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Starting over in Michigan: A Syrian family’s first impressions of their new home

Jun 22, 2016

Among the hundreds of Syrians who fled their homeland for Michigan is a young family of five.

They came here just this past April, trading the violence and death in Homs for a sparsely furnished, rented corner duplex in a modest neighborhood in Dearborn.

We'll be bringing you the story of this young family on Stateside over the coming months as they settle into their new life in Michigan.

An introduction

Maan is a 39-year-old carpenter. His 30-year-old wife Bayan was a teacher before the revolution broke out in 2012.

They have asked us not to use their last name for fear that media attention could mean bad things for family members still in Syria.

Homs has seen some pretty intense fighting throughout the four-plus years of civil war there. 

That danger forced Maan and Bayan to make the painful decision to leave. First they fled to Jordan, where they stayed with relatives for nearly four years. 

After a vetting process that Maan says took a year and seven months, the family learned earlier this year that they were coming to America. 

And now, they're here. Maan, Bayan and their children -- two daughters ages six and 18 months, and a four-year-old son -- starting over in Michigan.

"Yes, we are refugees. And you maybe have a fear of us because you don't know us, just as we have a fear when we arrived here, because we didn't know what to expect. But as time goes on, you will get to know us and you will see that we are going to be friends."

Last month, Stateside's Cynthia Canty and producer Joe Linstroth visited the family in their Dearborn home to talk about their transition from war-torn Syria to Michigan suburbia.

With the help of translators, the group talked for nearly an hour and a half at the family's three-and-a-half legged dining room table, sharing biscuits and strong cardamom-scented coffee.

As it turns out, apprehensions can run in both directions.

“I was a little worried when we were told we would be coming to the United States because of what I’ve been seeing on the news,” Bayan said. “And I still get inquiries by my friends, ‘How is it for you there? How are people treating you? You wear a headscarf: has that affected the way people are treating you?’ And I would say, 'No, actually. Everybody’s been so nice and accepting and I haven’t had any issues at all.'”

"I still get inquiries by my friends, ‘How is it for you there? How are people treating you? You wear a headscarf: has that affected the way people are treating you?’"

Bayan said on the way to the United States, the family passed through Ukraine.

“And in Ukraine I felt those kinds of looks and the kinds of things that people were asking me about, but over here it’s a country of freedom – freedom of religion,” she said. “It’s just got so much freedom and I’m lucky to be here.”

Maan, too, was “a little skeptical” when the family first arrived in Michigan. 

“The doors are not as thick here as they are back home,” he said.

But then he witnessed something that put his mind more at ease. There was an argument going on outside. Someone called 911.

“Immediately, two minutes later, they were here,” Maan said of the police. “After we saw things like that, we felt a little safer and started leaving our windows open, because we know that if we call for help, it is going to come.”

Hopes for the future

Just a few weeks into their new life in Michigan, free from the risk of shells crashing through the ceiling, or government troops arresting them, it's clear Maan and Bayan are once again allowing themselves to dream.

"And I would say no, actually everybody's been so nice and accepting and I haven't had any issues at all."

"My number one priority is my children," Maan said. "Making sure they get an education. Making sure they have a bright future ahead of them. Making sure they are happy and healthy."

He also hopes to find consistent work and a house he can call his own.

“Yes, we are refugees,” Bayan said. “And you maybe have a fear of us because you don’t know us, just as we have a fear when we arrived here, because we didn’t know what to expect. But as time goes on, you will get to know us and you will see that we are going to be friends. We are brothers and sisters. We are people who help each other out. We are just all human beings. There’s no separation or ill will towards other people or other religions.”

We'll check in with the family periodically on Stateside as they settle in and start the Michigan chapter of their lives. In the coming weeks, we'll learn what life was like in their town of Homs before the civil war; how things changed once war broke out; their journey to Michigan; and why they hope to shed that label of "refugees."

 A special thanks to the Syrian American Rescue Network and to Reem Akkad and Samer Koujan for help with translation.