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A Syrian Family Just Landed in Palm Coast Starts Life Over From “Less Than Zero”

| October 26, 2015

syrian family palm coast

Mania and Amir Saman with their children–Samih, 12, Sami, 9, Loma, 6 and Maria, 2–in their Palm Coast home, where they’ve been since early August. (c FlaglerLive)

Back in Syria Mania and Amir Saman and their young children lived like kings: their two-level house in a town outside Hama—Syria’s fifth-largest city—even sported a castle-like turret that Mania points to as she leafs through one of her photo albums, all she has left of a lifetime’s evidence of what, for now, may be a permanent loss.

The family had a summer house, too. But the morning of Oct. 17, Amir got a call from Syria to let him know that his house was for sale. He hadn’t put it on the market. Someone there was doing so illegally by taking advantage of the prevailing lawlessness in a country cleaved by four years of civil war. Amir had spent the morning in tears, powerless against the latest aggression, even at this distance, on his patrimony and sense of self-worth: he’s been without work for the first time in his adult life—he’s 43—a humbling he wishes he could hide from his four children. Losing one of his properties would add insult to involuntary exile.

The Samans moved to Palm Coast on Aug. 1. They moved here from Port Orange, where they’d lived for a couple of years. They’re not refugees and don’t like to be considered as such. The government is granting them an extended stay, pending the application for a Green Card, because of the situation back home. But they represent a broader part of the Syrian crisis and the diaspora it has created. The war in Syria has driven more than 4.1 million Syrians into neighboring countries out of a total population of more than 22 million, according to the Congressional Research Service’s latest report. Many are classified as refugees. Some are not, but are stateless nevertheless: they cannot go home. That’s the case with the Samans. They’re not seeking asylum—and as asylum seekers they might not have much luck: the United States has been admitting fewer than 35,000 seekers from the entire Middle East in the last few years, though the Obama administration is increasing that number in the next two years.

But they have no other place to go. Palm Coast is now home.  “It’s a new culture for us, everything is new, new life, new language,” Amir says. They had no connections here, no family, no community of Syrians. Just a job.

They’d previously worked for years in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: As with many Levantine families, working in the Arab Peninsula was a common choice for those who could make it. Life was harder, but the money was better, and it was close enough to home that going back and forth was like an extended form of commuting.

The hair design that won Mania Saman a first0-place award in the bridal up-do styling contest at the Barristar Student Symposium in Kissimmee last March.

The hair design that won Mania Saman a first0-place award in the bridal up-do styling contest at the Barristar Student Symposium in Kissimmee last March.

They were doing very well in Riyadh, the Saudi capital: Amir, a civil engineer by training, was working in an import-export firm (frozen meats and such). Mania is a professional hair stylist who’s owned her own salon in Syria and had a thriving practice in Riyadh, tending to the wealthy and to royalty—which isn’t rare in the Saudi capital: the House of Saud’s family members could fill a stadium. The Samans’ older children were attending an American school.

All that ended with the war. They couldn’t go home. And Mania was getting tired of the asphyxiating restrictions on life in Saudi Arabia: the Samans are Christians, but they could not go to church because the Saudi government forbids houses of worship other than mosques. Mania made her concessions with life in Islam’s most Puritan nation-state: she wore the head-to-toe covering niqab, but she was beginning to imagine her younger daughter growing up in that environment, having to wear the niqab in turn.

Mania didn’t want that for her daughter. There’d been no such restrictions in Syria (where one of the pictures Mania has preserved is of the immense white church the family attended). But Syria was out of bounds: when both Mania’s and Amir’s mothers died within months of each other, they couldn’t go home for the funerals. “I hadn’t seen her for five years,” Mania says of her mother. “It was very hard for me. I don’t want to talk about this story.”

They had an opportunity to stay in the United States when they came to visit. They grabbed it.

That’s when a different sort of difficulties began, what Mania, after 18 years as a successful stylist, describes as starting life over “from less than zero.” Her experience mattered for little here: she had to be licensed locally and rebuild her client base. She enrolled in the cosmetology program of Daytona Beach’s International Academy and made it through. In August she landed a job at Europa Salon and Spa on Utility Drive in Palm Coast, moving her family to a house in the F Section and rebuilding her client base through her Facebook page.

“In Saudi Arabia, in Dubai, people knew me, they’d only ask for Mania, whether it’s to prepare for a marriage or anything else. They’d ask for me by name,” she says in broken English and, mostly, in Arabic. “But in Saudi Arabia you can’t live a normal life. I was living a life of asphyxiation. I couldn’t wear my cross. I couldn’t return to Saudi Arabia. I had to breathe. I lost everything so my children could grow up in a safe place. Here I’m starting below zero.”

Because of his years in an American school in Riyadh, the Saman’s oldest son, 12-year-old Samih, speaks and acts as if he’s been the United States all his life. He’s a straight-A student at Indian Trails Middle School, often serving as the language conduit between his parents and visitors or helping them navigate the bureaucratic labyrinths of everyday life. His younger brother, 9-year-old Sami, is acclimating to life here, attending Old Kings Elementary. They were both born in Syria and have distant memories of their homeland. Their sister Loma is 6 (authorities made a mistake on her passport and changed her name from Luna) and Maria, the youngest at 2 and a half, is also the only one born in the United States: the lone U.S. citizen in the Saman household and an amateur climber: wherever her dad is, there is Maria, making him her Everest.

They would have liked to get Mania’s father out of Syria, if only for a visit. He’s 80. He has money. But American authorities won’t approve his exit visa. So he remains back home, living in fear. “Everything is fear,” Mania says of life back home. And in Palm Coast? She’s realized the safety and freedom she wanted for her children, but she and her husband are struggling to provide for them as they once did. Her son Samih sums it up for her in one word: “frustration.”

At times clients who know about Syria want to show their sympathy. She’s conflicted about that. “You feel weak, but I don’t like to feel weak,” Mania says. “But this is the reality. It’s in the news. There’s war in Syria.”

She doesn’t want sympathy. She wants clients. It’s that simple. That’s how she sees her life getting rebuilt in this new land. She remembers the days back in the Mideast when her clients would travel two hours just to get their highlights. That’s what she’s working toward here, doing her best to keep up a resilient front. “I smile,” she says in English. “Maybe my heart is crying, but I smile. I like to smile.”

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27 Responses for “A Syrian Family Just Landed in Palm Coast Starts Life Over From “Less Than Zero””

  1. Palm Coast's Marine says:

    Great article as always, especially from our town.

    It’s frustrating to see the migrant crises and hate of Syrian refugees in Europe but at the same time, it makes sense for some citizens to be concern about the influx of people just like in any crises. However, this is not the case. I wish the Samans a welcoming and healthy stay in Palm Coast! And I wish the best to all their family for safety.

    And to all the narrow minded, politically motivated, prejudice folks out there, shame on you. Especially those on the Facebook comments. Shame on you. Even if they did receive government assistance (though it did not state in the article), they still WORK for a living. They still try to secure a healthy life for their kids. Shame on those who are quick to make a judgment. Put yourself in these people’s shoes and if you think the government didn’t treat you right, then contact your representatives in the government about your concerns and frustration.

  2. Algernon says:

    Welcome to Palm Coast Mania and Amir Saman, and family. May you recover your lives, and grow and prosper here. And bring Mania’s father too.

  3. Havana Woody says:

    What a Beautiful family with a great future as Americans, they appear to have already assimilated to local culture. and that’s what I think it means to be an American , Melting in!

  4. I/M/O says:

    Yes Mania you can wear your Christian Cross here without any fear. Every American will defend your right to do so.

  5. jim says:

    WELCOME to America and and Coast! God Bless and God Speed

  6. Geezer says:

    I am very happy for this family. May they continue to prosper.
    May they not have bear hunters as neighbors.

  7. Outsider says:

    What a nice family. I am sure that, in time, they will be very successful here. Welcome to America!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Good for them I hope they have a long and happy life in America. This shows how welcoming America truly is to REAL immigrants. NOT the invaders the left call undocumented. We should be allowing many more from the war torn Mid east that are NOT muslims let them take care of their own we should be letting in ALL the Christians and other non-muslims we can.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Our apologies for the comment above which, like many others, should not be approved, but it is illustrative of the boundless bigotry–and, judging by its anonymity, its cowardice–among which we live.

  9. Obama 2015 says:

    Welcome home Saman family.. Hey Obama haters, this is what tyranny is. Count your blessings

  10. Edith Campins says:

    Welcome. Be well and thrive.

  11. Dean Carpenter says:

    Welcome to the Samans. It is faith and a belief in ones self that makes America strong.

    Good story.

  12. Ashley says:

    Sorry but I wholeheartedly agree with ‘Anonymous’ and I am far from a bigot considering my friend base. It’s a matter of national security at this point and it is not worth risking. Anyone with half a brain could figure that out.

  13. Algernon says:

    Briefly, until I saw your post FlaglerLive, I wondered how that last comment got through. What a troll!

  14. Outsider says:

    And I think Flagler Live fails to realize these people were fleeing, among other things, the oppressive hand of Islam. You can call it bigotry, hatefulness, xenophobia, or anything else you wish, but it doesn’t change the fact that Islam does not share our values, particularly freedom, free exercise of religion that doesn’t call for the killing of those who don’t practice your’s, the right of women to vote, drive cars, not dress like a mummy, and not be required to have four male witnesses in order to validate a claim of rape. We are also generally in agreement that stoning your daughter to death for secretly going on a date, particularly with a non-Muslim, is not a pillar of the women’s rights movement in America. Now, of course I understand that there many Muslims who don’t advocate these practices, but there are too many, I believe, that do. This is borne out by many polls in Muslim countries. Sorry if this disappoints many who have their heads where the sun doesn’t regularly shine, but I look at what’s happening all over the Muslim world and have no problem stating I don’t want that party here.

  15. Sandra Reynolds says:

    Flagler Live, no need to apologize. We know they are out there among us. But their hatred will not over ride the goodness in most people’s heart.

  16. NortonSmitty says:

    Yes, welcom to America. Where you have no reason fearing putting your own name on your opinions unless you are an inbred bigoted idiot who knows he brings shame to his family every time he opens his mouth.

  17. Confidential says:

    Welcome to America.
    This is one more proof of why our America is Number One still and is for the compassion and hospitality of most Americans towards their fellow human beings in distress and in need of a helping hand.

  18. Geezer says:

    Ashley:

    * “I am far from a bigot considering my friend base.”
    * “Anyone with half a brain could figure that out.”

    Well I did some simple arithmetic….
    If your friends think like you do, and if there’s twenty of them….
    Not counting you of course – then there’s only ten brains to
    go around.

    You are as far from being a bigot, as fire is to a flame.

    “Friend base” – that’s too funny.

  19. Outsider says:

    Of course, Sandra, what else could it be but hatred? Only 400,000 Christians remain in Iraq out of over 2,000,000 because they are hated by Muslims who will kill them if they don’t leave. Some of us see a trend in that, yet we are accused of hating Muslims. No, we just look at the facts, as well as the Koran and realize it is the Muslims, who are guilty of intolerance and hate on a grand scale, and for that reason we are skeptical of allowing mass, unchecked migration of them here.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Again, apologies for the moronic ignorance of commenters incapable of grasping the irony of their own words.

      Outsider, the mass exodus from Iraq since 2003 was caused primarily by the American invasion and its subsequent destabilization of the nation–by predominantly Christian forces, no less. You’re a frequent and occasionally reasonable commenter here, so you get more leeway than trolls, but there are limits.

  20. Outsider says:

    “What is clear is that the mass exodus of Christians in the Middle East – including Iraq – has been caused by radical Islam – whether by Islamic governments, terrorist organizations, or extreme Islamists,” said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director of the American Center for Law and Justice. “We examined the issue in Iraq in a 2011 report from our European affiliate. At that time, we determined that Al Qaeda had been strategically targeting Iraqi Christians – even issuing a warning to all Christians to leave the country.”

    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/21/catholic-churches-dwindle-in-iraq-since-start-war-10-years-ago/

  21. Bill says:

    The exodus we see in Iraq and Syria is because of the failures of our current president. It is he who has led the premature withdrawal of most all our troops in Iraq. It is he who made a line in the sand in Syria and did NOTHING when it was crossed. IT is he who has let ISIL run rampant. He is the one who destabilized the region. It was in far better shape the day he took office then today.

  22. Sherry says:

    Dear Saman family. . . welcome to the USA and to Florida! Those of us who are open minded and loving of all humanity regardless of skin color or religion wish you peace and prosperity in your new home!

    I am distressed and embarrassed by the hateful comments presented by racists and religious zealots in our area. Our diverse culture and freedoms allow positive, wonderful, magical social commentary along with such divisive, terrible words in these kinds of public forums. We hope you will move forward with your life here in the loving embrace of those who will certainly open their hearts to you in your new community.

  23. Bill says:

    Sherry I think we ALL say welcome to this family. I did not see any hateful comments towards them? the only hateful comments came from some who disagree with others opinions by calling them things like “bigots,racists and zealots”.

  24. Katie Seamore says:

    Bill, it is rediculous to blame Obama for the trouble in Syria. Just because he is African American doesn’t mean you get to blame all the ills in the world on him.

  25. Anonymous says:

    His color doesn’t matter. That fact is that it’s his fault and he is a lousy president!

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