We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled

Wendy Pearlman is a professor of Middle East politics at Northwestern University and author of the new book We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria. The book is Based on interviews that she conducted with hundreds of Syrian refugees on multiple continents since 2012.

“So back in 2012 it was still very much sort of the aura of the Arab Spring there were there were still a lot of excitement about these mass demonstrations. So in in asking this man to tell me about his experiences there was a lot of focus on those initial protests on how the Syrian uprising began how people got the courage to protest how it spread what this popular uprising that’s mass grassroots struggle for freedom was all about. So the interview very much focused on his experiences of the uprising as did most of the interviews that I did.”

Pearlman went back to Jordan in 2013 and then also moved on to Turkey and says she immediately could see that the tone for many people had changed.

“There was less optimism that the Assad regime would be overthrown. There were more experiences of brutal violence and war and I discovered quickly that the best way for me to do these interviews was to create an open space where someone would feel comfortable and safe to talk about whatever was most important to him or her. So starting in 2013 I saw a shift in stories from protest to war brutal experiences of war and over the years the interviews have more and more tended to focus on the refugee experience itself of people’s experiences getting out of Syria their new lives perhaps in the countries on Syria’s borders.”

After the first wave of Syrian refugees were welcomed into some European countries, in particular Germany, policy started to shift and borders began to tighten. Pearlman says she could see how the refugees were being impacted by these changes.

“So my first round of interviews in 2012 it was not on anyone’s mind even to imagine going to Europe. The people I talked to in Jordan felt like they had crossed a few kilometers across the border and they were waiting to go back at any moment. People thought you know any day we’re going to get the news that the Assad regime has fallen and we’re going to go back and there’s no use in even investing in any new life in Jordan because any day we’re going to go back the next summer I could already feel a shift that many people were beginning to feel despair…

I began doing interviews in Europe in the summer 2016 and even since then have seen that that shift as well. At first many people especially in Sweden and in Germany were settled in refugee shelters. Sometimes they were school gymnasiums or other office buildings that were transformed into a place to house these hundreds or thousands of people and their first sort of concerns were how do I get out of the shelter where I live in a transformed school building to a real home where my family can have privacy and dignity and I can feel a sense of stability by the next summer and when I did interviews many of those people had managed to move out of the shelters and had apartments and one of their big concerns was learning language.”

Nov. 19 (7:00 pm): Colorado Foothills World Affairs Council, Mount Vernon Canyon Club, 24933 Club House Cir, Golden, CO

Nov. 20 (5:30 pm): World Denver, The Brown Palace, 321 17th St., Denver, CO

Nov. 21 (11:30 am): Colorado Springs World Affairs Council, Pinery at the Hill
775 W. Bijou Street, Colorado Springs, CO

Nov. 21 (7:30 pm): Colorado College, Richard F. Celeste Theatre, Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade, Colorado Springs, CO,