090 – ‘Here you have the freedom to abandon religion.’
There is a small artificial Christmas tree with very small Christmas balls on a stool next to the sofa. There are a few candles under the tree. It will not be more this year. ,,I wanted to remove my desk and put a Christmas tree from Ikea, but my girlfriend did not think that was a good idea, because the desk is screwed to the wall. Too much hassle.” For Anwar Manla Sadoon (27) from Arnheim is the third Christmas in the Netherlands. The first time he was just a few months in the Netherlands. Fled from the war in Syria. He lived in refugee shelter “The Dome” (De Koepel) in Arnheim, where a large Christmas tree stood in the hall. “People came to make music, but everyone looked like that”, says Anwar, pulling a bored face. Since last year he has been celebrating Christmas with his Dutch girlfriend in Limbourg, with her family. Setting up the Christmas tree, buying presents for each other, putting on nice clothes, good food, the rituals are known to him. ,,People in the Netherlands have been talking about the holidays and the holidays for weeks. It does not stop.” With a sense of drama, typical Anwar: ,,I sometimes get a headache!” Then seriously: ,,I now feel the pain of Christians in Syria, because we Muslims did the same thing around Ramadan and the Sugar Festival”. As he is now a Muslim minority in the Netherlands, Christians are in Syria.
Christmas reminds him of the Islamic holidays he celebrated in Syria. ,,That is why Christmas gives a painful feeling. Most refugees do not have people to look for, but at this time they remember how it was in the past when they celebrated with family and friends.” The harsh reality is imminent: he is alone here. Father, mother and brother are in Syria. ,,My mother would find it a fun party. She loves these things; the decorated houses, the delicious food. Now that it is war, she misses this kind of fun”. Anwar would like to have her with her. He always calls her between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Does he tell her how things are going. “Where is the snow?” His mother asked last year. “She expected that because it always snows in movies at Christmas.” Christmas gives the Syrian a double feeling. On the one hand the confrontation with the past and with what has disappeared, on the other hand Anwar also enjoys the pleasure that Dutch people have in the party. ,,Everybody is happy. The streets are beautiful, Christmas trees are full of lights everywhere. The city will become one big house.”
He also sees a big difference between the Islamic festivals and the Christmas party. ,,I feel that something is missing here. We eat well during Ramadan, but that’s not what it’s all about. You must also pray and go to the mosque. Here people watch a movie and share gifts, but they do not take the meaning of the party. I think that’s funny. Here you have the freedom to drop the religion.” Where else could it be, he wonders. “The church in Klarendal became a skate hall, the church in Sonsbeek has been converted into studios and you can no longer pray in the Eusebius church.”
During the Islamic festivals, such as the Sugar Festival, it is also the intention that you give something away to someone else. Even if you can hardly miss it yourself. “There is always someone poorer than you.” Anwar asked his mother in Syria to give money on his behalf to give someone who needed it. He does not know anyone who is poor in the Netherlands. ,,Then the woman to whom she had given the money called me to thank me. The woman has a disabled child and she had also bought something for the child from the money. That gives me a good feeling.” It is now quieter in Syria. Terror organization IS is almost completely driven out of the country and is being rebuilt. Anwar hopes that the people in Syria can forget the pain of the war and forgive each other in the coming year. ,,I am sure that peace will come again in Syria. Not through government intervention, but because people want it themselves.”
089 – Over check
I walked across the station in Arnhem and saw five different types of trains. All with their own check-in posts and gates in the colors of the train. If you take two different trains during a trip, you have to check over halfway. You keep your ticket in front of the post of one carrier to check out and then in front of the post next to check in again. If you have checked in with the wrong carrier, you will be fined. I asked a classmate why it was so complicated, if all the money goes to the government. It took a while before he understood. In the Netherlands the trains are not from the government, he said. That used to be the case. Meanwhile, they are all separate companies that compete with each other. The telecom companies, energy suppliers and mail deliverers are also not of the government here. For all large companies in Syria, there is a link with the government. It wants to participate in decision making and benefits. Calling with your cell phone is expensive. That is because there are only two telecom companies and they are both from relatives of President Bashar al-Assad. In Syria no one other than these family members may have a telecom company. That way they can keep the prices high. It is choosing between high costs or non-mobile calls. The gas and oil are also from the government. The citizens have nothing to do with it. There is no supply of fuels to the houses, like here in the Netherlands. You always have to go to the store to get 10 or 15 liters of oil for the oil stove. We used 2 to 3 liters of oil per day in our small apartment. Only 200 liters of oil are available for each household this winter. You can not switch, there are no other companies that do it well. The Netherlands proves to me that not everything needs to be done by the government to have it well organized. Here everyone has hot water and heating in the house. If the electricity, the call credit or the water becomes cheaper elsewhere, you switch companies. When I was in the train afterwards, I thought about it again. Companies are doing their best to continue competing with each other. They continue to think and make inventions to always remain the cheapest, fastest or environmentally friendly. So it remains fair, the price goes down and the technology goes up. I want to check that a bit more often.
088 – Savings account
I’m not used to having money. Dealing with money is already better than when I just was in the Netherlands, but there is still ‘room for growth’, shall we say. Saving is possible, but sometimes when I am in town I am tempted to buy clothes. Through my ING app I transfer money from my savings account to my payment account and, hop, a new coat. I asked the ING bank in Arnheim if they could give me a savings account that I can not see on my phone. Then I can not spend my savings impulsively. But no, that is not possible. All accounts will always be accessible to me on my phone. I asked if I could open a savings account with another bank. Then I can simply transfer money to it, without seeing it constantly on my screen. “Of course, you can do what you want, Mr. Manlasadoon,” said the nice man. Beautiful. So I walk across the street to the Arnheim Rabobank building. I told an employee that I wanted to save money. “No,” said the woman. ,,That is not possible. It has been agreed that refugees must keep their money with one bank.” My Dutch classmate was sitting next to me. I asked if he could open an account. “Yes, he does. But not you.” “The woman was called away, she had to help her clients”. I came home angry. I felt rejected. Nobody had explained to me why I should not open an account. I wanted to understand. ,,I take all my money from the bank and keep it in my room! ”, I said to my roommate. “No, no, they’ll steal it here,” he said. At ING-Bank I can not save well, I can not save at Rabobank, they steal at home. I will have to transfer to the Syrian way of saving money. Everything cash in my pocket, or invest in gold. I will then wear it all day so that it will not be stolen. It’s a temporary solution, which I’m definitely going to find something else for, but until that time your eyes will be hurt by the shiny savings account around my neck and hands.
087 – Mission (2)
Personally, I have had a good year. I started my studies and I do a higher level of language than last year. I have made more friends and many people are satisfied with me. I hope that with my columns I have helped people to learn more about Syria. I came to the Netherlands during the refugee tsunami and people found it difficult. Hopefully people are happier now. The refugees have given a good picture of their country and I see many refugees who are doing well. There is much that I am satisfied with, but everything I do now has a greater purpose. That is to bring my parents and brother from Syria here. Only when that succeeds, my mission is complete. Even if things improve in Syria and there is peace, the future does not look good for my parents. They no longer have a house and my father is too old to earn enough money for a new home. My brother can not earn the money either, because he has to go into the army and he will not receive any wages. When will I see them again? I am not allowed to travel to Syria as a refugee and they can not leave the country now. Sometimes I cry in silence. I want to be alone and listen to sad Arabic songs. As soon as I have an income, I tell the Immigration and Naturalisation Service that I want my parents to come over and that I will pay for them. We do not have the luxury that is the basis for the Dutch. The two rooms I have in Arnhem are enough for our entire family. That’s how we lived in Syria too. In 2018 I will continue to do my best to build a life in this country. All for my higher purpose.
086 – Mission (1)
The neighbor of my mother may come to the Netherlands. My mother told me this week. “Can not you let me come over?”, she asked. She, my father and my brother are still in Syria, in Aleppo. They do not have a house anymore. I hope I succeed in getting them to the Netherlands, but how? In Syria there is always something special during holidays. Then the president will release prisoners, for example. Or he will nevertheless allow students who did not complete their first year in two years to continue studying. The rule is that you then have to stop the study. These kinds of decisions make people grateful. In Syria you can also wait for a politician if you want to do something for each other. With a bit of luck he puts his signature and it is arranged. Making a suicide attempt also helps. I understand why some refugees do that when they are angry or desperate. That works in Syria. Not here. One and one is always two here, never two-point-something. The neighbor of my mother may come to the Netherlands, because there is a rule that determines that. I have not found such a rule for my parents yet. I want to make a video in which I ask the boss of the Netherlands to let my parents come over. I thought of King Willem-Alexander. My friend said that does not make sense. If I record the video for the mother of the king then? She is a mother herself. No, she said, does not help either. For Prime Minister Mark Rutte? No, my friend said, he is also not the boss. I have a nice coat in Syria. I asked my mother if she would like to give it to her neighbor. She did not want that. She wants to keep the coat with her, as if it were me. She said: “I am coming to the Netherlands with your coat”.
085 – Anwar-Peter
In the Netherlands Santa Claus is so important that he even has his own news. On TV I saw his entry into Dokkum. He arrived with a boat, got on a horse and walked through the city. Children were singing loudly songs and had pieten hats and mites on. They became overjoyed when Piet gave them a handful of ginger-nuts. In Syria we do not have a party that looks like Santa Claus. Christian Syrians do have Santa. A symbol of peace and for children that makes everyone happy. Also the Muslims. At the end of the year the Syrian Christians decorated their streets and we helped Muslims thereby. We wanted to be part of their party and also bought gifts for each other. Conversely, the Christians participated in the sacrificial feast and the Sugar Festival. They were happy with our cookies during Ramadan and we were happy with their chocolate during Christmas. Christians and Muslims lived together very well in Syria. The integration was good, until the war came. Now everyone is on the run. Now that I am in the Netherlands, I celebrate the Santa Claus celebration. Recently I put my shoe at my friend’s parents with a carrot in it. In the morning there were presents in our shoes and the carrot was gone. Eaten by the horse. I wonder who the horse was at home, but I did not ask for it. I got a chocolate letter from “Santa Claus mother-in-law”‘. I wondered if Santa Claus knew my name, or whether I would get the R from ‘refugee’. But no, Santa Claus knows everything. I got an A. Santa Claus is a beautiful tradition. I think it’s nice how happy children become of Santa Claus and Peter. I would be honored to make children happy during the entry. I like to offer myself as Anwar-Peter. And when I have children, I will also teach them about Sinterklaas and Peter and then my children can proudly say: My dad is Anwar-Peter!
084 – National anthem
I am jealous of this country. For a lot of reasons. There is only one thing that I find special and ridiculous, namely that you do not know your national anthem. You can sing along on Spotify, but when I ask people to sing the national anthem, they say they only know the first sentences. Or they do not know it at all. “Boeiuh,” they say. As a child in Syria I had to go to school as a soldier. We wore green uniforms from the age of six and that went on until we were 17 years old. Now school children in Syria no longer have to go to school in such a uniform. However, on the first and the last day of the school week they are still in rows in the schoolyard and the national flag is hoisted. I remember it well. With the right hand against our sleep we sang the national anthem. When I was small and did not know the words, I was playing along. We also had to swear allegiance to the ruling party and to the country every day. Then the teacher asked: “Do you have to be ready to defend your country?” And we called in unison: “Yes, we are ready to defend our country!” We also had to shout: “The president forever!” while we tilted our stretched right arm upwards. The President and the party were so important in Syria that I thought I should learn everything here about politics and the royal family. For my civic integration exam, I read everything about King Willem-Alexander. I know who he is married to, how many children he has and much more, but there was not one question about that on the exam. That is not all that important to you. Arjan Lubach even ridicules the king in his television program. Unbelievable! Now a political party has said that all children in school must learn the national anthem and there is discussion about it. I do not think it’s odd to teach all children the national anthem. The national anthem is part of the country you belong to and that you love. That’s why you have to know it. That is not boeiuh. I just do not understand what it has to do with the Netherlands that Wilhelmus van Nassouwe is of German blood.
083 – ‘There is another language in Dutch. That of abbreviations’
Just when I thought I had mastered the Dutch language a bit, I learned that there is still a language in Dutch. The language in abbreviations. Vlgs, sws, ipv, idd, ff. Sigh. I discovered this new language at school. In September I started the Industrial Product Design course at the Hogeschool of Arnheim and Nimwegen. In the lessons on materials science we received powerpoint presentations that were full of words that I did not know. They were abbreviations. My friend made a list of abbreviations and their meaning for me. It is now hanging over my desk. There were also many abbreviations in the materials science exam. Because I have only been in the Netherlands for a short time, I can use a dictionary during exams, but some abbreviations did not. Idd, for example. That means ‘indeed’, but is not an official abbreviation. I felt like returning my pain to the teacher and using Arabic words or self-invented abbreviations in my answers. I soon made up “vlgsa”. If I were to use that, the teacher would be surprised and ask me: What is that? Then I would say: According to Anwar! I did not do it. I did not dare. All exams and reports that I had to make in these first months, I have achieved, except material science. This is not only due to the abbreviations, but also because the material was in two languages. We were taught in Dutch, but had an English study book that was almost too English. It was full of jargon. The test was also in Dutch and English. That was hard. I became angry with myself because I found it difficult. I also became angry because we received an English textbook in the Netherlands. It reminded me of Geert Wilders. I felt like using his words: President, we are losing our country. Mr President, in the Netherlands we speak Dutch! I thought about saying that in class, but I did not do it. We are in school, not in the House of Representatives. In April I have a second chance regarding the exam about materials science. Fortunately I am not the only person who has to do the exam again, but there are more people who did not pass the test. So that is sws again ff blocks.
082 – Boss
Once a week I come to the office at De Gelderlander in Arnheim. To enter you must have a pass. I do not have that, so I depend on someone who opens the door for me. That is an exciting moment every time. Already on the stairs to the editors, I see who is there. When I see the boss, I think: not you, not you! He always immediately stands up to open the door for me. I can not get used to that kind of equality, it makes me uncomfortable. In Syria I would keep the door open for him and say: “Boss, you make the best newspaper in the Netherlands. Here you have another present, fresh food from the market.” In Syria we all stand up when the boss comes in. We praise him, say that we missed him and that the day is so beautiful because he came in. Yes, it is slime. But it’s part of it. I remember from the past that the boss of my father regularly called our house number. Then something was broken again in his house. My father and I then solved it for him. It had nothing to do with my father’s work, but he had to “come”. A kind of involuntary volunteer work. At De Gelderlander I do not have to rub, stand up for anyone, not bring gifts or repair something from the boss when it is broken. In Syria I would have been fired for a long time now, which is why I can hardly get used to it. That it really does not have to be here. Yet I am happy with it. If I have work after my studies, it seems nice that I am important, even though I have just started working. That I may give my opinion and may also contradict the boss. Now I would not dare to. Fortunately, my study just started. I have four years to get used to.
081 – ‘Striking that everyone talks about these children, except for the people in Syria’
Aylan was the first Syrian child to shock the world. He was the boy who washed up on the Turkish beach and that symbol stood for thousands of children who drowned during their get-away to Europe. Now there is Samar, a baby that is emaciated in the hands of a nurse. The Dutch newspapers state that they are suffering from hunger, but they could also be the victims of the chemical weapons used in the area where they were born. She too symbolizes thousands of children. It is striking that everyone talks about these children, except for the people in Syria. There was nothing to see about Aylan on Syrian television. I think, out of embarrassment. In the case of Samar, the government says: This is a propaganda message. If the government broadcasts reports of abuses, the opponents say so too. Nothing changes like that. Nobody says: Now it’s done. Nobody wants to change his opinion and that is how people keep going. Even when the war is over, I think the suffering continues for many people in Syria. When I lived in Syria, I went to a village for UNICEF to give people food. In that village, thousands of Kurds who were born in Syria lived, but had no identity card. They could not go to school and could not work. The father of the current president was then in power and said that these people were not Syrians, but came from Iraq. No papers. That could just be the fate of the children like Samar. They live in areas that are occupied by groups that are against the government and their parents can not outsource the villages to report the birth of their child. They are undocumented children who will not be able to go to school and have no work. There are a few organizations that use lawyers to arrange the paperwork for these people, but that is far too little. It does not matter to Samar. She died 35 days after her birth. The number of people who die is no longer shocking me. Hundred deaths in Aleppo have become normal words. A picture of a child like Samar never gets used to. It keeps touching me. She is a baby who did nothing wrong, but happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time.