“I had never seen snow before! I was still in my PJ when I ran out, ahead of my eldest brother and sister to go play in it. You know, like we’ve seen in movies? Except in the movies they never show you how cold it is. Although, that’s also because I had never realized how clothed the children playing in the snow were. I played non-stop until the excitement subsided and I couldn’t move from how frozen my body had become. They took me in and rubbed me warm for some time before I had my senses back.”
I giggle at the thought. How wonderful to meet someone who finds joy in the little things.
Zakary was born on August 11, 1984 in a Somalian town called Buulo Barde. He was the fourth son of 8. They were settled there until conflict broke among ethnic clans. In early 1990, Zak’s parents thought there was no alternative but to flee to neighbouring Djibouti. It wasn’t until four years later, on May 21, 1994, when Zak’s father, the two oldest siblings and little Zak separated from the rest of the family and prepared for the longer journey to The Netherlands. Upon arrival, they completed the verification process through interviews and were then settled in asylum seekers centres in three provinces: Overijssel, Groningen, Friesland.
“Those were the best years of my life!”
“Really, why is that?”
“We were one large community, coming from all over the globe. Certainly, we had different backgrounds, cultures, languages that formed us but one thing we did share: we all fled.”
“So you were surrounded by children and other families?”
“Yes! One of my closest friends, still to this day, told me about his escape. He walked through South Sudan, to Ethiopia, to Kenya. You hear a story like that and you think, I don’t have it as bad. There are certainly people that have been through much worst. In those 6 years, I had gained so much knowledge and understanding from other refugees, which not only enriched my personality, but also shaped the way I look to the world today.
Zak enrolled into the local school system. In the way he speaks of his experiences, a sense of perservance comes through. He excelled in Dutch, focused on his studies, and continued on to graduate high school. He deepened his studies in “Bank and Insurance” from 2001 and 2005. Then, proceeded to graduate from the University of Rotterdam with a Bachelor in International Business Management. He completed an Erasmus semester in France, interned at the European Parliament and the United Nations.
“After receiving your asylum status in 2000, you officially became a Dutch citizen. So my question is, what do you feel like? Dutch or Somali?”
“I am born in Somalia but I have been more than 2/3 of my life in the Netherlands and Europe. Although Somalia will always be a part of me, I am Dutch and my home is in a country where ones content and commitment prevail over where one is born. I know this, because I start having a smile and feeling at ease each and every time I enter the Netherlands after a stay abroad.”
“You have lived it first hand so I have to ask, do you think Europe is doing enough?”
“There are certain countries that are doing a lot in the current refugee crisis, but there are others that clearly do not. Instead of showing and proving to the refugees and the world that we uphold the EU values of human dignity, freedom, equality and the respect for human rights, some EU Member States are building fences and doing all their best to keep refugees out. What strikes me the most is that governments and peoples are talking about refugees as if they were a commodity. Don’t we realise that the same refugees we are talking about are children, women and men – humans and individuals – who have dreams and goals and who fled to Europe in the hope for relief and protection from the falling bombs and from the IS militants for instance? This saddens me very much, because I keep on thinking: what if the Dutch government would have closed the door on me as a child when I was looking for shelter and protection? Europe can and should do so much better.”
Since September of 2015 Zak is at the College of Europe obtaining his second Masters Degree; this one in International Relations and Diplomacy, on a full scholarship. His strong sense of ambition has certainly taken him far. Although, he claims there was some luck on his side, too.
“What’s your goal, Zak? If there’s one thing you’d be set out to do, what would it be?”
“Creating bridges between people, societies and in the future, between nations. Everything can change with just one person. Concerning migrants, there’s so much fear. Fear is a natural emotion but if we could just take the time to get to know each other more…”
There’s so much truth to what he is saying.
“If you had to describe your life in three words, what would they be?”
“Freedom. Adventure. Never finish learning.”
What three words! I’d add optimism, because I cannot imagine that his positivity has had no credit in getting to him as far as he’s come.
“I fight against the negativity that grabbed the EU and the people around the neck. There is so much false information out there. Unfortunately, there are not enough positive news. And the good stories, they’re the ones that stay with us longer, they are the ones that really stick with you. Why don’t we have more of those?”
So, here it is: a good story. A story of travel, adventure, and certainly overcoming challenges. One of those stories that stays with us longer, the kind that really sticks with you.