Sally Hllouby*

2 February 2024


It is 4:17 in the morning, 06/Feb/2023; I don’t really know what’s going on; I hear screams and the ground’s voice. Does the ground have a voice?

I can’t run to find my family; I try to, I jump, I fall down, I look at my family and they look at me. We don’t understand, I say we should go down. We wait.

After the ground’s voice gets lower, we try to take what’s important; we run, we try to take our jackets. We run. I see the door, I try to reach it. I fall.

My mother is next to me, pulling me, but I crumble down. I don’t know who I am. I have no understanding of reality. I stay on the ground.

It’s the next day, and we don’t know what’s the right thing to do. We wait. It is 13:24, and the ground screams again. Is it our fault? We wait.

We try to find a shelter but it is so cold everywhere. Should we escape? The road is closed. We wait. 

After a couple of days, we decide that the ground will keep screaming even if it is not that loud. We hear it. We shiver.

It is one week later, we still hear it, we don’t feel the house is ours anymore; I look at it from away. Will we also see this one falling? I look. I wait.

Once again, I’m in the house. I took my camera. I don’t want to lose it even if everything will get lost. This is familiar, I say to myself. We escape.



In the first week, I stayed with my family, and I didn’t see any of my friends.  My friends were busy with their families too, and the ones that weren’t were getting drunk in a shelter; I couldn’t relate to them, but also, I couldn’t know who I was, so how would I relate to anyone?

We escaped after we knew that the roads were ok. We went as a family. We looked at each other and I knew we were all thinking of one thing, yes, we will go to a safe place but how many times should a man start his life from zero?



While on the road, I searched for places to stay, and organizations that can help. I didn’t get help from any organization, but my Turkish friend on Instagram reached out and connected me with the kindest person I had met, Evrim. Evrim tried 10 hours straight talking with municipalities. Trying to find me and my family a place to stay in the new city. We arrive in the new city and everyone is so nice and helpful. Me and my family were looking at each other, asking why is that? This is the first time that we really don’t feel like “Yabancı” as we used to. Even in the new city, everything was a blank; there was no sense of reality but a survival status in all of us while we could not bear to stay under any roof.



It is one month later; we pack to get back. Our friends say it is not safe to go back, but how long can we stay in the blankness?  We read the Facebook posts of Syrians in Gaziantep, talking about the help they are getting but the problems they are facing from racism. I open my Instagram and I see people asking for migrants to be sent back to Syria because there is no more room for them anymore. I look up for the people in Syria -who also experienced the earthquake- they also have no place to go neither food nor shelter, because no aid neither rescue teams were able to reach them.

My fellow human we both experienced this chaos; shouldn’t we be ok together now? It took a natural disaster not to feel “Yabancı” anymore, and it took us humans to bring it back again. I saw it here: one human fellow that can stay to live and that other human fellow that should be sent to his destiny.  We go back, and I see Gaziantep sad but stubborn.


The first month back in Gaziantep was noisy, you want to get back to normal life but you can’t; your mind is reminding you that we could live this all over again. I saw good number of websites offering help for individuals: therapists (Arab therapy) and academics (Sosyal Bilimler Dayanışma). But we stayed awake, we stayed with each other all the time, and all the people I know did the same. In every re-gathering we kept our jackets on in case of an emergency. We stared at the sealing to watch the chandelier’s lights moving and we checked or earthquake mobile app every five minutes.

The adaptation phase began the moment we went back, and up until now, my first memory of it is me being so needy to stop the adaptation phase; I couldn’t accept that we needed an adaptation; I wanted everyone and everything to go back to normal. I wanted to delete our fears and start again as fast as we could. I wanted everyone to go back to their jobs and schools, and I get to go back to my usual coffee shop. I understood that I couldn’t give any more days to these pauses that keep occurring in our lives.


Last page of the novel The Granada Trilogy by Radwa Ashour: the last sentences reads:

-        We don’t have a choice but to leave

-        If I left my family and my home to them, I would die before reaching the port…


We are one year later still checking our earthquake app, and I still wake up every couple of weeks at 4:17. Although here was our first escape, many of us have left this city, and many of us have left the country. Each one of us has thought about leaving and still is now. The ones who left have deeply lost one of life’s meanings: a home or a person or the feeling of being safe. The ones that stayed, stayed because they could not choose to leave their meaning of life. It scares most of us to try to gain this stable life, and the community that was created here in Gaziantep among Syrians is something hard to create again from zero elsewhere. We cannot leave the people with whom we once again found a sense of home, nor can we abandon the house in which we reconstructed our memories. Here, in this city, we have tried again.



*Sally Hllouby is a Syrian filmmaker, researcher and artist born in Aleppo. She is a MA student in Cinema and Television program at Anadolu University. Sally has worked on research projects focused on migration and documentary filmmaking. Recently, she joined the participatory filmmaking research with the Reel Border project, co-training a workshop of 23 students at the Çukurova University Radio TV and Cinema program, from which she graduated in 2022. Since 2013, she has contributed to art exhibitions in Turkey while participating in different film projects.



**"The images used belong to the author.

***The ideas and opinions expressed in GAR Blog publications are those of the authors; they do not reflect those of the Association for Migration Research