Beatrice: Could we just start with you introducing yourself?
Sanaa: My name is Sanaa Al Froukh, I come from Syria, I’m here 1 year and 7 months.
Beatrice: Ok, brilliant. And can you tell what you’ve been doing in Scotland, what activities you’ve been involved in?
Sanaa: I work with Liverpool University and the Redefine Project. It’s a psychological project to help Syrian refugees to manage their stress. I am a volunteer with them as well as, like, a psychological assessor. On the other hand, I am studying English to improve my English skills. I have 5 children, you know, daily life. Helping children with their studying, supporting my eldest daughter, son. I am a volunteer with Syria Bright Future. I am the chairwoman with this mental health organisation. I train some Syrian psychologists and counsellors … yeah, something like that!
Beatrice: That’s quite a lot!
Sanaa: Yeah, that’s quite a lot. But, you know, I try to improve myself as much as I can because I don’t like to be without work and psychological information every day. I love psychology. I have good motivation to work day by day.
Beatrice: Can you tell me why mental health is so important for refugees, in your opinion?
Sanaa: Yeah because good mental health will help them to settle, to integrate with the new community, to understand the new people, to understand their self, their children. Especially for mothers. Mental health is really important because you don’t need to hurt or neglect your children with all these problems after the war.
Beatrice: And you are a clinical psychologist, and you have had a long career before coming to Scotland. Can you tell me about the work you were doing in Jordan?
Sanaa: Yes. I started as a volunteer, then as a psychologist, then clinical psychologist, then project co-ordinator, then supervisor and project co-ordinator. I was treating people who had traumatised symptoms. And I was as a supervisor to work staff. Making sure that treatment plans [were] good and [that] they develop their skills. I did research about ‘narrative exposure therapy’ which is a good technique to treat trauma.
Because we had lots of Syrian people who had trauma symptoms and that was really difficult. Otherwise, I developed some psychological programmes, which we did with groups. Men and women, children. So yeah, that’s it.
Beatrice: And we got in touch because I saw you perform in this play, The Trojans at the Platform theatre in Glasgow. Can you tell me a little bit about how you became involved in this production? And I’m interested to know if your background as a clinical psychologist - how was that usual, was it not useful? Was it relevant, not relevant to your fantastic performance?
Sanaa: Actually there is a fun side in Trojan Women. I heard about them when I was in Jordan, but I was really busy and they did their play in Amman. I was living in Irbid. So that was quite hard to travel, every day. When I came here, at first it was really difficult. I saw the advertisement for the play. The workshop, how to develop your writing, make stories … or something like that. And it was for Syrian people. So, yeah, I was really happy to see Syrian people and I will make friends or something like that. Then I came to Glasgow. It was - Laughs the first time I was in the city. Strange, difficult, I feel like a stranger woman. Although I am Syrian, but I wasn’t – yeah – comfortable. And then, after a while, Charlotte and William [producers of the play] called me and they told me it would be really good if you could join us and continue these workshops. I didn’t mind at all because I believe that psychodrama is really a very, very useful technique to help people, uh, speak about their feelings, thoughts. I know that, like oriental people, we’re all the time shy about our experience, feel shy about our own journey, think people will judge us, something like that. And I like to meet new people, who can speak about their experience or their feeling after a long time. So I joined these workshops. The first time was difficult. Then we just developed many things.
Beatrice: And did you enjoy the process, did you enjoy acting? Being on a stage, how did you feel about that?
Sanaa: Er, you can’t say I enjoyed [it]. I would say, I’d like to do that. Because sometimes you need to deliver a message or your story. Because it’s not just your story. It’s like the country’s story, people’s story, Syrian story. And I was really shy and worried about speaking about myself and my own experience, you know, as a Syrian. It’s not easy to speak about yourself. Because all the time there is something that will make you feel worries or scared about many things. And I told Charlotte that I will not be on the stage, I’d just enjoy the workshops. I’d like to bring my ideas, maybe I would share my story but I would not be on the stage. I was all the time scared to be on the stage. You know, as anyone. Then I just found myself on the stage, because when we made the healers, I saw Mohammad and other people, how they speak and how that was really fantastic. And I told myself, I should be beside this man, I will not leave them along at all. Because he said what I believe. I was really worried because when we were in the workshops sometimes we were in two groups. Each group has a different opinion. And I was not comfortable about support for the Al Asag regime, not because I am on the opposite side but he’s like a criminal for me. And he killed many people and I saw that. And I didn’t want to be a part of this side at all. When I saw the final version, final script. I feel yes, yes, that’s a Syrian thing. I’d like to be a part of this thing. I’m proud really of these stories. Then I told Willy and Charlotte, yeah. I will be on the stage with my worry and everything.
Beatrice: It’s an incredibly brave thing to do, isn’t it. And so were you involved in crafting the story then? As you say, you saw the script and then you were able to feel that you could be involved in it, so were you able to interject your own voice through the performance? Your own story?
Sanaa: Yes, I wrote my own story. It like summarises my long story, but it delivered a clear idea about what I saw and what happened to me. And I share, how can I say that, really big things about my dad, my country, my children, my husband, my 7 years. Yes.
Beatrice: Can you tell me about the reactions you’ve had to the play? Has anyone talked to you about – because a lot of the time, you invest a lot of time in a project and then it ends, and then it just ends, there’s no follow up. So I was wondering, have you had much reaction to the project, is it going to lead on to anything else? Where is it going for you?
Sanaa: I think each time, I feel different. We did the play twice on the stage and we practised many times. Each time, I feel a different way. I don’t know why. But it just happened with me. And the best thing, when I speak on the stage and I saw people who really tried to hear me by their heart. That was really – how can I say that – really specific points. When I felt I speak with a human, face to face, and they crying all the time, then I ask myself ‘Yes, they believe us’. They are human like us and they don’t support this criminal. And they try to understand us. So it was a particular moment in my life, this play.
Beatrice: Thank you very much for sharing that because I know it’s a very emotional process isn’t it, going on the stage and coming off it -
Sanaa: - yeah, you can’t avoid that!
Beatrice: Can I ask you a few more just general questions about moving to Scotland. And so I’ve got some of the questions here in front of us. Just sort of your initial reactions to coming to the UK and perhaps Scotland in particular, did you have a clear impression of what life was like in Scotland before, have you ever visited or seen it in films or met Scottish people, or anything like that? Did you have an awareness of what Scotland was like before you came?
Sanaa: Yeah, actually I didn’t expect that I would come to here at all. I saw Scotland in the films. It’s like a green land, like heaven, but it’s really cold. I had no, any idea about Scotland, no friends, no people, they speak English, but I didn’t speak English at all. Yeah. Uh. I was worried about many things. Like, see, I am Muslim. I wear hijab. Maybe people will not accept oriental people, maybe they will see us like stupid people. When sometimes you feel bad. Um, but, part of my heart was really happy. Because I’d like to feel safe, feel peace. I’d like to protect my children. So I didn’t hesitate at all. When this man told me, you will go to Edinburgh – the first thing I heard about Scotland – then I said to him ‘Edinburgh, where is it?’. And he told me it’s the capital city in Scotland and it’s really beautiful. And I said ‘Oh, really, it’s Scotland, it’s really far away’. Bad weather. I have no idea about Scotland. Just I imagine the skirt! And he told me, no, no, it’s really good. And some people will help you to have good information about Scotland so don’t worry at all. When you come to introductory session, you will have a good idea and you will comfortable and relaxed. And then I said, okay, I’ll see.
But, really, I agree! I totally agree, I will come. I came with my fear and my thoughts. But not with my judge[ments]. I leave, last thing, until I arrive. I until I see people, until I discuss with them. Until they – just feel reassured about their thoughts. Because that was the most important thing in my heart. I don’t need people to judge me and to racism me at all. And I prepared myself, to face these problems. But Alhamdullilah, when I came to here, I completely changed my mind.
Beatrice: And, just going back to the logistics of arriving. So, did you arrive in Edinburgh or did it change and you arrived in Glasgow?
Sanaa: This man didn’t know exactly where I would live because the UNCHR or immigration organisation didn’t provide them with all the information. They leave part until the last time. Because they would like to be sure, people would not change their mind at the last time. Yeah. It’s like a risk, you know. They pay a lot of money, okay, I understand that. Then when I came to here, I arrived to Edinburgh airport, then we came to Glasgow by bus, we met East Dunbartonshire council people at the airport, then they pick us up to our homes. First impression was not good. [She laughs] Because the house which they gave me was really, uh, dirty and rubbish everywhere. So you know, you came to the UK and you have … I was really optimistic about the life with 5 children. After a really … uh, difficult, difficult, 5 years in Jordan. I was alone, with 5 children. Working, studying. Fight about survive my children, because life in Jordan was really like nightmare. Not allowed to work, not allowed to study, not allowed send your children to government schools. How can you live? How can you pay your rent? Gas, electricity? Then I came here. When we arrived, the first sentence I told my children ‘Don’t worry, guys’. All the time God gives us something like that, bad, sometimes we can’t accept it. But by the time, you will change your mind, change your reaction’. Then I saw the house, room by room, I tried to just smile, to give my children hopes, to just be optimistic. Don’t judge anything from the cover!
Then, by the time, after 8 months … actually to be fair, during this difficult period I found Scottish friends. Which surprised me. I didn’t think at all, I would find sisters, mothers, grandmothers – no, no, no, it’s alright – but I’m really happy to having them in my life. And I’m really happy because they have me, how they accept me. Something – sorry.
Beatrice: No, that’s perfect.
Sanaa: During 8 months, they didn’t leave me at all, every day, every day they supported me until I changed this home because it was really difficult. The village, when we arrived, didn’t accept new people. My children had lots of difficulties in the school, we couldn’t sleep for days. Then, just I – eh – tried to manage these problems.
Beatrice: This was in a village? I’m sorry.
Sanaa: No, don’t worry. No, don’t want to be sorry. Then we changed this house to another one. The new one was really fantastic, er, quiet, safe, and that’s the most important thing I need. And I told the council, I don’t need magical things, don’t need a fancy house, I need just room which I can feel safe with 5 kids. I can manage 8 problems, 10 problems everyday, but don’t ask me to manage 100 problems. I’m not superman! Then they told me okay, we tried to help but you – the council systems, houses, there are problems, we can’t find something like that. Then I asked them just to return me to Jordan [she laughs]. Yeah, I was serious about that! I love Scotland too much but I couldn’t stay in the dangerous situation again. Especially, you know when you move with the children. We from Syria, from our house to another, then from many houses to Jordan. Then from many houses during Jordan to the UK, to Scotland. Then we came with big hopes. Not perfect hopes, but basic needs. Yeah. Then, yeah, I told my children all the time, you will find challenges everywhere. We discovered that, in Scotland like anywhere. You’ll have problems, you’ll have to manage it. We learn by this experience. But yeah, that’s finished now.
Beatrice: Do you feel more settled now?
Sanaa: Yes, I feel that. I am more comfortable in my situation. With myself and my situation. With my house, with my council, with everything. Yeah, I feel much better.
Beatrice: Do you – are there ways your reconnect with your Syrian identity?
Sanaa: Yes. Social media, all the time. My heart. My brain. My thoughts. Syria is inside myself. I don’t need to connect with my country at all because I feel that I carry Syria everywhere. But social media helps me to connect with, contact my friends. With people like me, believe the revolution, their rights, believe that people who are in the prison should be, have freedom again. People who have the same mentality, love psychology, love Syria, like Bright Future. Yeah, social media really survived us and made us much better.
Beatrice: So when you say people who love psychology, do you mean that you stay in touch with colleagues and people like that?
Sanaa: Yeah, every day I speak with people from Syria Bright Future, because we have lots of dreams. Which we hope one day can make it to Syria. We changed many things. We work on many things. It makes me satisfied.
Beatrice: So that’s Syria Brith Futures. And that’s an international project? Or is it based in -
Sanaa: It’s a mental health organisation, local organisation which we started with this idea in Jordan in psychiatry. And we – we’re a mental health organisation because we’re not allowed to do that in Syria. And that’s people’s rights. And then we start that with our vision, with our mission, and we develop it every single day with lots of challenge. Jordan closed it because the government said that Syrians are not allowed to work here, to do anything. It’s like, you know, I don’t know I can explain that in English but it’s just like you are a guest but you should leave anyway. And you should leave at any moment. So just feel like, ‘I will go after a while. I will go after a minute’. It’s not my country, I can’t smile because I’m Syrian. I can’t speak because I’m Syrian. I can’t work because I’m Syrian. I can’t eat because I’m Syrian. You know? You have to be like a poor man, just be grateful for everything, for racism, for everything. I that is unreasonable, to be grateful for this racism. In a human situation, okay I know that you are Arab and it’s like an Arabic country, but you need to be, just human. I don’t speak about political things, but that happened with us. I will not cover [up] something like that just because I’m from the Middle East. Yeah.
So it was really difficult just to explain every single day to my children … we have to be fair, some people are like that, yeah we have to be open minded. Because some people are like that because they have no knowledge about how they can be just a human. The my children said [she laughs] “When will you stop this excuse?”
Beatrice: In terms of culture, as well, you’ve said that you’re extremely busy, you’re involved in a lot of projects including The Trojan play, performance … are there other cultural activities that connect you with home, even just cooking? Music? Things like that. I know you said that the internet can be quite helpful.
Sanaa: You mean here in Scotland?
Beatrice: Yeah, in Scotland.
Sanaa: Yeah, there is a lot. There a lot. Syrian things in Glasgow? There is a big Syrian community in Glasgow. There is a Syrian Network group, who help Syrians people to have good information, to develop themselves. That’s really good. I’m part of that group, by the way.
Beatrice: What is that called again?
Sanaa: Syrian Network.
Beatrice: Network, oh I beg your pardon.
Sanaa: Now, we’ve built the ‘Jasmine and Thistle' community group, Syrian and Scotch people to integrate, to help Syrian women, who make lots of activity. For children. And, uh, mosques. I can go anytime. Syrian restaurants. What else … many things! I feel like it’s my homeland. Really here in Scotland, I don’t feel [like a] stranger. Yeah, I don’t say that just because I’m in Scotland. No. I’m free, I can say I don’t like Scotland, sorry. You know?
Beatrice: This is it, you’re allowed to say you don’t like something.
Sanaa: Yes, yes, should, that’s my right. But when you just walk alone, in Glasgow’s streets, you really feel like you are part of this city. You don’t feel [like a] stranger. In my play, I say it, that I speak with Scotland. And she never refused me. I really feel that. And I love all this green land because I grew up in the mountains. I didn’t expect that I would live in mountains again. And people all the time tell me that weather in Scotland is really hard. Oh it’s not good, oh it’s rainy. But no, I really love winter! And they’re surprised when I say ‘no, no’! I love snow, I love rain! I love this weather. Really this weather makes me happy! [She laughs] ‘Really? You came from Syria and you like Scotch weather?’, ‘Yeah, I like Scotch weather!
Beatrice: You’re in the right place!
Sanaa: Yeah that’s what I feel! [She laughs]
Beatrice: That’s wonderful. So my final question, and then I’ll leave you time to talk about whatever you want to – well, it’s half past 12 and I know you have to leave.
Sanaa: Don’t worry.
Beatrice: But, my final question is quite simply, what are your hopes for the future? Because very often, when you experience displacement you are very often asked to tell your story and you have to go through the past over and over again. And thank you so much for telling me your story, but what would you like to do in the future?
Sanaa: Actually, I’d like to study a PhD in psychology because I love this thing. You can’t imagine, yeah. But I’d like to work again as a clinical psychologist or as a tutor in Strathclyde University, that’s my … eh, I’d like to see my children with their own life, with their own selves, with their skills, with their country. Like, I all the time speak about Syria, I don’t need these children to just forget their country because they now have a good life here. Or they have friends. You can’t, eh, take off your skin. And I keep Arabic,
Beatrice: Good Laughs
Sanaa: Yeah! I hope I will have a new Syrian people because that’s what I miss. I miss my friends in Jordan, who really you know, it’s like a gift from Allah. We have the same reason why we did this revolution, we have the same dreams. Not just about the same things, about how you can analyse the situation. How you can believe your country, how you can understand your people, how you can, eh, fight for their rights. How you can be strong, how you can cry. Just with them. Feel like they will not judge you at all. They will understand you, you can discuss your thoughts for many years. That part which I miss in my life and I hope in the future I will find people who can discuss with you, who can believe these thoughts about Syria. I don’t know. Maybe I have no time to find them but in the future, yeah, that’s my plan!
Beatrice: Yeah! It sounds like a fantastic plan.
Sanaa: And something else, I hope to be a good person. To fit in the Scotch community, to give them the good part of Syrian culture, of Syrian food, of Syrian habits, Syrian stuff. Yeah.
Beatrice: It sounds like you’re already doing that quite a lot!
Sanaa: Yeah, I like that, you know? It’s my mission to be a good human on the earth. Not just like a guest, you will die. All the people will die after a few years, but what you leave behind you. That’s what is important for me.
Beatrice: Thank you very much.
Sanaa: You’re welcome.