I can already feel some sadness in the Paralympic village. It’s only 2 days before the games are over. Competitions are slowly coming to their end and some delegations have already started to walk around with their luggage. Volunteers as well, we are becoming fewer and fewer each day.
Raghda, an amazing Egyptian volunteer who often helps the Independant Paralympic Athletes, known as the Refugees Team, is leaving Brazil on Sept 16th. She was helping them whenever she had time, as she is officially allocated to Jordan. They still need help after her departure so she asked me whether I can take over. On that day, they needed support with translation for a couple of media interviews with one of the athletes from Syria, Ibrahim Al Hussein. So I got in touch with the delegation and promised to meet them at the Village Plaza in the afternoon, where the journalists do interviews with the athletes.
I finally met Ibrahim, Eleni his Greek Coach and Ramon, a Spanish Coach and also member of the delegation and we went to the first interview. It was with BBC, they are working on a documentary about how Ibrahim and the other Refugees Athletes made their way to here. We started the work and I began translating the interviewer’s questions and Ibrahim’s answers. As I started hearing the story, my mind was illustrating it. The words were shaking. My voice started to tremble. Especially that I know very well what has been happening to people in Syria through several videos I watched. The interviewer was just amazing, he is blind, and he had a wonderful and an inspiring order of questions in his mind. I was impressed how deeply and how closely he was following the flow of the events I was describing.
Here is the story: Ibrahim has started practicing swimming since he was five and he discovered Judo at the age of twelve. His father was a sport coach. He was training him quite intensively. Ibrahim loved Judo more than Swimming. He won the second place in Syria’s National Judo Competition in his weight. Four months after the war started in 2012, Ibrahim got injured because of a bomb explosion near his house and he lost his left foot ankle. Things got worse in the next weeks and his family was obliged to flee their natal city and go to Demascus because of the undesribable life conditions they had been living in. Ibrahim had to stay there because he could not move that far due to his injured foot…
Seven months later, things didn’t get any better. One day he heard a friend of his screaming and asking for help on the street. He got shot by a sniper and he was bleeding. Ibrahim and some others went to rescue him and carry him to a safe place. But bomb exploded close to them, causing him lose his right leg. The athlete couldn’t remember anymore what happened after that. What stayed in his mind, is a lot of pain and suffer. He stayed 3 months without any convenient medical treatment. Can you imagine staying for 3 months with an amputated leg without any adequate medical support ?
He realized that the only way to stay alive is to make his way to Turkey. It was not easy at all. With little memories, he could remember that he made it through the borders and that took him three months. He stayed without food, without a place to sleep, without any thing of life necessities for several days. He was losing hope. In Turkey, life conditions were noy really better. He received a poor medical support and he didn’t feel better with his injuries. So he decided to make his way to any European country. The “easiset” way he could find is to take a counterband boat from Izmir to Samos, in Greece. He saw death several times. But he made it.
Ibrahim fell in love with Greece. He found there caring people and supporting friends. The Greek provided him with all what he needed, medical conditions, a place to stay, moral support and everything. He got in touch with his coach Eleni thanks to an NGO called “Solidarity Now” that is working with refugees in Greece. All of people he knew there encouraged him not to let sports, his dreams and his career go because of what happened. They convinced him that nothing will stop him if he wants to achieve his dream: being a successful athlete with an amazing career. The hardest part of the way was that huge move from a “normal” athlete to a disabled one. He had to get used to new body balance conditions, he had to learn how to swim correctly with half a leg, he had to drop Judo, the sport he was passionate with. He faced several challenges, and none of them was easier than the other.
Ibrahim wants to deliver a message. And not a small one. He wants to prouve to all refugees of the world that there is always hope somewhere, that surrending is not an option, that they have to keep fighting and stay convinced that things will finish by getting better, that NOT all humanity is crual. He wants to say to all refugees of the world, that if he made it so far, everybody can make it. It’s just about belief, about determination and about will. he wants to say to all refugees of the world, that impossible is nothing.
I had to translate all this to the BBC Channel and to Whang Youn Dai Achievment Awards, an international NGO valueing athletes with the best achievment of the world. I don’t know if I did a good job. I had no idea that I had to translate such a story to those big organizations. I thought it’s about a casual sports conversation. I stressed a lot during the interviews because it was a huge responsibility for me. Because in the end they will hear my words, not his. I am a Software Engineer, not a professional interpreter. And above all, some meanings and some words can never be translated in a right way. Today Ibrahim will be notified whether he is nominated for the Whang Youn Dai Achievment Award. If he wins it, I will be as happy as he would be.
And yet another lesson of life I learned through this experience: He made it. He overcame all this, the war, being away from his family, two serious injuries, the way of death he had to take to survive, and getting used to his new performance till being here, as an athlete in Rio 2106 Paralympic Games. He even made his “Season Best” (SB means improving his personal record this year) during his competition. In the past months, his time was strictly split between working to earn his living, to pay his rent and his bills, and training for his career and future. I’ve never seen an athlete doing both before. He is a Hero…
To be continued…