0319/Anwar’s column

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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