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    Posted September 27, 2012 by
    Cairo, Egypt

    Running from Syria

    Simo is 17 and from Damascus. He and his mother fled Syria when the fighting became too intense to stay. Along the way, they had to separate. Simo's mother is now in Qatar. Simo ended up in Turkey, and then somehow made it to Cairo, avoiding the camps along the Turkish border, where he is staying with his step-mother. He has until the end of this month to either find another country to flee to or face return to Syria. And Simo is gay.

    Having been threatened with death for being gay by his father who remains in Damascus, Simo is faced with the prospect of having no option but to return to Syria and face certain conscription into the Syrian army. He is small -- perhaps 5'5" and struggling to reach 100 lbs -- and has never fired a gun. I met him in Cairo where he sat chain-smoking low-quality cigarettes while asking me whether it was better to try to make it to New Zealand or Venezuela, where visa requirements for Syrians were less daunting. He doesn't understand what sheep are, and that there are many in New Zealand.

    Simo's English is good and entirely self-taught from studying TV and the Internet. He fixes computers, but spends his days now sleeping in the morning and staying up all night trying to figure out his next move. He has no friends and little money. When I ask him whether he ever wants to go back to Syria, he responds with a shrug and an unconvincing "sure, when the fighting stops." Simo is not political; he doesn't really understand what the fighting is about. He speaks in general terms about the crimes of "Bashar" and his family, but does not think the opposition will succeed in removing him. There is a general pessimism and resignation that pervades our conversation.

    Simo had a boyfriend for a few weeks in Turkey; a fellow Syrian who is now in the camps along the border. The relationship failed when Simo found him cheating, and now he finds himself alone with little ties to family and friends. The step-mother he lives with now in Cairo can only keep him here for two more weeks, and she is one of 18 women (wife #2) that his father has married. Simo's mother is wife #1, and Simo was her only child. He has many half-brothers and sisters, but none that were born of his mother. He hangs his shoulders and stares off blankly when talking about his feelings of loneliness -- second only to his fear of returning to Syria and the violence of war. He doesn't speak of this fear -- masking it over by asking questions of me -- but it underlies everything he does everyday to find some country, any country, that will take him.

    At the end of our talk, Simo walks into the night. He is on facebook and skype -- his only connections to the few friends he has from Damascus. Most of his friends and their families have also fled, scattered to countries in the region. None are in Cairo. We pledge to stay in touch, but he has a deadline -- October 4th -- to find a new home, a new country. He thought once about trying to go to Libya, perhaps Benghazi, then dismissed it after the recent violence. "Maybe Venezuela would be nice," he says as he walks towards the metro. "Or maybe America or Europe." At the last idea, he laughs once, expressing his incredulity at even suggesting that would be possible. Simo looks around at the busy Tahrir Square in Cairo, lights another cigarette, and descends into the subway.
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