From a Peasant to a Prince: Anmar’s Story

Facing Perfectionism from Davidson College (Davidson, North Carolina)

Written by Jordan Siskind-Weiss

If I mess up here, I’m letting my many selves down; all of the past Anmars.

The one who survived and surpassed. The Anmar who went from being in a gang, to being a star student. Who didn’t sleep through his junior year. That Anmar, he will be let down. I can’t mess up.

This is my story. I need to give you context. You’re going to have a hard time following along.

It’s not that I remember it, it’s that I’ve told my story so many times that it has become a part of me. My story crosses borders, it lives in the in-between, a liminal space.

Let me pause.

Let me breathe.

My life is a series of dates, of years, punctuated by experiences, milestones, pain. Iraq, to Syria, to Iraq, then back, then forth, then here.

I tell my story in order, snapshots, spots of time. This makes sense in my head. I remember the dates; one doesn’t forget these types of dates. They make up the episodes of my life.

2003: Mosul, Iraq

My parents are translators for the United States army. Just a year ago, dirt poor, at $25 a week. They now make $400. We have water, electricity, a job—this is paradise.

February, 2004:

Life shifts. My uncle’s wife—the doctor, the Christian—is in a cab. A car pulls up; the gunmen fire eleven times. Six bullets penetrate her body. Christians are hated by all groups, killed from all sides. My parents know they’re next. They quit their jobs

We hide in our home for weeks, the neighbors bring us food. We know, it is time to leave.

Let me pause.

Let me breathe.

Let me step back…

When I look back, the present is trivial and small. But that’s not good. Today is something. I need to keep moving. I need to get through it.

December 17, 2004: Mosul, Iraq

My mother’s brother is kidnapped by ex Sadam regime officials. They call us—

“The less you pay, the less you see of him,” they say.

“$24,000,” they say.

We sell the house, the cars, everything we own.

They release him, we go to Syria. A city at the border.

December, 2004: Syria

It’s amazing what passes for good in such dire conditions.

Iraqis can’t get work in Syria. The entire family in one apartment—16 people. Imagine the noise, the food that needs to be made. Nobody gets enough. We shower once a week, if we’re lucky. As a child, you cannot get the one on one care you need to grow. It’s so cold here.

After six months, the family begins to fight—we can’t do this anymore. We need to go back across the border.

June, 2005: Iraq

We return to a world of terrorism. Al Qaeda has arrived in full force.

Terrorists thrive in instability. That’s how they grow, how they live.

2006: Iraq

Civil War breaks out. We need to leave for good. We are going to immigrate to Sweden like so many refugees before us. But we must go by way of Damascus.

June, 2006: Damascus, Syria

We’re living in an apartment the size of a closet. But we’re alive, we’re not dying.

An illegal visa takes money and a human smuggler.

My father hires Abu Karam to do the job.

Everything goes wrong; he flees with the money and my father’s passport. He’s caught at the border; they think my father is to blame. He’s deported to Iraq.

My brother is two, my sister is six, I am eleven. This is the worst period of my life. We move to the worst neighborhood in Demascus.

I have no father, no place of belonging. So gangs happen—I join in order to survive.

Gangs are trouble. I am trouble. Two policemen knock on my door and I flee. This is not for me.

I stop. I try to fix myself. I can’t speak to my father; he’s abandoned me. I’m the man of the house.

Let me pause.

Let me breathe.

I’m sorry you’re hearing all of this. It must be really upsetting to you. I never really tell my story anymore, but when I do, it’s much shorter. I need to collect my thoughts.

June 2008: Iraq

We move back to live with my father for the summer. I haven’t seen him for three years.

At the end of the summer, a call from the UN:

“We want to migrate you,” they say.

“It’s your turn, your situation is dire, we’ll send you to the US,” they say.

February 2009: Departure

My father stays behind.

We’re sent to Charlotte, North Carolina; a place I’ve never heard of. I don’t speak any English.

When the lord wants something to happen, he acts accordingly. The Catholic ministry pays our rent. My mother finds a job within a month.

We are enrolled in schools, we are living. This is the future.

My public middle school is diverse. My private high school is white. Fitting in becomes hard.

The students can’t understand what I’m going through. They don’t know anything that isn’t their reality. I am bullied a lot. This is the future.

May, 2010:

My father comes to the US.


Junior year.

I go to sleep at 10, wake up to begin with again at 3.

Davidson is the future.

I do well in school, but I’m depressed.

December 2nd, 2013:

The phone rings. I’ve received a full ride scholarship to Davidson College.

This is the best day of my life.

Let me pause.

Let me explain.

Why do I face perfectionism?

And now, here is the answer—

You see how tough it has been. I cannot waste this opportunity. I’ve faced death. I’ve had so many problems. But now that I’m here, living the dream, on a full ride, a Bonner Scholar, in so many programs . . . I can’t mess up.

The smallest of instances, the smallest of losses, take a huge hit.

I need to be the best. I need to have the best grade. I need to have the most friends. I need to be the most social. I need to be the funniest.

If I mess up, I let my mother down, my siblings, my father, everyone who has believed in me.

It’s the stress, it’s the pressure. It’s everything. And that’s the worst part. Because I thought this was my dream.

And it is,

But this is the future,

it’s weighing on me.

I don’t know how to fix it.


Two box-lunch wit extra gravy, dobrou chut’ By Stuart Robertson April 2015

“I chased perfection. My senior solo exhibit was set to open April 10, 2015 and I spent months on research, reading writing discussing and sketching the schematics of the ideal installation. The result is an autobiographic depiction of my observations and re-imagination of my experiences over the past few years. The series of 6 paintings served as stills of different moments when I engaged certain ideas. Near the end I was so submerged in the theory and showing of the work that the paintings themselves lacked a certain fluidity and even originality. I stepped back and decided to make a piece larger than any of the others where I surrendered to motion and a colors of the process. I had no end goal and stopped where I felt comfortable. This is the result, Two box-lunch wit extra gravy, dobrou chut’ (Czech for bon appetite)”

-Stuart Robertson

This story originally appeared in Facing Perfectionism, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.

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