KAYA’S STORY

I met Kaya in May 2013, in Shaqlawa. I stopped at a bar for tea, and he was working there as a waiter. We started talking and he told me that he was from Qamishlo, in the Rojava region of Syria. He spotted I was a photographer because “of my face and of my bag”. We spoke a lot, and I ended up spending a long time in Shaqlawa, staying at my sister’s house, and meeting in the evenings with Kaya. At first I was not interested in taking photos, but just hearing his stories. It was later, when I came back, that I started picturing his life, his routines, trying to imagine his future. Kaya, 29, was studying economy in Latakia, Syria - where he also worked as chef in a restaurant – when the war in Syria started. He needed one last exam to graduate, but he had to flee back to his hometown, in the Kurdish part of Syria. In Qamishlo he joined the YPG (Kurdish fighters) and went fighting to protect his land. “Sometimes we would go out and only a few men would come back, the others killed, martyred. Sometimes we would all come back, victorious. One time, I was the only one to come back.” In August 2013, Kaya had to leave his country because, in order to avoid the mandatory military service in the Syrian army of Bashar al Assad, he became a defector, and therefore a wanted man. He crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan, and after one night in the refugee camp of Kawrgosk, he reached Shaqlawa. In Shaqlawa he met the owner of the Gazino café, and started working there as waiter. The owner also gave him a house, where he does not have to pay rent. Kaya got engaged to his girlfriend Rana a few weeks before he had to flee Syria. He had to leave her behind, for he first wanted to see how to make a life in Iraq. His dream has been since then to make a house where he could live with her, in peace. It was only towards the end of 2014 that Rana finally managed to cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan and joined Kaya in the house that he has been fixing for them. For me it was important to tell his story, to show the life of a man who sought refuge in my country, and immediately tried to be independent, to have a job, a house: basically just a normal life again.