In the course of working on translating and transcribing our Arabic interviews with Manar Aeid, I gradually discovered her penchant for summarizing a complex, powerful or subtle issue in a short, amazingly translate-able phrase.

An obvious example occurs in the blog post “Between Two Deaths“, where Manar answered my question about how it felt to be climbing into an unreliable raft with three children, knowing that many people hadn’t made it to the other side.

Her answer, ‘I felt like we were between two deaths, the death behind us and the one in front of us’, was more eloquent than any explanation I could have imagined before she actually uttered it. It’s one of those phrases that, if you like language and enjoy eloquence, immediately makes you think: why can’t I come up with something like that?

Another example happened a few weeks later. In the course of transcribing an interview, we were trying to guage the speaker’s intentions regarding his expectations of life in the Europe. That led to my asking Manar what her take was on this question. Having lived, however precariously, in Greece for about two years, what was her perspective on this?

Again, her answer encapsulated ideas with a striking precision, but at the same time intimating the many nuances behind the answer. What she said, after thinking for a few moments was this: “It’s not just the war, or the government. It’s something bigger. I feel like here it’s OK to feel like you own your life. At home, most of us rented our lives.”

After mulling that over for a few moments, I asked her to say more about it. Her’s what she told me:

“Nothing is 100 percent. This isn’t about everybody, and our lives back home were fine in many ways. But there’s still a difference. Here, you feel like it’s your life, you make your decisions, you try your best, you succeed or not. If not, you try something else, you change things. Back home, most of us, even if we were living OK, we didn’t feel that way. You know how, if you buy an apartment, you can change whatever you want? You can paint it a different color, hang different pictures, choose the furniture? But if you rent an apartment you can’t do that. You don’t have the right to change things. You can live inside it, but you have to accept the way it is. That’s how we felt inside our lives.”