Bisher Samman, 28, fled Syria in 2012 due to the civil war. He left abruptly, so he could not complete his three-year business management program; only eleven credits from his entire Syrian education transferred. He is now enrolled at Manhattan Community College, and works part-time as a cashier at a local pharmacy. He must redo his coursework while caring for his family in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “I have to pick my mom up from the doctor’s office. She’s the boss of the house,” he said.
Bisher’s mother picks up her flu medication at the Nu-Edge local pharmacy. After settling into the Syrian community in Bay Ridge, the Samman family encourages their relatives to also seek refuge in the United States. Her brother applied for asylum through the United Nations two years ago, but his case stopped once Trump entered office. She worries about the portrayal of Muslims under the new administration. “We are very bad in media, the Muslims,” she said and continued, “They think we are oppressed. Even if we are wearing hijabs, it does not stop us from anything else. We can go anywhere. We can study. We can marry.”
Bisher’s father, Walah, works as a hardware wholesaler in Syria. He travels back and forth between the United States and Damascus to import and export products. However, business has declined due to the civil war. “Since the war started, everything stopped,” Bisher said and continued, “We lost tons of money. We used to have eleven workers in the store; now we only have two. We lost business. People die. People lost everything. You cannot ask anyone to give you money at a time like this. Last week, a bomb fell in front of his store. Thank Allah no one was hurt.”
The Nu-Edge Pharmacy located at 707 5th Ave in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, employs Bisher along with other Middle Eastern immigrants. More than a store, the Nu-Edge Pharmacy stands as a pillar in the Bay Ridge Arabian community. Employees gift the pharmacy with novelties from their home countries such as Syria, Egypt and Palestine. They watch soccer during business hours, and speak Arabic to the customers.
In his quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bisher goes outside for a quick smoke. Even after six years, he still struggles with calmness. “After the war in Syria started, we did not sleep for a few days,” Bisher said and continued, “It was just bombing, bombing, bombing…”
Bisher’s younger brother, Sam, 5, attends an elementary school with other Middle Eastern children in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He was born in the United States. On weekends, Sam spends quality time with family and watches his favorite television show, Spongebob Squarepants. “My tooth just broke off,” he said.
Sam wears a tarbosh — a Middle Eastern headdress, and presents an adorned tray — a seneya –for serving meals. During business trips to Damascus, Bisher’s father, Walah, collects hand-designed Syrian antiques for their home.
Bisher’s mother prepares afternoon coffee on the stove. Stronger than traditional coffee, the Syrian blend — kahwa — carries a potent, dark taste. “Most people cannot handle the bitterness,” she said.
Sam helps his older brother, Bisher, with household chores in the kitchen and prepares the coffee tray.