa, 38, swiveled in her folding chair and took in Altallaa, clad in tight jeans, a butterfly headscarf and leopard print sneakers, with a quizzically raised eyebrow. “It’s Nour,” said Altallaa, 23, “I was in your art class, in Deir ez-Zor.” Musa broke into a smile.