Welcome to Nowhere

Welcome to Nowhere is the story of twelve-year-old Omar Hamid and his family as they navigate through the civil war in Syria. The story underlines the human cost of war and poses important questions about sense of belonging, patriotism, education, and family as Omar and his family face adverse situations and become refugees.

Student Activities for Welcome to Nowhere

Essential Questions for Welcome to Nowhere

  1. How was Musa treated differently because of his illness?
  2. Eman’s father wanted her to get married against her will, instead of continuing her education. What do you think about that?
  3. What happens to people who escape their country during wars? How are refugees treated in the place of their refuge?
  4. What do you know about the history of the civil war in Syria? What are some other countries that have faced civil wars?

Welcome to Nowhere Summary

When the story begins, Omar lives with his family in Bosra, Syria. His father works at the tourism office, while his mother Leila is a homemaker. Omar's family consists of his older brother Musa, who has cerebral palsy, his fifteen-year-old sister Eman, his five-year-old brother Fuad, and his baby sister Nadia. To help his family, Omar works in his Uncle Ali's hardware store before school, and later in the day with Rasoul at his souvenir shop. However, Omar’s uncle closes his shop and leaves town when he hears about the rising unrest against the Syrian government. Musa learns that his family will move to Daraa, as his father has been transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. As the family is packing, Omar's parents quarrel over sixteen-year-old Eman continuing school. Their mother wants her to continue, but their father feels that Eman should be married.

The family moves into Omar’s grandmother's house in Daraa, a city located in southwestern Syria. At school, Omar is shocked to see that Musa has become part of a group led by a boy named Bassem. Musa tells Omar that back in Bosra, he discovered the terrible things the Syrian government has done: arrests, disappearances, and the torture of citizens. Now that he knows all of this, Musa wants to live in a democratic state, where he can organize marches and demonstrations to support those who desire the same thing.

When he arrives home from school one day, Omar finds his mother frantic. Granny and Nadia have been caught in student demonstrations while they were out visiting a family member. While trying to find them, Omar witnesses the protest and the Syrian troops opening fire on the students. One of those students is his brother, Musa, who Omar helps to flee. With the help of Bassem and another boy named Latif, Omar rescues Granny and Nadia and brings them home. The protest ignites a civil war, engulfing them all. Each day there are marches, followed by funerals. Latif is shot in the head and dies in hospital. The internet is cut off, the schools close, and tanks roll into Daraa, besieging the city. The electricity is cut and there are bombings and shootings. Omar is constantly afraid, his younger brother Faud begins wetting the bed, Eman gets a rash, and Musa has nightmares. Omar’s father loses his job, as the Ministry of Agriculture has closed down.

As things get worse, Omar’s Uncle Feisal shows up, offering them a way out of Daraa to a family member’s farm outside of Bosra. There, Uncle Mahmud and Auntie Fawzia take Omar and his family in, giving them the storeroom for accommodation. Omar begins helping out on the farm with his cousin Jaber. While life on the farm seems tranquil and safe at first, soon the violence spreads into every area of Syria. Omar and his family flee to a refugee camp in Jordan, where they face a number of challenges. Soon, Omar’s father learns that Musa was involved in the very activities that he did not approve of, and leaves Jordan to go back to Syria. A few months later, the family receives news that he died in Syria.

As life goes on at the refugee camp, Omar learns to sell batteries and fix electronics, Eman and Faud go to school, and Nadia falls sick and is diagnosed with a heart condition. A doctor at the camp helps make arrangements for the entire family to move to London for Nadia’s treatment. The novel ends with the family again getting ready to move, uncertain of the life that lies ahead of them.

Written by Elizabeth Laird, who interviewed hundreds of refugees in Jordan, Welcome to Nowhere is an incredible historical fiction novel. It helps students and teachers familiarize themselves with the geopolitics of the Middle East, while following the realistic story of a young boy who has lost his home.

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