Are you going back?
Do you want to stay here or are you going back to Syria? That question is often asked, since my first day in the Netherlands. I still do not know what to say. When I say that I want to stay here, I am afraid of the reaction: “This is not your country, you have to go back to Syria.” When I say that I want to go back, I am afraid of the reaction: “Why do we still invest money and time in you?” Sometimes I listen to my heart. Then I want to go back. Drinking tea at the stove with my mother. No electricity, no work, no home of your own, but just the fun that was always there. Sometimes I listen to my mind. Then I want to stay here. Making steps in my development, seizing opportunities and advancing. In addition, I can make money here that I can also secure a good future for me and my family. Now that the war in Syria is slowly coming to an end, the circumstances for my family are getting better. My brother goes back to the street every now and then (he is hiding with my parents to avoid the army), there seems to be more openness in the media than before and for the first time in seven years more is being built up than being demolished. Many positive images of the reconstruction can be seen on the Syrian state television. According to my parents, this is not just propaganda, but something actually happens. People sometimes respond to this column, who believe that I believe that I am a supporter of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. I’m not that. I am, like many other citizens in Syria, for the one who gets the country quiet again. Whether that is Assad, the rebels, or my mother.
‘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.”
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.
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.
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.