Syrian Refugee Rebuilds Life as Avon Rep
Ani Apelian was living the good life with her husband and son in the small Syrian-Armenian resort town of Kessab — operating the family’s organic olive oil soap factory, managing various rental properties, and heading a local Christian school — until it all ended abruptly on a chilly March morning in 2014. That’s when al-Qaida rebels seized the town and her family fled for their lives. After a quick stay in Dubai with Ani’s daughter, they resettled with her brother in Corona, Calif., with nothing of their own. But when Ani’s husband stumbled upon an Avon employment ad when he was searching for work, she thought, “I can do that,” and she applied to be an independent sales representative. Now, she tells Yahoo Beauty, it’s her lifeblood. She’s part of the changing face of Avon’s sales force of 400,000 — along with one entire team made up mostly of Colombian immigrants. Looking to them and others, Ani, 59, says, “It gives me hope that I can be something again one day.” Here, in her own words, as told to Yahoo Beauty, is Ani’s story:
My town is on the Turkish border — a beautiful resort. In summer they used to come from all over to my town. We were very happy. We had a wonderful life there, and everything was OK until the war started in 2007. But, still, though there were no tourists anymore, we were OK in my town until 2014. In March, on Mother’s Day in Syria, we woke up at 9 in the morning when the bombing started. The terrorists were entering from the mountain, and we didn’t know what to do.
I was going crazy looking for our passports, and we took them and ran out of the house. My son was 13, and also with us were my mother-in-law and auntie, who were over 85 years old. It was winter, and it was cold, and I thought, I’m going to my daughter’s in Dubai, so I grabbed some T-shirts for my husband and my son. But my husband is telling me, “To the car! To the car!” I wanted to take my jewelry — I had a lot of jewelry — but I couldn’t because I didn’t have time.
There was no army in our town, only a few border stations, which they bombed first. When we were leaving for the nearest town, which is an hour away, we saw the army coming. That was the last time I saw my town. I was born and raised there, like my husband and also my family. We lost everything. My husband [who stayed in Syria longer] brought pictures of the house and factory we had, of our churches, all burned and destroyed, looted.
I had my American passport because my brother was here in the States since 1985. He always said, “I will apply for you,” but I didn’t want to come. Still, we [first got our] green card, and in 2007 I came and got my passport. At that time, our business was very, very good there. We had started to export to Europe and Japan. But if I didn’t have that passport, I couldn’t have come [when I did].
First I went to Dubai to stay with my daughter for 14 days. We had stayed for one week in the nearest town to us, but they started bombing there and my son was terrified.
I came [to the U.S.] many times before as a tourist — as someone who has money. I went places, my friends invited us out. But this time I came with no money, with nothing, and fortunately my brother gave us a house he bought for my parents, who came in 2013. We stayed with them. It’s a small house, but we have a roof over our heads.
When my husband came, he was always searching for jobs on the Internet, but no one gave him one. He was 62 years old, and at that age, it’s not easy to find a job. One day he said, “I’m going tomorrow for interview.” I said what is the job, and he said, “Avon.” He didn’t know what it was. I said, “It is beauty, and I’m going with you.” The next day I got the job. I didn’t know a lot about Avon, but I had an Avon perfume when I went to university. My grandma came to the States and bought it, and that was the first time I heard of Avon. That was in the late ’70s. Today, I like Avon’s creams and perfumes — everything.
The person who [brought me aboard] me was very good lady, and she and her daughter work together for Avon. She told me they have a Bible study group, and I said I wanted to join, so I did. That was the first social thing that I had. My best friends now are in this group. My first customer gave me brochures to help me sell more. It took maybe a month to get my first call, and I was very happy. She ordered something, and when I go to her house, she says she is a pastor and teaches in a seminary and they had a Bible study group. So I went and they became my friends. So I have friends here now because of Avon.
My dad is now 95, and my mom is 86. It’s good I’m here with them because day by day their health is going. My mom has pains, and my dad walks for 10 minutes, then comes back. I do everything for them from morning to night. I cook for them because they want Armenian food.
My husband takes me to deliver orders, but he is looking still for work.
[This whole situation] has been terrible for my son. Before the bombings, there were shootings, but we always heard them far away. He would wake us up, say, “Mom, they are shooting.” But when the bombing started, I looked at his eyes. I cannot describe what I felt when I looked at his eyes. I just hugged him and was thinking that if the terrorists come and hurt him in front of me, or rape me in front of him, because they were doing these things … that’s why we decided to flee.
I think people who talk badly about immigrants [in the U.S.] are maybe afraid we will do terrorist attacks, or maybe that we come and take their benefits. No one has said anything bad to me as an immigrant here. But I think they are afraid of the terrorist attacks.
The other day my son had an assignment to write about something to personify. He told me, “I want to write about fear.” I asked him, “You still have fear?” He said, “That fear will not go out of me till I die.” Still, my son is better now. He has a future now.
Author: Beth Greenfield
Publication: Yahoo! Beauty
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of DSA