Telling West Virginia's Syrian Story: Part One, Nairouz

Nairouz Katrib

For 26-year-old NairouzKatrib, making  a phone a call to her family is not as easy as it is for the rest of her friends in South Charleston, West Virginia.

She wakes up every morning with the same fear, hoping that her family is doing well. She picks up her phone and dials her mother through a smartphone app. Often, like today, the Internet connection in Syria is hit-or-miss.

Nairouz is now an American citizen, but her  parents are still living in Syria, in her hometown of Salamiyah. Salamiyah comes from the Arabic word “Salam” which means “peace.” 

Nairouz, is my roommate. You just have to look deep in her eyes to know how much pain she hides. She heard about West Virginia from her uncle, another Syrian immigrant who practices medicine here in the state.

Crossing the Sea

Six years ago, she crossed the sea to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at West Virginia State University. One of the things she misses the most is the sound of her family’s voices. She’s a big fan of Syrian soap operas because it makes her feel connected to her home.  

Two years after she arrived, the Syrian war started. She still remembers clearly the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, when she first saw Syrians protesters being killed on TV. Since then, she stopped watching the news.

But she still wanted to help her people. After the demonstrations, her friends and family weren’t able to use social media. So she created a Facebook page to report the updates and photos that she was receiving from non-violent protesters back home in Salamiyah. She was posting from her apartment in South Charleston, while her friends back home were in the middle of the conflict.

Visiting Home

Nairouz says that she felt so insecure being away from her family that in 2012,  after a year of the Syrian conflict, she decided to take a semester off and go back home.

Being with her parents for three months made her feel motivated to come back to West Virginia to finish her studies. She also stopped helping the protesters on social media – she lost touch with many of them. But she still posts her own thoughts and poems onto Facebook.  She is against the Syrian government but she is also against ISIS.

There are at least 130 immigrated Syrians, like Nairouz, living in West Virginia.

Nairouz’s wish is to reunite with her family, although she feels it’s unsafe to go to Syria. Last spring she tried to bring her mom to the United States for her graduation. But her mom’s travel visa was denied. They haven’t seen each other in almost 4 years. Nairouz and her mother are exploring options to meet next summer, in Turkey or in Germany, just so they could meet face to face.

Meanwhile, Nairouz’s long-term plan is to stay here in West Virginia to fight a different war: against cancer. With her bachelor’s degree under her belt, she will continue her research to find a cure.