By Hope McMath and Sedra Nasab
Just in the first week of the current exhibition, Home: Stories of Arab Immigrant and Refugee Women, it is clear that there is a quiet power in creating a gracious and courageous space for lived experiences to be shared.
In this exhibition fifteen women, from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, share their realities of home…from streets filled with the scent of jasmine and tables where tea connects friends and family to the trauma of war and the need to seek refuge. Home has often been neither ‘here‘ nor ‘there‘, but somewhere in between.
For all of the women whose stories are told in this installation, this country…the city of Jacksonville… has now become their home. The process of integration is long and complicated, filled with frustration and joy, new experiences and the heaviness of all that has been lost. Preserving their cultures, building new relationships, and feeling welcome and whole in a new place is how most now define home.
For the coming weeks we will amplify the stories of the women in this show, with the hope that it will enlighten, inspire, and move us to action.
Today, I introduce you to Sedra Nasab, a 13 year old student, artist, survivor.
“I am from the city of Homs, Syria and my great family consists of six people: my mother, father, two brothers, a sister and me.
My mind is saturated with memories, war and sadness. I was six-years-old when my home was destroyed. We migrated to Jordan because of the war in Syria and the loss of safety and hope. We stayed in Jordan more than four years beginning in the refugee camps and then moving to the city of Zarqa.
My memories of the refugee camps are bad. Lack of the most basic humanitarian services. Where 50 people share one bathroom. The most hurtful thing was the hot burning summer and the freezing cold winter. We walked a long distance to bathe and it was not safe at all.
When they contacted us to immigrate to America, we were happy! We were going to heaven! I arrived in America when I was 11-years-old and all I remember is that we did not know anyone here and did not understand anything when people talked to us. After a year, we started to fight another battle. My mother was diagnosed with cancer at age 29 and I was very sad. We were confronted with this disease as we were just beginning our life in America.
Now I am 13-years-old and a student in the 8th grade. I learned knitting when I was eight-years-old and it became my escape from this world, from the camp, from the war, from my mom’s cancer.”
How does Sedra’s story impact your view of home? Of childhood? Of the roles which each of us play in creating communities that welcome and care for children, especially those who have experienced too much?
It has been a humbling experience getting to know Sedra and her story. She has served as an inspiration to other artists in the exhibition and to all who meet her. Her story is honored in an installation entitled Tent Stories, which provides a glimpse in to the realities of living in a refugee camp. Sedra’s childhood, which is still underway, has been marked by trauma, displacement, and loss, but also remarkable courage and strength. We ask you to breathe in her story. We ask you to see her.