Suppose I’ve been kidnapped. I have no idea which country I am, I’m locked in a house. The first thing I would do is go to the bathroom. If I would see a book, a crossword puzzle, vases, candles, a calendar, all kinds of odors and pictures, I would immediately know that I am in the Netherlands. I’ve never experienced before, all the fun on the toilet. When I go to the toilet in the Netherlands, I find someone’s complete family history. When the man and woman of the house are born, where they met for the first time, the first kiss, the arrival of the children, 25-year marriage. Yes, you really make a party in the bathroom. Last December I celebrated the holidays with a Dutch family. There was even the toilet paper in the Christmas mood. Anyway, you can not silently pass a holiday in the Netherlands. The Dutch love decorating.
- If there’s anything with football or the king, everything orange.
- Christmas is all red with green. There will be a Christmas tree in the house, a paper sheet on the table, special napkins to wipe your mouth off and cups that says ‘Merry Christmas’. Families have new clothes, often color-coordinated with each other.
- Also, foods are different from normal. Milk is suddenly no longer a suit but is in a jug on the table.
In Syria we make on a public holiday the house tidy and we take nice clothes, but we do not change our home and look. I wonder how Dutch would celebrate the Day of sacrifice of the Muslims. Perhaps you would put sheeps statuettes at home. In the window a severed sheep head and a rug sheepskin on the table. Meanwhile, some sound of sheep bleating in the background. Sounds very cozy.
Paper, there is really too much in the Netherlands. My container is full of it. Every day I get letters that controls what to do. “Mr Manlasadoon, you remember to pick up your passport?” “Are you thinking of paying your water bill, or else you will be fined.” “Thank you for signing at the HAN, you will receive your schedules for the lessons”. So on. Sometimes the letter writer does not even know he writes to me, because then it says, “To the residents of this house.” During my language classes at the HAN, we treated the subject postal code. The teacher wondered if we have it in Syria. We looked at each other, but no one knew. We did not use the postal system . We do not send letters and never get mail. You just need to remember what to do. If you do not pay your water bill, you get the next time you are going to pay a fine. If you do not get paid they shut the water supply off. Other rules or orders of the government you have to remember, no one will remind you. Unless of course you do not listen, for example, because as a graduate young man you do not report to the military. But then you get no letter, they pick you up from the street or from home. New rules, there you are alerted through TV commercials. Except that I have to watch what tasks I need to perform in the letters here every day, there is also mail. When I entered the Netherlands I had to create an email address. Now while I manage to look at it regularly. I just forget about it. A Dutch woman who supports me now has the user name and the password of my mail. She looks down and see whether there is in something important. Sometimes I can not see any more the trees in the forest.
Paying taxes, that’s news to me. In Syria you don’t have to pay for anything. Schools and universities are free, hospital and doctor costs nothing and something like tax does not exist. In my house in Arnhem, I recently received a letter that I have to pay for the sewer system. Actually I must therefore pay to defecate. That is a bit too much!. You pay in the Netherlands much, but you get a lot. The state takes care of you, and you take care of the state, something like that. That’s a great system. By paying taxes you feel involved and responsible, I brand to Dutch. I was sitting in a building with a Dutchman and he wanted to smoke. He made preparative to go outside. I said, “Hey dude smoke him right here. We just sit in this room, no one sees it.” He did not, he went out and smoked it. I liked it. Even when no one is looking, wants to keep a Dutchman by the rules and act responsibly. Syrians are different in there. When nobody is looking, they quickly throw their garbage on the street. It is also very dirty. That shared sense of responsibility is not there. I felt it in Syria either. Now it is here too. Near my home in Arnhem is an underground waste container. There you can put in garbage if you have a pass. What happens: people only put their rubbish without it. And I always look into. I really want to call the church to announce that. I’m ugly and I think you may only use the container with a pass.
I am beginning to look more like you.
Aleppo is tearing my heart. That President Bashar al-Assad has driven the rebels from eastern Aleppo, makes me happy and sad at the same time. I’m happy because it means that my parents and brother are safer. Our house is in a neighborhood that is situated close to eastern Aleppo. My parents and brother were thus constantly during the past year in the line of fire. With each raid they were in danger.My parents are now out, the bombing is over. I asked my father to take pictures, to show me how the neighborhood looks after all the war. He would not. On Facebook, I see people of western Aleppo street celebrations. Not because they are all for the president, but because they’re happy that it’s finally quiet in the city. At the same time, I see people of eastern Aleppo on Facebook share how they feel. Deaths, destroyed homes, children under the rubble. While we breathe a sigh of relief in my family, the following problem arises. My brother is in hiding in our house, because he hass to join the army. Now whole Aleppo is back in the hands of Bashar al-Assad, his army has time to search the city. Looking for opponents.What to do? To abandon the city is not a good idea because everywhere are checkpoints. My father now has the idea to go to eastern Aleppo, where thousands of civilians leave their homes. The army does not search there. Although the city has been officially out of them, they have on that side much less power.I saw a speech by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs of Aleppo. He said, “it’s now been enough for the people of Aleppo.” I jumped up from my chair. What will he say? We bring the citizens of Aleppo here? He did not say it. I slumped back in my chair. The speech was finished.
Sex education, I remember it well. I was 18 and was in the final year of high school. A teacher reminded us to silence. He would tell us something that we were not allowed to laugh at. The girls had to go to the right side of the room and the boys to the left. Both groups were shown a picture where we were explained how a baby is made. What the girls got to see I do not know, but we could not be together. How different it is in the Netherlands. When children go to kindergarten they know the difference between the genitals of a boy and a girl. I knew for a long time only that girls had long hair and boys had not. At the end of primary school the children learn about sex, a little later on contraceptives. I saw a movie of Dr. Claudia explaining in detail the children how it all fits together. In Syria, we all know it, of course, a certain age, but we hear it on the street, no teachers and doctors. When I was visiting a Dutch family, asked the father of the family to me what Mary means to Muslims. I wanted to say something about the pregnancy of Mary. That this came about without having sex with her husband. I did not know how I could tell that story without the word ‘sex’. I began to stutter and cumbersome to talk. Droplets of sweat beaded on my forehead while I made my way through all the words. Nobody understood. The son said in the family: “ooooh you mean that Mary has not had sex with her husband.” I looked directly into the father of the family. He would be angry that I started about sex in front of his wife and children. He was not angry, he laughed at my clumsiness. Well Dutch are more accustomed. I have not. I am afraid of a shop window full of sex stuff. It feels uncomfortable to see a headband with two big wobbly plastic penises it. Or what about a dating program in which the participants are nude, or pasta in the shape of a penis. Well, openness is good, but I like it here sometimes a little exaggerated.