Choose your own adventure: Civil war escape

American readers my age might remember the ‘Choose your own adventure’ book series. These books were written in the second person and let the reader determine the outcome based on risk level acceptance.

I devoured these books as a young kid. The adventures kept me reading on the couch instead of watching T.V.

With that as background, I want to share a story where you can choose your own adventure.

Choose your own adventure: Civil war escape

Your country is torn apart by civil war, and the government regime has its eye on you for persecution. You have a few thousand dollars in cash. A spouse and two young children.

You can leave, or you can stay. Those are the only choices in this fictional account.

Option 1: Leave

If you go, you would have to get from New Mexico to Florida. There are closed, armed state borders en route.

You are on foot. No car of your own, no motorcycle, no boat, no plane, no train. You must depend on smugglers who expect advance payment. All around you are other people from other states trying to find the same route to freedom.

If and when you get to Florida, you’ll have to get to the far Bahamas by boat – sailed by a guy on the run just like you. He only learned how to sail five minutes before you boarded the rickety craft.

Oh. One more hurdle: you cannot swim because you’re disabled. You need a wheelchair to live.

Option 2: Stay

The alternative to this dangerous, challenging journey is that you stay in New Mexico, where the government considers you an enemy because you are a man of science and reason, a man of outspoken opinion. The regime doesn’t like what you’ve posted on your Facebook account.

You face jail time and torture – even death – imposed by the government over your regime criticisms on social media.

In fact, your family has a history of government persecution. Your father and brother were imprisoned years ago. They were tortured – in the same room!

Guards later killed your brother. You never saw him again.

Your father was never the same once released; he died from disease contracted in prison when you were a teenager.

Pick one adventure

So. What will you do?

Do you make the journey? Could you make it? Physically? Financially? Mentally?

Spiritually?

Or, do you risk staying in your state, in your country? Do you stop speaking out against a government you do not respect?

Hope you don’t get arrested? Hope you don’t become a casualty of the never-ending war?

You choose to open the door to escape

You and your spouse decide you should try. This means you leave your spouse and two young daughters behind in New Mexico. It hurts.

You will become a refugee — hunted, ripped off, at the mercy of other people in the seedy underworld of your home country – and abroad. You realize you might not see your family again for years. If ever.

But you can’t put yourself in that agony – in that dark place of possibility that threatens how much of your children’s lives you might miss, and how badly you will miss your loving spouse.

You decide to risk it, and set out.

A few things you experience on this bold journey:

  • Smugglers rip you off for your disability, and rob you, and leave you in a deserted area somewhere in the swampy Everglades
  • You endure long car rides with strangers and have no idea where you are
  • Somewhere between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, you sleep with street dogs in a garden because you don’t have money for a hotel
  • To raise money, your family sells valuables and gives you loans
  • Your homeland is ripped apart by an ongoing war
  • Once on a boat for the Bahamas, you watch people jump into the water to try to swim rather than be taken back to Florida by the coast guard

No more fiction

Dear reader, there is no alternative route on this adventure, because it’s based on a true story. There also is no ending, yet.

Replace New Mexico, Florida, and the Bahamas with Syria, Turkey, Greece and Germany.

Of the millions refugees who’ve migrated into Europe, the nuances in this story belong to my Syrian friend Mohammad.

How I met Mohammad

Long-time readers may recall my husband and I volunteered with Project Elea at a refugee camp in Greece in 2018.

Mohammad taught English classes at the camp for fellow refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.


Photo credit: Project Elea

I do not know Mohammad well. I cannot recite his preferences beyond football, some food items, and jeans. But I came to know him well enough to know this: his fortitude is unmatched among the people I’ve met around the world.

I wish I had a picture of Mohammad and me. But I don’t. I’ll have to catch up with him in Germany sometime. That’s where he is now.

You can see pictures of him on his new blog, which reads like an action-packed suspense thriller.

His honest and straightforward style is packed with horrible events. Reading about the dark side of humanity leaves me breathless; but not hopeless because Mohammad’s endures and prevails. He is one of the lucky ones.

Mohammad’s story will change how compassionate people look at life.

I hope you take a trip over to Mohammad’s blog.

Excerpt from Mohammad’s blog

Mohammad’s new blog launched in October 2020. Here is an excerpt from his second entry. It gets more crazy from here.

“I was wanted by the regime due to many posts I’ve written against the regime on my Facebook wall, so I left Alhaffa to Idlib city which is controlled by the opposition. There I worked in a small shop similar to a small supermarket, which was belonged to an old man. He offered me a tiny room next to the shop, but after three years of war, I realized that it wasn’t going to end and it was just the beginning of the Syrian people’s suffering.

So I decided to make my journey to Europe specifically to the Netherlands where my sister lived. I made up my mind after discussing it with my wife. It was important to get her approval because it was a decision that affected all of us and such decisions should be taken by both of us.

And so began my search for a smuggler to get me into Europe.”


Start at the beginning of Mohammad’s journey. Go here >>

Read his first attempt to get from Turkey to Greece. Go here >>

Learn Arabic with Mohammad. Go here >>


Now in its 10th year, the Syrian conflict has led to more than 500,000 deaths and displaced an estimated 13 million—over half of Syria’s pre-war population. Over 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 5.6 million are refugees, predominantly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

United States Institute of Peace

3 thoughts on “Choose your own adventure: Civil war escape

  1. Thank you so much Ellen

    My words are less than what I feel
    Hope you are doing well

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