Throughout the weeks everyone shared experiences. We talked about food, work, fashions and plans for the future.
It was fascinating how much we all had in common.
While the adults were talking together the children were helped by Fakhra and her helpers to make pieces of art work to include in this Book.
Every week Fakhra brought something new to stimulate and entertain them.
On week two Fakhra brought along tee shirts and paints for the children to decorate.
The boys and girls enjoyed colouring in the special designs brought along by Fakhra
Many of the people contributing to this book come from Damascus.
The photographs show - Umayyad Mosque - General view of Damascus - Mount Qasioun - Maktab Anbar -Azm Palace -Tekkiye Mosque
Damascus has a number of colourful markets (souks) where anything you might want can be bought day or night.
The women contributing to this book felt restricted by the early closure of local shops!
Modern-day English-speakers commonly refer to the city as Aleppo.
The original ancient name, Halab, has survived as the current Arabic name of the city.
The photographs show the Ancient City of Aleppo Aleppo Citadel - The entrance to al-Madina Souq - Great Mosque of Aleppo - Baron Hotel Saint Elijah Cathedral - Queiq River- Panorama of Aleppo at night
Other members of the group come from Afghanistan.
Here are some beautiful photographs of the landscape of Afghanistan: Band-e-Amir National Park, Salang Pass in Parwan Province, Korangal Valley in Kunar Province and Kajaki Dam in the valley of the Hilmand Province.
Hilmand or Helmand (also known as Hillmand in ancient times) is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan in the south of the country. It is the largest province by area.
The photograph shows the Hilmand River which flows through the mainly desert region providing water for irrigation.
Powerpoint created by Mahdi Rajabi, Music Zerbaphali Solo - Malang from Music of Afghanistan, Worldwide Artists, recorded 1961
Here is Sediq proudly modelling his Eid wear. The other photograph shows his handcrafted Eid cap.
This is a traditional Afghan dress. Each province will have their own style and they are all embroidered by hand. It takes around 20 days for a the embroiderer to create the pattern. The price of the costume will depend on the quality and can be anything from 200 dollars to over 1,000 dollars. In some ceremonies, both parties give costumes as a gift to each other.
The patou shawl is multi purpose - it can be used simply as a shawl, but also as a blanket, a prayer mat or as a towel after washing hands and face.
The hat is popular in the southern region of Afghanistan (Helman) and can be made in different styles. High profile people have the best quality hats. The scalloped shape of the hat at the front is so that men can show their hair if they want, depending on their style. Beads can also be worn with this outfit.
Two of the men present showed us the Prayer Beads they carried with them.
Prayer Beads are referred to as Misbaha, Tasbih or Sibha. Each string contains 33 or 99 beads.
Depending of what they are made some Prayer Beads can be very expensive - especially if made from gem stones.
Prayer Beads are not essential as prayers can still be said without them.
The Prayer Beads also have another cultural importance in the Dabke which is the most popular Arab folk dance in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It is a line dance which is widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions.
Dabke means literally "stamping of feet" and the leader (who alternates between facing the audience and the other dancers) twirls a handkerchief or a string of beads while the rest of the dancers keep up the beat.
Light clothing which covers the body protects from the extreme heat. Here is Hassan in his traditional outfit.
Although the costumes shown here would not be worn today there has always been a tradition of regional clothing typical for the area from which the person came.
These beautiful, traditional clothes were very colourful.
These days women tend to adapt British clothes to meet their needs.
Traditional women's headwear is colourful and beautifully decorated. These shown would usually have been worn by Kurdish Syrian women.
The wearing of gold coins as part of their jewellery was common. This was for decorative purposes rather than to demonstrate wealth.
Here Mariam proudly shows off an example of her national dress.
Maymouna said that in Syria, people like to buy and wear lots of gold. It is a way of investing as well as decorative.
She is surprised that people don't appear to do this in the UK.
Most of the families are keen cooks and feel that it is an art form. Here are some examples of making food in a traditional manner.
Maymouna however shared that several of them now have a 'hankering' for fish and chips which were only discovered on their arrival in Wales and are now a firm favourite.
On being asked about food they missed, Younes explained about dried meat. In Afghanistan they like to dry meat during summer to see them through the winter time as they don't have fridges or freezers. The flavour is very intense.
When Younes moved to Wales, he bought a side of lamb and dried it outside under the sun, coating it in salt.
In order to eat it, you have to then soak it in water to remove the salt and it is very flavoursome. Meat cooked in this way is good for 2 months. It is also a good tip for those who don't want to spend a lot of money!
They also like aubergine, okra and other vegetables that can be dried and will be ready to eat in winter.
They have tried some (but not all) Welsh/UK food. Younes is particularly fond of fish and chips! He was also told by an uncle that the food in the UK looks good but is tasteless, whereas food in Afghanistan doesn't look nice, but tastes delicious. Some of the group agree that this is the case.
Maymouna likes dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Jihan is proud of her national dress. She is a Syrian Kurd.
Here is Jihan and her family proudly bearing the Kurdish Flag. Newrog (or Nawroz) celebrates the arrival of spring and the new year in Kurdish culture.
Music: 'Sabrina' from 'A Syrian Journey: From Damascus to Burlington' Grup Anwar & Anwar Diab Agha ©2016 Anwar Diab Agha
Jihan explained the meaning of Newroz to Syrian Kurds.
Newroz originated in Persia in the religious tradition of Zoroastrianism and is celebrated by the cultural regions that came under Iranian influence or had Persian immigrants.
Newroz is the Kurdish celebration of the Persian new year holiday “Nowruz.” Kurdish Newroz coincides with the Spring Equinox, and is a festival celebrating the beginning of spring. Over the years, Newroz has come to represent new beginnings, as well as an opportunity to support the Kurdish cause. For these reasons, Newroz is considered to be the most important festival in Kurdish culture. Typically the festival is celebrated in the days running up to the Spring Equinox, and this year will be celebrated from March 21th to April 1st.
During Newroz, there are special foods, fireworks, dancing, singing, and poetry recitations. Spring flowers (such as tulips, hyacinths, and pussy willows) are cut, new clothes are worn, and pottery is smashed for good luck. Families spend the day in the country, enjoying nature and the fresh growth of spring.
The celebration of Newroz has its local peculiarities in different regions of Kurdistan. On the eve of Newroz, in southern and eastern Kurdistan, bonfires are lit. These fires symbolize the passing of the dark season, winter, and the arrival of spring, the season of light. During the thirteen days after Newroz, families visit each other and visit the graves of dead relatives. Everyone tries to resolve any conflicts or misunderstandings that may be carried from the year before.
After the lifting of Covid restrictions an afternoon was spent in Denbigh learning about local Welsh culture. This included a guided tour of Denbigh and a visit to the Castle.
The day was an opportunity for a mutually inclusive exchange of culture and heritage.
"Thank you to all the team who went with us on the trip. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much" Syrian Group Member.
Mentir Iaith organised fun and games for the children, including a special visit from Magi Ann!
A Harvest BBQ at the Crescent Road allotment in Rhyl was arranged in conjunction with Denbighshire Countryside Services.
Everyone had a wonderful time - both adults and children!
Although the weather was not kind (wind and heavy rains) spirits were not dampened although it forced attendees to leave the allotment and take shelter at the nearby Salvation Army Hall. A magnificent feast of traditional Syrian cuisine cheered everyone up and was enjoyed by all.
Staff members had just as much fun as everyone else!
The 3 families who went on the day to Aberystwyth did not see the Café itself but met up in the Borth Community Centre. They did meet some of the people who work there, including a lady called Latifa. They found it interesting.
They weren't sure but it sounded like a Community Café . Further investigation discovered that it was a social enterprise called the Syrian Diner Project. There was an opportunity to discuss business ideas with members of the Project. Business Wales will be able to offer support to those wishing to explore a similar enterprise in Rhyl.
A delicious buffet was provided by the Project.
Basel told us about Syria and its produce. You can make macaroni out of a type of wheat. There are millions of olive trees in Syria. In winter, we plant different things. Wheat, barley, chick peas, broad beans.
Both the Syrians and the Afghans agreed that they received a very warm welcome when they arrived. They noted that what was surprising was that not only did they have a home, but it was furnished and the fridge was stocked.
Amal said that they were the very first Syrian family to move to Denbighshire and in that way were a kind of 'guinea pig' and everyone learned from them what was needed and they had a lot of support for everything. Red Cross Case Workers helped them settle in. Although they were given a phone number and told to ask if they needed anything, they didn't need to as everything necessary was provided. They were able to tell the workers what worked and what could be improved.
They were also happy to be able to make food for the new families as they arrived. It is 10 years now since Amal's family left Syria.
Before the pandemic the families would visit each other in their homes, but then that had to stop. But they are starting to get back to normal again now and are visiting once more.
The warm welcome was unexpected because in their country it may not be the same as that type of support wasn't provided.
Basl observed that in their country they are expected to pay to support the Government whereas in the UK, the Government supports them!
When asked if there had been any surprises, Ismail said that he had a medical condition when he arrived in the country and was amazed to find he was met at the airport by a Mercedes! Only the president rides in a Mercedes in Afghanistan!
In Wales if you are in the street and ask for help from someone, they will usually go out of their way to help. Also they have noticed that when shopping, the assistants will always ask "Can I help you?"
Most find that the Welsh have been more hospitable than the English. Younes said that having spent time in London, Birmingham and Chester, the people in Wales seem to be friendlier and neighbours offer support and appear to be kinder here. We wondered whether this could be because of the way of life in cities.
When our group have spoken to family back home, and even they themselves before they arrived here, they had thought that Wales was a completely separate country and that everyone in the UK was English. They have only really begun to understand the concept of the United Kingdom and they've enjoyed learning about the 4 countries' heritage and culture.
Maymouna said that she finds it difficult to know (in Rhyl) who is Welsh and who may be English, Irish or Scottish as they have come across all of them - especially as Rhyl is a holiday resort.
The teachers at their children's school have been helpful in helping them understand Welsh culture - things like St David's Day and even Halloween.
Syrian born Basl said that everything is so tidy clean and well-organised here. But he has noticed that people tend to be a little cautious and untrusting of others here, especially strangers. He also noted that there is a lot of alcohol drunk in the UK - even in the streets.
Younes too finds people too private. In Afghanistan, new people who move into a neighbourhood can expect to find their neighbours calling round the day they move in and be invited for dinner - "You must be my guest" so within just a few days, everyone would know each other.
There were many things that people liked about Wales and Denbighshire in particular.
They loved the views, nature and the beautiful countryside. They also love the sea.
Everything is very organised and you can get everything that you need but - it might take a long time to access! They wondered if this might be because of the emphasis on Health and Safety. Despite the delays they were impressed how conscious people were to take care of others' safety.
Medical emergency cases are dealt with very quickly but everything else takes so long. In Syria, for example, all diagnostic tests would be carried out on the same day.
Even applying for a job seems very bureaucratic. Interestingly in Arabic and Dari there is no direct translation for 'reference letter'.
Finally it was agreed that Syrian and British humour was very different!
All the group felt that schools were very different but also much better. They do notice though that they aren't sure exactly what their children will be learning throughout the year. In Syria, parents are given a book that shows exactly what their children will be learning, but now they can't see that. They would like to know what the children were studying. They only get end of term reports now.
Khalid remembers that in Lebanon, it would not be unusual for an 8 year old child to be carrying a bag packed tight with books that weighed 8kg. Bags are much lighter now in Wales!
Primary school children did not do much practical work but when they went to high school they did sewing, embroidery and cooking. And there was no organised sport, just free play.
They did not have anything like prefects or mentors.
All the adults encourage their children to study because they see being at school in the UK as being a real privilege, as people around the world pay thousands of pounds to study in the UK.
On the other hand, most children dream of being footballers (same as in the UK!) but the parents tell them it's fine to dream, but you need a 'Plan B' or 'Plan C' if this doesn't work out.
Some felt that it would be important to study technology as that is the future.
Becoming fluent in English is seen by all as being essential and is top of the list of their plans. As Rawda says, "my plans are to learn English and get a job".
The group have many different dreams.
Younes would like to teach English to other refugees (TEFL) and would like a qualification in that. He has a Masters already but this is only seen as a Bachelors in the UK. Would also like to teaching business leadership.
One of the group would like to work in farming and has started working towards that by keeping an allotment.
One mentioned that when visiting the Fire Service, he was told that he would have to be fluent Welsh to get a job here. He feels it will be difficult for refugees to gain jobs in this sector.
Maymouna would like to gain a qualification to become a nurse or a carer.
Maymouna said that it has been very good to think about heritage in these groups as their memory is consumed by the war. This has been an enjoyable way to remember.
She also said that she had made up her mind to forget about her culture altogether when she moved as she did not think she'd be able to continue with it. However she has found that by moving to Wales she has learned that Welsh culture is also strong and that has reinvigorated her and made me think about her culture again and be proud of it.
"We left everything behind when we left Syria - photographs, everything - because we thought we'd be going back. But we now realise this won't happen. As time has passed we are starting to build things up again".
Maymouna finds it good that the Welsh people are so proud of their culture and take the time to ask about Syrian culture too.
Clockwise from top:
Younos is seen delivering a two week IELTS training course to the Police Special Units in January 2021, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Here he is seen with his students on the last day of delivering a two week IELTS training course to the Police Special Units in January 2021, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Younos pictured with his students (Army Cadets) at Afghanistan National Army Officers Academy, 2019, Gharqa, Kabul, Afghanistan. This academy was funded and established by the British Royal Government in 2012 with similar curriculum and functions as the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK.
The British advisors and mentors were teaching Afghan Cadets themselves until 2015. After that, the Afghan Military teachers used to teach until the last days of their government in August 2021.
Clockwise from top left:
Younos in Afghani clothes (Piran-Tonban) on the last day of CELTA course in the British Council's Office in March 2019, Mumbai, India.
Younos wearing a traditional cloak (made in Mazar Sharif, a city in the North of Afhanistan) during the snow of the winter 2019, Ministry of Interior Affairs, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Younos wearing Uzbek-style hat and cloak at a cultural event with his British Council colleagues at the British Council Afghanistan's Office, in 2018, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Younos took this selfie with his daughter during the last week of their stay in Kabul before their relocation to the UK. It was taken in August 2021 in Shahr Naw, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Faniz (Younos' daughter) in her traditional Afghani clothes and jewellery in her house in 2019, Afshar, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghans are renowned for their hospitality and are very welcoming and open to new people. Their bravery has often caused problems with fighting! (The photograph shows an Afghani game of courage known as Buzkashi.)
Afghans often live in large families, for example, Younus said that he lived in a house with 5 brothers and their wives and 20 cousins. Often a man will have many wives and so very large families are common. In city centres, however, you are more likely only to live with your immediate family.
For the Pashtan people, it is seen as shameful if the sons live separately with their immediate family. It is the wives' duty to serve their Mother-in-law and live with them.
Syrian life can be broken into tribal groups, but they all have very similar characteristics. The Syrian group participants feel that polygamy is seen as old fashioned now. It is legal, but less fashionable these days and they would tend to live with their immediate family only and not part of an extended family.
It is not unusual to live with 10 to 15 siblings. Sometimes it's easy to lose count of how many live together, for example with 7 brothers, each of whom have 6-7 children each!
Both the Syrian and Afghan group members had memories of childhood games. They remembered that they liked to have others around as there weren't very many toys or ways to entertain yourself as there are now, so they made their own games. As an adult however, this becomes harder.
Younus remembers that games would include climbing trees, marbles (they would draw a circle on the ground in the soil using a stone and would then win other children's marbles). It was discovered during the sessions that different cultures had different ways of throwing marbles.
In Iran/Afghanistan there was a game called 'bojol' which was made from the bones in a sheep's knee. Children would collect and play with these. This game was not played in Syria.
A game where there were 9 squares and you threw a stone and hopped was recalled which sounds similar to the western 'hopscotch'.
Jesvasi was played in Iran and Afghanistan where you would stand on one foot and wrestle each other.
Flying kites was another popular pastime.
Another game would be to race with your siblings to the fruit tree to pick the first fruit of the season. They have noticed that they haven't seen too many fruit trees here in Wales. But one has spotted almond trees in Prestatyn.
The group thought and discussed technology and how that has changed play. Children today don't use their imagination as much.
The group felt that they don't have time for fun in Wales. They have a lot of responsibility and would like more time to spend with friends. In their homelands they used to have a lot of friends but they don't have many friends here yet.
They feel that humour is different in Wales to that in Afghanistan and Syria.
In Afghanistan, there is a comic character who is often the centre of jokes called 'Mulah Nasruddin (massein)'. He possibly originated in Turkey but through the passage of time he has become more of a caricature, not associated with any specific physical person.
Syria has a similar character. He is useful to avoid political fallout because at times, they are not able to have freedom of speech so would blame Mulah Nasrudin to avoid persecution.
We would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this informative and enjoyable book:
Amal Mohamad Alkhatib
Basel Hamed Al Hariri
Maymouna Mohamad Al Hariri
Majed Mohmad Katkout
Rawda Ali Al Souka
Shiraz Eddin Dahabi
Jihan Mustafa Fayadh
Hasan Zaki Aldagher
Mohammad Rafin Rajabi
Younos Dost Mohammadi
Abdullah Al Finish
Mariam Abu Khaled
Dania Abu Khaled