One resident who’s got to know the volunteers at HSA well is fifteen-year-old Mariam. Just before she went to Athens to begin the next step of her journey, Ben Cooke caught up with her to talk about her plans for the future and the joy she gets from learning English. Mariam is a keen photographer, and gave us a few photos she’s taken of Mytilene and the surrounding area.
Could you tell us a little about your experience of learning English, both in Kara Tepe and before it? When did you start learning English?
When I was nine years old. When I started, my dad said to me, if you want to learn English, don’t care what other people will think about it. Just believe in yourself. If this will make you happy, just do it. I think my father was right. It makes me so happy to learn English.
So did many people in your town in Iraq also know English?
No, I was the first to learn English in my entire town. It’s important to learn languages in order to know about other countries. I started learning English by reading a book about henry the eighth.
Henry the eighth? Wow. And who gave you the books?
My friend from Kirkuk sent them to me. She’s lovely. She speaks German, too. My mum told me that if I keep on reading English I will make something of myself, but it is hard to, because as a girl I wasn’t allowed to go to school in Iraq. In Iraq, men and women are not on the same level. Women just have to stay in the house and cook.
So what was your motivation for starting learning English at nine years old? It’s a pretty big task to set yourself.
Well, I wanted to learn English because one day I’d like to move to Canada, and I’d need to speak English to do so.
To Canada? That’s amazing. Why would you like to go there?
I have this dream of going to Canada to work as a musician and play the guitar. Canada is very important to me. Someday I’d like to be able to tell my kids about the journey I made to get there. I’d like to see Niagara Falls, too.
What else do you like about Canada?
And what about Justin Trudeau?
He’s perfect! Every girl loves him.
Tell me, do you write in English at all? Do you keep a diary for instance?
Yes, I try to do that, because writing and reading will help me speak better. I find reading easier than writing. One thing I’d like to do when I grow up is write books. I love books. I’d like to write the story of my life and my family, and my journey to Canada. I don’t want to forget anything.
And would you write in English, or Arabic?
In English, of course. I’m just crazy about books. If I see books, I tell me mum, please can I have them? I must have them.
What are your favourite books?
Some books I read about Henry the Eighth. I learnt so much about him. I also really like Harry Potter. I’ve been trying to translate it for my little brothers. I have three little brothers.
Could you tell me about the English lessons you’ve been taking in camp?
They are awesome. My teachers’ names are Alexia and Laurita. They’ve taught me many things. The most important thing they have taught me is how to write better. Their lessons have helped me to speak to the volunteers as well. I find it very interesting to speak to the women who volunteer, because in Iraq men and women are not on the same level, but here they are. In Europe they are. If I want to be a doctor in Iraq I can’t, but in Europe, I would be able to.
Do find yourself thinking in English?
Yes! I’m still very young but I have many dreams of what I want to do, dreams of going to Canada, playing music, writing my story. I also like to take photographs. I take photographs of everything. One day, I’d like to make a book of them.
Why do you like taking photographs?
To remember things.
What’s your favourite thing to take photographs of?
The sky. I love taking photos of the sky, and of trees against the sky. I also like taking photographs of flowers, especially roses. I just have so many ideas of things to take photographs of, so many ideas of things I want to do.
You certainly do. Well, lovely talking to you Mariam. Thank you for telling me about them
Lovely talking to you. Thanks for listening, because when I start talking I can’t stop!