Thursday 9 June 2016

Interview - Lily Amis (Author)

I've known Lily Amis for some time on Twitter, but only recently found out some of her harrowing and lonely background. Having had my children make a local collection for refugees in Calais, I am already cued into some of the awfulness of life in a refugee camp, but only from the outside. Imagine that it's you who escaped from a place where you might be injured or die, or at the very least live in fear of this happening every day, only to spend years in a life worse than poverty, worse than the bombings, because the country you've escaped to won't let you in, won't allow you your own life. Lily tells her first-hand account of escaping a middle eastern country at war, to raise awareness for people still suffering as she and her mother suffered.


Hello, Lily. Welcome to Script Alchemy, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your life and your books. I have so many questions, but I'll try to narrow them down to the most relevant, to give folk a taste of  what they can read in your latest book, DestinationFreedom. Please tell us a little of what it was like to live in a war zone, so bad your mother, Sima, made the decision to get you out of there and escape with you, at the age of ten, from war-torn Iran to the safe haven of Switzerland. How did it compare to what you knew before the war, in your younger days?

Lily Amis (right) with mother, Sima

First of all thank you so much for doing this Interview with me Annelisa. I really appreciate your interest in me and my story.

Living in a war zone from one day to another is one of the most horrifying experiences in Life, whether you’re an adult or a kid. As a kid you don’t really understand what’s going on because not even the adults know how to deal with this life-changing situation. I still remember and feel the uncertainty, insecurity and fear of death. Your daily life and the behaviour of the adults changes drastically. All of a sudden, people that gave you comfort and security are helpless too. Every moment can be the last, and you are totally conscious of that when you clearly  hear the bombings day and night. People always assume that war only happens in other countries. The truth is, our world is, was and sadly will always be a bad place. Why? Because of the stupidity of some “powerful” people who are ruling/destroying our world for nothing but greed for more power and wealth. These people forget that none of us will live forever!

Despite a horrible emotional-setback by my father, who left us when I was just five years old, I had a lovely childhood. I grew up in a home and neighbourhood filled with love and harmony. My mother’s parents were amazing and my mom, Sima, is the most loving, selfless and sacrificing human I have ever met. My family treated me like a little princess. I enjoyed school and loved my teachers and my schoolmates. I was a happy girl. Leaving everyone and everything you love behind, just to survive, is an emotional sacrifice that anyone who is trapped in the same situation would do. We all wish a fearless and safe life. And that’s our human right, regardless of where we come from.

Cover of Destination Freedom by Lily Amis
Last year, you had some national exposure in the Daily Mirror newspaper, and Frost Magazine, but, I feel, not enough, considering your ambition to raise awareness for those that suffer in the way you suffered every day.
I can only imagine, it must have been truly awful for your mother to want to take you from it. But, what surprises me more, is what you say, that you think it "...would have been better to be killed by a bomb in our own home rather than to go through a permanent fight for acceptance in a foreign country and being treated like dirt and robbed of all our dignity." That puts into perspective how bad your life as a refugee was... it's hard to imagine. Can you give an idea how, for a child, this new situation was so much worse than the old?

Well your feeling is absolutely right Annelisa. I really didn’t get enough attention by the British media for my goal, which is as you correctly say, bringing awareness to a delicate topic and avoiding all the negativity and prejudice that refugees face.

What many people don’t know about my book Destination: Freedom is that I first published the book in 2005. In September 2014, I republished it after re-writing and polishing the first version. And, when I decided to promote my memoir in England, Germany, Austria and Swiss (because the book is also available in German) last year in June 2015, I could not have predicted that the refugee crises would become a global issue.

To my surprise, even though my timing was perfect with an honest and eye-opening first-hand story, it was difficult to find a publicist to support me. Agencies in Germany and Switzerland told me I wouldn’t have any chance with my topic, because the journalists aren’t really keen on the refugee topic. As said, that was in June and look what happened ironically just a few weeks later. However, despite the support of a professional Book Agency in London and the perfect timing for my story, only three titles (The Mirror, Frost Magazine and Female First) of a hundred British national titles, supported me as an Indie-Author. The Guardian considered a story, but then didn’t published anything as hoped. But that’s fine.

As one of my inspiring Interview partners, the American Fiction Author, Bibiana Krall, quoted recently: “My spirit animal is the turtle. Dedication and patience wins the race.” I love her attitude and I also think that good things take time. The journey itself is what makes us who we are and not, the final destination. I also believe that I wouldn’t have become a blogger, if I didn’t feel unsupported by the media. Now I’m actually glad to speak out and reach people with my blog. And because of this lack of support and interest I have decided to support other creative people like myself. I feel it is my duty to help others on their journey. Selfless support is what Life is about and I love to help, because no ONE, except my mother, has ever supported me in my life.

Lily Amis and her mother, Sima,
work together at NasSima Designs

Now, to your next question regarding my brutal but honest quote. Honestly, without any exaggeration, my experience and fear of death during the daily bombings in my hometown were NOTHING comparing to what we faced later as refugees in Switzerland for over two decades! Rejection, humiliation, discrimination and a life in constant fear of existence were like a lifelong punishment - from the minute we entered the country as war-refugees until today, where we are (FINALLY) Swiss Citizens -That’s what I felt as a child and still do as an adult. A life without human rights, freedom and dignity is worth nothing!

Sadly, the news is full of how refugees are trying to escape from areas of upheaval and conflict and, after making sometimes dangerous journeys, they end up in refugee 'camps' like the one in Calais. Escaping the war zone is obviously only the start of a new set of problems. What was the worst thing you remember about the journey out of Iran, and settling into a new country?

Thank you for this question. There is something that bothers me ever since the daily mirror article about Calais was online. Someone has made an anonymous comment. I quote: “This is a very dishonest article. Here is a very attractive young lady who looks like a native of Europe. The millions who want to get here (and alas are succeeding) look nothing like this.”
Only a shallow and clueless man makes a thoughtless comment like this. I would love to ask this person: How would you look like if you had spent days without proper sleep and food? How would you look like if you had to fear for your life and leave everything and everyone that matters to you behind for a dangerous journey and an uncertain future?  These desperate people didn’t look like this, when they lived safe in their country. Nothing about this article was dishonest.

My journey from leaving my hometown and settling in Europe was, for sure, not as horrifying as the refugee’s fate now. We flew over 46 hours in less than a week and it was dramatic because of other reasons. (Don’t want to go into detail. It’s all written in Destination: Freedom) But, as you correctly say, the escape is only the start of a new set of problems. The journey is only the beginning of a lifelong misery. We see the images of the refugee’s journey these days, thanks to the media coverage, which is heart-breaking. But the actual tragedy begins from day one when they officially register as refugees in their new country.

Many refugees that entered Germany in 2015 full of false hopes decided to go back after just a few weeks of uncertainty in the refugee camps. I applaud them for this step. They may think that destiny was not on their side. But sometimes it is actually a blessing not to get what we wish. The children of these families will have a better future in their own homeland than having a future in a European country without any rights and dignity.

For me personally the worst thing was leaving behind my grandparents and my lovely home and personal belongings. That was an emotional disaster. I adored my grandparents and spent hours with my grandfather; who was also a father figure. I missed them like crazy. The first months without their love and care were horrible. It was also extremely challenging to spend months in a refugee house (in a room of 15 m) with complete strangers; families that I didn’t know. My happy world fell apart. Everything and everyone I knew was gone. My childhood was over and I had to grow up fast in a country, where I felt unwelcomed and rejected from minute one.  

Another setback was my Education. I was a very good student back in my hometown. I loved school and subjects like history, geography and biology. But, once in Switzerland, I first had to do a one-year preparation school for foreign kids. As a kid (at the age of five) I had already spent kindergarten in Germany because of a medical treatment I had back then. So in the back of my mind I understood the German language already. After the first year was over and I joined a Swiss Public School and I was shocked about the low level of education. When I showed my books from my hometown to my teacher he was very surprised. He couldn’t believe how further the level of schooling was in my own country. A higher education (also for women) was, and is still, extremely important in our culture. So, school wise, I was very unsatisfied and displaced. Unfortunately in the following years and during the most important time of Education I had to deal with a racist teacher, who made my life also a living hell. So, all in all, it was just a nightmare. I had lost everything that I loved: My home, my grandparents, my school, my lovely teachers and my schoolmates.

Everything I know today is from self-studying. I didn’t learn much in the oh so popular Swiss Schools. For example I learned English from watching cheesy American Soap Operas and not in School. God bless the Bold & Beautiful production and the Forrester Family! J

I see, from your website NasSima Design and YouTube channel of the same name, that you continue to be very close to your mother. You obviously have great respect for her. If you don't mind, I wonder if you would tell us something about this woman, brave enough to save you from a life of fear and bombs and travel to a strange country to start a new life? (Please be as expansive as you like. She is obviously as special woman.)
A young Lily Amis (left) with mother Sima

My mom is my BFF and the most loving, caring, understanding, independent and gifted woman I know. Without her strength, optimism and belief, we two wouldn’t have made it. Life was not easy on both of us. We had to overcome many obstacles and disappointments.  If anyone else would have experienced what my mom had as a single-mother, they wouldn’t have survived life.

As I said, I was raised like a princess and the new start in Switzerland was my emotional suicide. My childhood was immediately over.  But, I think, for my mom, the whole experience of becoming a refugee was much harder. Sima had lived in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy for many years during her twenties. She even lived in United Kingdom for six years and got married in London (Hampstead Heath). My mom lived in Surrey where her husband was studying Electric Engineering at the University of Surrey. In fact I have a half-brother, who’s a British and Canadian citizen. He was born in London (Surrey). Unfortunately, the marriage with my half-brother's father didn’t last and my mom returned to Tehran, where she met my father. My half-brother was very lucky; because of Education he stayed in London and moved later to Canada for University. Today he lives happily with his Canadian wife and my gorgeous niece in Toronto. He was lucky that he didn’t have to experience war.  

So, my mom was always used to live a free life in Europe. She sometimes even flew just for shopping with empty suitcases from Tehran to London.  But, when we left our country, because of war, and ended up in Switzerland (which was NEVER our destination) it was another story. After the revolution, and during the war, we were suddenly not welcome anymore. Sima already spoke fluent German and English and knew the culture and mentality very well. But the refugee law and bureaucracy didn’t care and treated us like sheet. My mom had to fight for us for years and I applaud her for her strong personality. Luck was never on our side. So Life made us stick stronger together. We have supported each other through so many emotional challenges in Life. Horrible men, terrible jobs, loneliness, social isolation, health issues, fear of existence etc. We are more than just mother and daughter. We are best friends, who could never rely on anyone else than on each other. No one has supported me like my mom. She is my rock! She is my everything. We complete each other and are also a great duo creative-wise. As naSima design we have worked on several projects and continue to do so. In fact right now we are working on a book (Title: The colours of Love) in which we document her incredible work as designer and her message for tolerance, hope, believe and faith.

She sounds like an amazing and inspirational woman, Lily. I have a lot of respect for people who 'do what they gotta do' with determination and bravery. You say no one beside your mom ever supported you. I can't help but feel sad about that. Nobody at all helped you, in all that time? Did you ever ask for help?

Oh, trust me, I did. But, even to this date, I feel that it doesn’t really matter what you say or to whom you talk to. People are too busy with their own life and no one really listens to what you have to say. Everybody is somehow trying to manage Life which is understandable. I learned from very young age on that you can’t and shouldn’t rely on anyone beside yourself.

Having said that, I have to mention one person beside my mom, who actually did try to help and heard my voice, my cry for help, so to say. It was in 2005, when I published the first version of Destination: Freedom. I sent a copy to many “powerful” people around the world to bring awareness about our hopeless struggle as refugees. I received encouraging answers but the only person who really cared and acted was Queen Elizabeth.

Our Queen? This I have to hear! Please tell more :-)

I wrote a very personal letter to Buckingham Palace and told her how my mom and I feel isolated, unaccepted, displaced and imprisoned (with our permission we were not allowed to travel outside of Switzerland for fifteen years).

The Queen passed my inquiry to Mister Jack Straw (the Foreign Minister) and informed me about it. And, when I didn’t receive any answer from Mister Straw’s office after months, I contacted the Queen again. It took a while, and then the British Embassy in Geneva contacted me and tried to find a way for us to move to United Kingdom, because of my mom’s history in UK and my British half-brother.  As you can imagine this experience was amazing. I was so full of hope. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, because my half-brother now lives in Canada. But it was a gesture of understanding and support that not many people have shown until this date. Queen was amazing. The world needs more caring people like her. God bless her.

What a lovely story. For us, the ones who were lucky enough to be born in a country without war, we see bureaucracy as an annoyance, an inconvenience, yet you say it was bureaucracy that made your life Hell. What changes would you like governments to make to reduce the misery and isolation refugees and their families are forced to endure?

Dealing with bureaucracy is a nightmare. I wish the governments would stop treating refugees like numbers of annoying folders on their desk. Behind every number is a destiny. And, for the love of God, Life is too short and precious to make it miserable for others. I want the governments to stop toying with people’s destiny. They didn’t choose to become refugees. None of them created war. They are only helpless and innocent victims of the stupidity of people in power. So instead of toying, support them and at the end everyone benefits. Include them instead of isolate them. Refugees are not a disease; they are human beings with the same desires as everyone else. Give them a life; give them the chance to build an independent life in dignity.

So, that's what the people 'in power' can do. What about ordinary people? It seems you weren't only isolated by the government's actions, but by those of the communities you moved within? How could they (we) have behaved differently to help you become an accepted part of them?

RESPECT, ACCEPTANCE, TOLERANCE and KINDNESS. That’s what I wish from people. That alone would help. Treat ALL people the way you want to be treated, when you are helpless and hopeless and desperate for understanding and emotional support. Easy as that!

All of us are going to die. Nobody stays forever. We all are nothing but guests on planet Earth. And the only thing that lasts is our actions of Love and kindness. Not what we have achieved (money, success, fame etc.) If you want to be remembered, leave a legacy of Love and kindness and not hate and betrayal. This year, almost every month, the world is losing a legend. And, once they are gone, it is totally unimportant what they have done professionally. All that we will remember is the emotions and feelings they created. The best example is THE Greatest Muhammad Ali. May he rest in peace and may people take an example of his exceptional personality and goals in Life. He used his voice for others until his last breath, despite his illness. It is not hard to be kind and selfless.

In Frost Magazine, you said you still feel like an outsider as an adult today. What makes you continue to feel this way, and what could authorities do to better integrate refugees and make them feel less as an outsider even after years of living in their country? Also, what can everyday folk do to help refugees and raise awareness of their plight?

Yes, I do feel as an outsider. Despite my Swiss citizenship, I still have to fight for acceptance. Regardless of what I do; in the eyes of Swiss people I’m not good enough. I still have to explain myself and apologize for my destiny as a refugee and as a foreigner in this country. That’s why I say: “Once a refugee, always a refugee. Once a foreigner, always a foreigner. “

The authorities and the folk should stop treating refugees/foreigners like criminals. They should stop punishing people like prisoners.  Discriminating people because of their look, race, nationality, skin colour, religion etc. is an emotional crime.

I was somewhat disappointed that the two images that represented what you felt as a refugee weren't in the online interview. Is it possible to share them here?

I love to share my work. Thank you for asking. Both drawings were done twenty years ago in 1996. The original size is 50X70 cm. One is expressing that my only hope to ever feel and find Freedom is death! And the other one is expressing how I felt as a Refugee in Switzerland. They both hang to this date in our living room.
Art by Lily Amis 1996

Art by Lily Amis 1996

Thank you for sharing your drawings, Lily. They are very special, but also, I think, a little disturbing, a reflection on the turmoil you've gone through, I suspect. I understand you're writing another two books about your experiences. Please tell us something more about them.

That’s right. Destination: Freedom is the first part of my trilogy. The follow-up story Definition of Freedom, which I published last year, is about the following years and the misery we went through, because of more bureaucracy and discrimination.

My mom and I lived in fear of deportation for the following years. We had to fight for acceptance and pure survival for almost two decades. So I missed out on Life. I really did. I feel as my whole childhood, teenager hood and adult hood was stolen only in order to be allowed to stay in Switzerland.  I was so busy with the bureaucracy nonsense that I have neglected the really essential and valuable things in life. When the government tells you to your face, after a decade, to either marry or leave the country, and you marry the wrong guy for the wrong reasons, your whole future is screwed.

Recently, someone who works in a government office told me something that is sad but true. She said we call the generation that experience war and becomes a refugee “The lost generation”. I am one of those lost generations. The fundament for a normal life was stolen once I became a refugee, and the result was predictable. After more than two decades of constant fight for acceptance and integration, I ended up having anxiety and depression. I never experienced true love, a caring and supportive partner, family, children or at least a career. This year I’m celebrating my round birthday and all I’m left with are my books.

Cover of 'Definition of Freedom
So, I tell myself, all this mess must be good for something. Maybe sharing my story is my duty to bring awareness about delicate topics such as Refugees' fate, discrimination, depression, bullying: false and thoughtless people, who poison your soul with lies, cheats and betrayal to achieve their own goals at your cost.

Definition of Love” is going to be the last part of my trilogy. But I must admit that I’m struggling writing it because of recent events in my life that I’m still trying hard to adjust too.

So I put the script aside and in the last couple of months I was working on the second part of my children’s book – series.Bon Voyage - Monsieur Jac & Lily travel to Europe” is going to be available in August 2016. Lily and Monsieur Jac will discover the beauty of the European cities and even have an afternoon Tea with her majesty, Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace on her ninetieth birthday. They also do a sightseeing tour throughout London with Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Cover of 'Angel of Hope & Lily'
featuring Monsieur Jac Couture

Cover of 'Bon Voyage: Monsieur Jac & Lily
travel to Europe'

Another exciting project I’m working on right now is my first Fiction book “America’s Royal Family”. I’m doing colourful Illustrations these days. Publishing this book with a provocative cover is kind of a trial for my long-term work as an Indie-Author. The story is reflecting the stupidity of our superficial society and I wouldn’t be surprised if I get more attention and readers with this book than with Destination: Freedom and Definition of Freedom. A funny and sweet story that turns out to be not as superficial and stupid as expected.

Do you have any plans to go back to your home country to live?

No. Never! Home country is where your house is and where you feel loved. A place where you are surrounded by your family. Unfortunately my beloved grandparents have both passed away. The other one live across the globe. Unfortunately war not only separates families physically but in away also emotionally. Also after living outside of my birth country for over three decades I feel more as a foreigner than home when I go back there for visit. But I also don’t feel at home in Switzerland. Never did, never will. So I don’t really know what home country means or feels like. I lost it when I was ten. And to be honest I have given up on the idea and desire of ever finding it again. 

I'm so sorry that you're life has been so hard since you left Tehran, Lily. And that you haven't felt accepted and welcomed is truly a sad state of affairs. But, I have to ask you, have you had any periods of happiness amongst all that unhappiness? Has it all been bad?

Yes, thank God we had moments of happiness. The first time we really felt Happy was when we felt FREE after fifteen years of being imprisoned in Switzerland and were finally allowed to return back to our home country. In the following years my mom and I travelled allot and each holiday was periods of happiness. It’s all written in my book “Definition of Freedom”. The highlights of all were our stays in America. We fell in Love with New York. In Europe London is the city where we feel home. Actually as soon as we leave Switzerland where we (still) feel unappreciated and unaccepted we are happy.

It’s ironic how people treat you differently outside of your new country just based on your passport. Showing the Swiss passport is like having an Academic title from Oxford or Cambridge University. I remember once we were in London visiting a castle where they asked us where we come from and when I said Swiss and we entered the Castle my mom and I were officially introduced as “The Queen and Princess of Switzerland”. That was hilarious! :-) Beside traveling music, Live concerts and Musicals are an injection of happiness for us.

Thank you for all your open and heartfelt answers, Lily. I'm sure others will find it as interesting and moving topic as I do, and I hope that you find peace with it all one day. Finally, where can people find you? 

Buy the book: DestinationFreedom
Twitter: @nassimadesign
Instagram: @nassimadesign
Youtube: sndesign2011

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