Fares Sebai
Los Angeles, California

There’s a real fear and there has been for a long time.

I actually still have grandparents in the capital right now, in Damascus. It’s relatively safe because it’s government-controlled and the security is tight. But when I talk to my grandparents on the phone, they tell me how they can hear everything. They can hear the missiles and the fighting going on only five kilometers away from where they are. They can’t sleep at night because of the mortars firing constantly.

When I was younger, I had a friend who used to take care of us when we came to visit. He was a few years older than us, so he would drive us and take us to different places in Damascus. He had a close friend that would come with us a lot. I remember in 2014, I asked about him and how he was doing because I hadn’t heard from him in a while. I was told he had been kidnapped and was eventually killed.

When I was a little bit older, I remember when we would visit my dad’s side of the family in Aleppo - all the grandkids used to go. I used to love spending time with them. We would go to parks and walk around the city. We’d even go to internet cafés, as funny as that sounds. Those memories are just hilarious to me because in the States, if you hear about a guy going to an internet café just for fun, you’d think he was stuck in the 1980’s or something. But there was nothing better than that honestly. I really appreciate that simple lifestyle now, without the hassle and the pressure that we all feel.

But Aleppo is a different terrain now. My grandparents on that side fled very early on. Their house was invaded several times. Cars and jewelry were stolen. I think the house is a government stronghold now, which is ridiculous to me because I have so many memories of growing up in that house and playing in the backyard.

You always have to be careful about what you say and you even have to question your safety even in places like Damascus. But I’m definitely proud to be who I am. Being Syrian forms a bond to not just other Syrians, but to Arabs in general. Today, everybody knows about Syria for a different reason. But I think when you look at the Syrian conflict, you have to step back and look at all the little pieces that make up the bigger picture.