Children have ten weeks summer holiday in Syria. It is then very hot in the city. Because there are no playgrounds and it’s too dangerous to play football on the street, you have to sit in for the whole time. That is why many children go to a village in their long summer holiday. Everyone who lives in the city has family or acquaintances in a village. We always went by bus from our city of Aleppo to my grandpa and grandmother in Kobani, my father’s parents. In my youth it was two hours by bus, later in the war the same ride took ten hours. We were allowed to do everything we wanted, we had nature around us and grandpa and grandma spoiled us with candies. Not only my brother and I were in the summer at grandma and grandmother, my cousins and my cousins were there too and often the neighbor children also stayed. In the beginning we were shy because we had not seen each other for a long time, but soon we were a group and we went to argue with the children in another street. Sometimes we went to the forest to eat fruit, we played in the lake or went to family visit. Nobody could swim by the way, so we only played on the side of the lake. Through the whole house of our grandparents, children were sleeping on the ground. During the holidays Grandpa and Grandma were the boss. We listened to them, even if our mother was there. Sometimes grandma and grandma used something that my mother took the blood under the nails. She did not speak to her in-laws, but in the background she made wild gestures. It was therefore not always easy for the mothers, but at the end of the holiday they were rewarded. Before we went home, we always got a lot of food from the village. We arrived at home with bags of yogurt, olives and honey. The house in Kobani was destroyed by the war, the family who lived there fled to Turkey. New memories will no longer be created.
069 – Names
Dutch people have a lot of names. For example, a woman is called Maria, but says, “My real name is Maria Alexandra Sophia. In the past I was called Rutjes, but now I’m Beekman, just like my husband.’ I often ask in the Netherlands what does your name mean? People then begin to look glazed. A name does not always have a meaning here. In Syria this is a condition. We may have only one first name. Our last name can never change, even for women. My mother is not called Manlasadoon. Like in the Netherlands, we also have crazy surnames, like ‘donkey’. But usually are the occupations. The first part of my surname ‘Manla’ means imam. Sadoon is my ancestor’s first name. So apparently he was imam. Other common surnames in Syria are ‘iron trader’, ‘carpenter’ and ‘doctor’. First names are not used in Syria. Men and women are addressed by the name of their eldest son. My mother is Am Achmed. (The mother of Achmed) and my father Abu Achmed. (The father of Achmed). Because I find Jazan a pretty boy name, I’m in Syria ‘abu Jazan.’ If I had a son, he would be called Jazan. It’s an appeal title that shows respect. Certainly for women, because it is very unusual for me to know a woman’s first name in Aleppo. It is considered private. If I would know the first name of my neighbor in Aleppo, the rumor would immediately arise that I have a relationship with her. Because my nickname is ‘Abu Jazan’, my in-laws also know that I would like to name a future son in Jazan. My mother in law does not like it. My girlfriend’s brother neither. He wants Pickachu. Abu Pickachu, I have to get used to it.
068 – Burglar
My Dutch friends say that I do not lock my house well enough. I always leave open the back door and I do not lock my front door. I feel so safe in the Netherlands, I can not imagine it’s necessary. “Yes,” the Dutch say in my environment, “And if you see a burglar in your house, you do not have to do anything yourself. Walk back outside and call 112.” I’m trying to imagine that myself. I come home and see a burglar. I do not do anything but pick up my phone and go for a call. Meanwhile, I call in: “Sir, you want to leave that vase, please, that’s was a gift of my mother.” No, that’s not how it will be. That burglar is going home, I will do my best for myself. I have said it more often, but Syrians are not used to call the police themselves. Firstly, because Syrian agents are known to come when they feel like it. Once upon a time, you have to pay them money if they feel that they are outshoved for nothing. Really soon, emergency services can not be on the spot. They all have their own, complicated phone number. If you have someone to take, you can give them a 5 minute driving directions. Turn right at the supermarket, then drive to a red parasol, then twice left …. etcetera. Patient died, house burned, burglar flown again. You may want to do a cup of coffee with an intruder first, offer another dinner, after which the police may be in the area. Dutch say that the police can be at my house very quickly. Sometimes even in five minutes. I’m considering trying it out. I call 112 and time on my phone. If they are on time, I can say I’m proud of them. So fast at my house! But that does not seem to be possible in the Netherlands again.
067 – Bathroom
A Dutch bathroom is like a department store. Dozens of bottles and pots in a row to choose from. When Ahmad and I moved to our house in Arnhem Presikhaaf, we bought for 50 euros of goods in the bathroom. We also wanted a whole row of bottles in the shower. “But it’s all shampoo!”, said a Dutchman who proudly showed us our bathroom. What appears, it is the intention that in all those pots is something different. A pot for the hair, one for the body, to use during the shower, to use after the shower, for blonde people, dark people, people with curly hair and little hair. There was no shampoo for newcomers. All those products seem the same, but according to my girlfriend, that is not the case. The stuff for your body is not allowed in your hair and body lotions do not allow you to use shampoo. I found myself there when we shared as house mates a Dove package of the Action as housewives. I got the bodylotion, which did not want to foam in my hair. Worrying, with my parents at Aleppo, there is only one product. Soap, we call it Ghar. Aleppo is famous for its soap, it has been made for olive oil and laurel for 4000 years. It is for your body and for your hair. For everything actually. A bodylotion is not used, certainly not by men. There your skin becomes soft while men still have a rough skin. With a soft skin, you think of a woman. Well, everybody carries perfume, very much. If you walk over the street, smell everyone’s perfume from a distance. In the Netherlands I get comment that I wear too much perfume. Indeed, I do not like two syringes in my neck, as I see Dutch. “Stop Anwar, that’s enough!” Calls my girlfriend when I spray perfume. I do not listen, because in some things I just want to stay my Syrian self.”
066 – Mathematics
The streets in the Netherlands sometimes only seem to be a final eaminartion in mathematics. Lines, colors, shapes and ribbons have a meaning that only Dutch can get a diploma. Syrians also have a theory degree, but you can just buy that. Moreover, there is not much to learn. One hand on the steering wheel If the traffic light jumps on orange, indicating that it turns out to be green, you start cheating. This means that the car needs to be pushed forward. We do not have to drive apart as here, because every road has at least five lanes. Since the war there are four more, because one lane is now for the army. The soldiers do not drive along, but are already shooting in the air. And something else about the Dutch roads: the number of goody-goody cars that are on the roads. Dutch think before buying a car. The amount of groceries they need weekly and the number of children that may come. The cars are not sporty or beautiful, but practical and large. In Syria you can see racecars especially on the road. Children can be on lap and groceries between the legs, if that car looks sporty and fast. President Assad has made the belt mandatory since its entry, which means that motorists now hang a piece of belt around their shoulder. Not that they really clench him, as it seems. Meanwhile I know the traffic rules in the Netherlands. When I see a man with a long stick rolling down across the street, I now know that it is not the FBI that detects bombs under the sidewalk. It’s a blind who can find the way through ripples on the street. And that ripples are not there to wipe your shoes away. Including a theory exam in the integration course would not be crazy. And then one that can not be bought off is.
065 – Barn
Many Dutch people have an extra room in their house. There is a lot of food. A kind of mini-Albert Heijn in back home. I once asked my Dutch host family where I lived for a while: “Do you know what you have there?” No, they actually did not know exactly. It looks like a room with an emergency supply, for when the war breaks out. In this extra room, many tools also hang out with a variety of hooks and protrusions. The first time I entered such a space, I thought I had discovered the dark side of the Dutch. A torture room, just at the back of the house! It looks scary. Meanwhile, I know that those items and devices are used to work in the garden. Because Dutch, they want to keep their garden tidy. No meadow with fruit trees, as I’m used to from Syria, but a garden that can be drawn by way of speaking. Every centimeter has been considered. I once thought that it was the municipalities in the Netherlands who are so precise and tidy to keep nature, but also the residents of the Netherlands like to do it. When I was taken by Dutchmen to the Intratuin, half the country turned out to be there. Logical too, because at the primary school in Aleppo, I learned that the Netherlands is the country of cheese, milk and flowers. I noticed that the contact with your neighbors depends to a large extent on your garden. My housemate Achmed and I have done nothing in our garden in Arnhem Presikhaaf for months. When we did that recently, the whole street went out. Neighbors greeted us and shared compliments. I think they think it’s important to do that more often.
064 – Problem book
Sometimes my head is just a problem book that I can only close when I go to sleep. How will my brother escape the charge of going in the army, where should my parents live now that they have no house anymore? Whenever I call my family in Syria, there are new problems. But there is also my new life in the Netherlands. Do I get my state exam before September? If I do not succeed, what should I do for a year? How do I pay my tuition fees later and how do I get to my own house? I’m sometimes tired of all those questions and problems. When I was in the refugee shelter a year ago, I had only one wish: a house. When the municipality of Arnhem proposed to make “dome couples” who live together in a house, I immediately said yes. It was a way for the municipality to quickly help refugees, for us a way to get the refugee shelter. Now, a year later, I wish I did not give up as a guinea pig. Our house does not appear to be temporary, but forever. If we do not take action ourselves, my house mate Achmed and I are old together. “If you’re lucky, you can find a house through our housing system within two years,” said a refugee employee. The verdict is strange. If I was lucky, I would not have been born in Syria, or would the war never be broken, so I would not have had to come to the Netherlands at all. It feels strange that in a rich, modern country like the Netherlands there are not enough houses. In Syria you can rent a house every day of the week. Not that people have money for it, but it can. Here people have money, but can not. Complaining as a refugee, it’s not possible. But sometimes, I’m just tired and I’m not talking about gratitude for a moment. Dutch people also complain, so I’m just really integrating.
063 – Internet
My Syrian friend Basel and I integrate on the internet. Because in the Netherlands you do everything through your computer. Nobody can tell you anything, it must come from a screen. A doctor can not diagnose his head, like doctors in Syria. It seems like a doctor is talking to his screen, but actually he is talking to you. A receptionist knows nothing without internet and my contact on the HAN also gets everything from his computer. You wonder, where is this human questionbag still necessary, if anyone still looks in the PC for a while. In any case, Basel and I started with internet stores. I signed up for a free phone and Basel wanted to try herbal remedies. Within a few days I was called with the news that I had won a trip to Abu Dhabi. I scared my bike along the side of the road and answered all the questions of the woman. Who I wanted to go with, where I lived, how to reach me. I have heard nothing from that holiday, but from other companies. I’m called every day. ‘Mister Mr. Manlasadoon, we’ve heard you’re interested in solar panels?’ The search for Basel for herbal remedies was even more dramatic. Whenever something goes wrong, we call Gerda. A lovely Arnhem woman who took me home in my first time in the Netherlands. “Eh Gerda?” “Always when I call her, without having an appointment, she knows that I am in trouble. “We have a subscription for hair growth funds for the duration of one year. We have to pay 50 euros a month.” Gerda sighs. “Can’t you stay out of trouble once a week?” Her son wrote a letter stating that Basel is a refugee who does not know what he has clicked. There is a compromise, we have to pay one month for herbal remedies. I think we’re going to ‘integration on the internet’, but just break down. Nothing for us.
062 – Integration exam
Last week there were flags from the window with school bags everywhere in Arnhem. Students received notice that they were successful. Here after the congratulations you ask the question: And? What are you going to do now? In Syria you do not choose what to study, the numbers determine it. You can earn a total of 240 points. In addition, a smart trick during an Syrian exam is involving President Assad in your answer. Few teachers who dared to put a red line by a statement from him. Of course, students make use it. If you are successful, your mother is yelling in Arabic from the window. The street will congratulate you. Then the question: And? How many points did you earn? I really wanted to be an architect, but for that you need 207 points. I had 201. I could do that with the law, so I did. If you have not reached enough points, you can pay by. Then you can study what you want. We had no money for that. For an ICT training you will need the second highest score. Only doctor is higher. In the Netherlands you can easily enter the ICT, so many Syrians do that too. A calll to your family that you are in ICT here can not make them more proud. Funny by the fact that in a country where everything really goes through the internet, the result of an exam is over the phone. You will be called here, or not. In Syria, nothing goes on the internet, but a test result then suddenly. While most do not have it. So Syrian students travel on the day of the results to a good neighborhood, looking for a shop where the internet is. There they go round the computer to see their results. My mother starts yelling when I have graduated from my graduation degree. I do not keep the phone out of the window, I suspect my neighbors do not understand that they need to congratulate me. So it just becomes a flag with a bag on it. As a citizenship certificate.
061 – To greet
To greet in the Netherlands, that remains a bit uncomfortable. I want to adapt myself to Dutch by hand and kiss three times, while Dutch people want to adjust to me and give me a hand or give me a greeting from a distance. When I was just in the Netherlands and was in The Dome (De Koepel) in refugee care, it was much more uncomfortable. Women stormed down at me to give me a hand or kiss me, but I screamed and fell backwards. I’m used to the fact that it is very inappropriate to touch a woman at the first meeting. It could offend her husband. If Dutch women kiss me in the presence of their friend or husband, I still find it difficult. I always look nervous about her friend or husband. Is he all right? During that time, I also embarrassed the Dutch. I was taken home by the Dutch couple Gerda and Erik. When I met Erik, I gave him two kisses. I noticed that he did not like that. Now I understand that Dutch men do not kiss each other. If my father came to the Netherlands and he would meet Gerda and Erik, he would not give Gerda a hand at the first meeting. He would find it inappropriate in the presence of her husband. The Dutch might call it disrespectful, while my father would feel a brutal, respectless man if he would. Well, just culture difference. My dad and grandpa greet me for Syrian use with a handshake. After the kiss you touch your forehead with your hand. Then they said, “I’m happy about you”. Children in Syria kiss but like the hand of their (big) father, because in most cases they get money back. My father did not rarely call me when I walked: “Kissing does not make sense Anwar, I do not have money in my pocket!”