Kinan Kadoni fled Syria 10 years ago, finding refuge in Belgium before moving to the other side of Europe. Now living in Iceland, he helps refugees integrate into their host country. But his personal recipe for success is building a bond with the outdoors.
What sparked your passion for spending time in nature?
My partner is Icelandic, so she knows this country like the back of her hand. When I moved here, she started taking me to see amazing places: sweeping rivers, huge waterfalls, mountains and black sand beaches. It was her attempt to get me out of the house and into Icelandic society. And she was right: discovering these places helped me feel comfortable enough to stay here. But it also helped me to understand the country better. Whenever I stumbled onto something new, I just had to look up its story. Did you know the oldest surviving parliament in the world was founded in Þingvellir, now a national park?
Visiting nature is a great way to build a connection with the land you stand on. Imagine hiking to the crater of a volcano. Standing on solidified lava that’s thousands years old, you can’t help but picture how the world was back then. But it’s not just about history: nature is still so intertwined with our daily lives in Iceland. It’s in the simplest of things, like water. When I open the tap in my house, the water’s almost boiling. And the heating is completely based on natural elements, the geysers. You can’t separate the indoors and the outdoors, your life or that of the plants and the animals: you are connected.
If life were a Facebook status, I’d say I am in an engaged relationship with nature. Probably the only relationship guaranteed not the end in a broken heart. I’m one hundred percent, head over heels, in love with it.
This really sounds like a match made in heaven.
It is! The Icelandic landscapes always lift my spirit. The world is so fucked up sometimes – I’m sorry for cussing. So every night, after work, I drive to the top of a mountain. And then I just sit there, for an hour or more. Being surrounded by this vastness helps me give place to everything. It’s so peaceful here. There isn’t that much to see, really. Some horses and lambs on the slopes, the ocean in the background. There isn’t much to hear either, just a bit of wind, a lone bird and waves coming to shore. But that’s all I need. An hour a day on my hilltop fills me with new energy. It’s the perfect way to deal with everyday stress.
Does it also help you deal with past trauma?
The Syrian war is always on my mind. I think about the friends and family I left behind – and it’s overwhelming. It quickly becomes quite depressing when I’m in a brooding mood at home, encapsulated by the four walls of my house. It’s tiring. But as soon as I put some distance between my couch and myself, it feels different. It’s very hard to explain. But when I start pondering on the top of some mountain, I feel less pain. Nature itself has such a healing effect. It really allows me to rebuild my life. Some people will need additional therapy, and that’s completely normal. I just need one hour a day on top of a mountain. Being there changes the settings of my brain; it’s a restart.
You often share your quiet moments through photography on social media.
Photography is my passion. In the first place, I take pictures for myself because I want to remember that special sunset or what that mountain looked like below the clouds. But it also allows me to stay connected with my friends and family abroad. Icelandic landscapes are all natural, untouched. No one has put any work into shaping it like it is – and seeing that helps others get out of their own heads, too.
I even do live video sessions in nature with good friends. I put the phone on a seat next to me, with the camera aimed at the horizon. There’s barely any talking during those video calls, I’m just sharing the beauty around me.
You’ve been living in Iceland for a few years now. Did you connect with the nature straight away?
No, not at all. I arrived here in the midst of winter so I spent most my time indoors, hidden under layers of wool. But I quickly found something I missed from Syria: the social relations with each other. Back in Syria, I felt so connected. I didn’t need to plan things with friends or family members. We just did.
Before I moved to Iceland, I lived in Belgium for a few years. In all those years, friends rarely mentioned their family members. I never heard them talk about their father or sisters. It made me believe social relations are a Middle Eastern thing – something I had to give up when I left. But here in Iceland, there’s always someone knocking on your door. A friend or a grandmother with her grandchildren, stopping by for a coffee. People are constantly calling you to invite you over for dinner or to just go outside for a bit. Icelandic families are so connected, so close to each other.
Being surrounded by others brings amazing power. You’re not by yourself: everyone is here for you and you are here for them. You cannot fail: there will always be someone around you to catch you.
Do you think people in Iceland are more connected because of the unforgiving nature and climate they live in?
Certainly. The landscape is so harsh that people have to stick together to survive and thrive. Iceland is a big nation, but with few inhabitants. There are towns with just 50 people living there, so you really have to stick together. Take the month of May for example. That’s the season to deliver the lambs. So you’ll get a call from a friend, asking whether you’re free to help. And while you’re bringing new life into this world, you’re building the connection with the country, with its nature and its people.
It’s difficult to be so isolated from the rest of the world. But the positives outweigh the negatives. For one, I’ve learned so much about farming. I didn’t know a thing before I got here, but now I spend almost everyday with people who talk about farming. In May, the talk of the town is about delivering lambs. In September, it’s the slaughtering season.
You’re living life in seasons. That’s a whole different rhythm compared to the modern, European city-life.
In a sense, it’s a return back to the old ways for me. And it even makes me feel more connected with my own heritage. My grandparents also used to talk in seasons, not months. So while I’m integrating in this country, at the same time I’m forming a new bond with Syria, with the culture I grew up in.
Kinan in a nutshell:
FAVORITE NATIONAL PARK:
Hiking and photography
LOOKING FORWARD TO:
Opening a small farm