Honey Al Sayed was at the top of her profession before the civil war in Syria began. She had the No. 1 radio show in the country, “Good Morning Syria.” She knew how far she could push the envelope when it came to the government censors. She was living and working in Damascus, a city that blended its rich history with a cosmopolitan flair.
And, most of all, she was surrounded by her family.
Now, five years later, all that has changed, she told members of Culver Girls Academy during a special session Friday afternoon. In a few short months, she went from being a celebrity in her home country to a refugee who qualified for protective status in 2012. “I lost my whole career . . . my whole life,” she said.
When the uprising took hold around the country, the government censors became more restrictive. “Every freedom I had was taken away from me,” Sayed said. Eventually, they wanted to use her radio show as a vehicle to spread government propaganda. That was the final straw. “I was not going to be a mouthpiece for anyone,” she explained. “Truth is the first casualty of war.”
She lost her radio show and knew she would have leave the country. Fortunately, she laughed, she was considered a “privileged refugee,” which meant she got to take two suitcases with her when she left. When she arrived in the United States, this college-educated radio personality received no favors.
People did not see me as a human being with potential.
“I will tell you the vetting is extreme,” she said. One person told her “I’m sorry but you’re nobody here. No one will help you. People did not see me as a human being with potential.”
With the help of Syrian community in the United States, she has rebuilt her life. She obtained a master’s degree from Tufts University and is teaching Media, Arts & Culture: Fueling War or Creating Peace? at Georgetown University.
And, while she has relatives in the United States (she is the aunt of Ahmed ’13 and Aya Al Sayed ’17), Al Sayed also knows that she probably will not see her family in Damascus for the foreseeable future. While the city is relatively untouched by the conflict, there are still bombings and shootings. “They are safe, but not safe,” she explained.
She said she misses “everything” about Syria. While she has lived throughout the Middle East, Syria is home. “It is a magical place,” she said, a least it was before the civil war. She is hoping that the feeling returns after the conflict is over.
There is a magic in the country and a resilience in the people, she said. And she is hoping both those remain so the country can return to its pre-war normalcy.