You’ll probably recognise Mevan Babakar from recent headlines – the 29-year-old Londoner gained notoriety after launching a Twitter campaign to find the refugee camp worker who gifted her a bike when she was a child. The campaign was successful, and the two have been reunited, but there’s a bit more to Mevan’s story.
The desire to find Egbert (formerly known as ‘bike man’), developed as Mevan was halfway through a two-month trip, retracing the steps she and her family took to the UK in 1991, after leaving Iraqi Kurdistan during the first Gulf War. Back then, Mevan was only a year old, and after five years of moving through Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia and the Netherlands, she and her mother sought asylum in the UK, with her father joining later.
In June, Mevan, who now works as a tech manager, set off to travel the same route as an adult. ‘As I’ve grown older I’ve felt like something’s missing. I wanted to understand a bit more about my own history,’ she stated, ‘I hadn’t explored it in a very long time, as it’s kind of an overwhelming thing.’ Before leaving, Mevan interviewed her parents so that she could revisit places they recalled from the original journey. Her mother specifically requested she eat at McDonald’s on Moscow’s Pushkin Square – ‘all the refugees met in the square to share information and find relatives, and my mother remembered it because the McDonald’s on the corner was the very first one in Moscow. The trip was filled with small and personal moments like that.’
One of the most unexpected aspects of the journey for Mevan was being able to fully appreciate the unspoilt beauty of Kurdistan – ‘it has so much history! There are castles from 3000 years ago, breathtaking ruins, and an incredible culture that I got to understand on my own terms.’
Having only just completed such a momentous trip, culminating in meeting Egbert, Mevan is still processing much of the journey. Through retracing the route she took as a child, she already feels she is better able to understand her own identity. ‘For a long time I didn’t feel comfortable saying that I was British or Kurdish,’ she said. ‘I think the way I’ve changed from this trip is that I now feel unapologetic about saying that I’m both.’