Follow our Advent Calendar, where we will introduce 24 stories from people in the refugee camps where we work and from people we have met over the years in Greece. Every day we present a new story and let you have an insight into who the people on the run are.
By: Diana Valdecantos Photos will be done by our amazing coordinator and photographer Nickie Mariager-Lam.
December 1: Almwuostafaa Alkthtyipe
You’ve been trapped for months on a Greek island in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Your life has become a never-ending uncertainty and a succession of waiting in line three times a day to get food. What do you do? You think big – and that’s exactly what Almwuostafaa Alkhatyipe (a.k.a. Moustafa) did.
This 42 years old Syrian man from Aleppo woke up one day in Souda refugee camp on Chios, with an “enormous” idea. As big and huge as a Guinness Record; “What if I move a van with my hair?”, he thought to himself.
There is one thing you must know about Moustafa. He is obviously a strong big man, but his real power is his unbreakable mind. “I can fulfil anything I try. I believe in myself, I know I will make it”. With a perennial smile in his face and a constant positive attitude it seems easy to believe he´s just one of the millions of Syrians waiting to continue their life in Europe. But the truth is Moustafa’s world was shattered and completely destroyed not so long ago.
“I had a super life”, he keeps repeating. A good job working for a pharmaceutical company, money in the bank, a car, a big house for him, his wife and four kids. A 15 years old girl, two twins aged 12 and “my life”, young Maria, only 4 years old. “Everything was normal. I had five times more of everything that what I wanted”, he explains. Until that day.
At this point, Moustafa’s face changes and pain quickly colonises his eyes and voice. “I went to work like any other day and when I came back I found that my father, my wife and my four kids had died in an attack. I lost everything. Twenty five years of hard work were gone in five seconds”. No money, no job, no car, no family, and no future.
The idea of killing himself seemed comfortable. What was there to live without them? And here, again, is when Moustafa’s exceptional mind came to the rescue. “I never thought I would leave Syria, it never crossed my mind. But I had dream that maybe I could start a new life, and I decided to follow my dream”.
Without any money he crossed into Turkey, where he had to survive without either food or a job for six months. He begged smugglers for a seat in one of those boats that carry tragedies along the Mediterranean. “He (the smuggler) told me, some time after my first approach, that I could have a ticket to Europe, if I drove the others to Greece”. So there was Moustafa, with no ship experience, not knowing how to swim, leading the way for him and other 46 people to the land of “opportunities” in a really bad weather and with no life jacket. “I didn’t want to live with more bad memories, the idea of dying during the trip didn’t seem that freighting”, he says. But then, how can you scare a man who has lost everything?
The boat made it and so did Moustafa. He landed in Chios with the idea of a new life in his head just one week after Europe had closed it’s borders.
Four months went by and routine became his day to day. “You should make something different, something crazy”, he kept repeating to himself. “What if I move a van with my hair? What if I can achieve a Guinness World Record?”. When he shared this idea people would look at him as if he was emotionally unstable, or drunk or maybe just crazy. But you see, Moustafa it not a quitter. So he talked with the Spanish NGO SMH RESCUE TEAM about making a world record and asked for one of their ambulances to try something he had never done before. They actually got back to him and lend him a van. And Moustafa, of course, made it. He moved the van with his ponytail.
That was just the first step. Moustafa’s eyes and mind where now looking at those 12 ton buses who transport refugees from one camp to another. “What if?”, he kept thinking. So after asking UNHCR for the permission, the day of this big dream arrived.
“I was nervous, to be honest. I thought: How embarrassing would it be if I don’t make it, if I can’t move it and everyone films it? So he took a deep breath, got himself together and moved a bus with his hair. It was a good day.
Moustafa’s next project is a bit bigger than a bus. It can fly. He wants to move a small plane. And by the way he achieves his goals, it seems realistic to think that someday he will. But moving gigantic objects with his head is not his only wish. Moustafa just wants an opportunity. “I just need help to begin with, I just want a new life, a future”, he insists. “Here, I’m dying slowly, a little bit everyday. Sometimes I think I should just go back to Syria and die quickly instead”. Because behind that mask of laughs and jokes and positive vibes there’s a man crying inside absolutely devastated and trying really hard to survive in a world he doesn’t understands.