0305-Anwar: columns 096 – 100

100 – Heritage

As Syrian husband and father you are expected to pay for the wedding of your sons and to buy a house for them. It is an important goal that you save your money as long as you live. You will not save money for your daughter, because she will be kept by her husband. When I have children in the Netherlands, I have double expenses. I will also have to pay for a possible daughter, she will not find a man here who will pay everything for her. I am going to have a hard life. I think it is unbelievable, then, that you have to pay tax to the Dutch government on an inheritance. Soon I will have worked for my children for a lifetime, a paid house and then my children will only get the TV when I die. Because the tax authorities have stopped by. Do you already pay taxes during your life? Why then when you are dead? I talked about it with Dutch fathers. ‘We want our children to work for a house themselves. Otherwise they might not do anything at all”, they said. In my culture that will not happen, because after you have received a house from your parents you start saving yourself for the house that you will later give to your own children. When you die, the child with whom you have lived in your home for the last few years receives the most money from the inheritance, or the parental home. It could be a tip for Dutch elderly people who do not want to go to an old people’s home. Just keep the Syrian rule: who takes care of you, then gets your house (or what is left of it after the tax authorities have been). Then it will be fighting: who can take in mom and dad?

099 – Emergency

I have experienced quite a few disasters and emergency situations in my life. Now for the first time also one in the Netherlands. A week ago I was studying at the Highschool Arnhemi Nimwegen. Suddenly there was a power failure. I got a smile on my face, it reminded me of Syria. In the last few years that I lived in Aleppo, there was about 1.5 hours of electricity every day. I bowed my head down again to continue reading in my textbooks. But I was the only one who thought that life went on. ‘What is happening?’ people called. Phones were anxiously kept in the air. “I do not have internet!”, a classmate called. The power was not back after an hour. For some reason everyone wanted to go home. “Papa, you have to pick me up! the trains do not run because of the power failure. I heard students speak in their phones. “Oh no!”, said an other. ‘I have my whole freezer full of meat! Would the insurance compensate?” I shook my head and dived into the books again. A teacher walked past. “You have to go home. The building will close due to the power failure”. I did not understand anything. Can a teacher not even teach without electricity? “It’s about the fire alarm that does not work now,” he explained. Oh yes, forgot. The Dutch always think about what can go wrong. A blazing fire, in the hour and a half that we do not have power. I made my way through the students who told their parents and grandparents by telephone the way to HAN. Everyone had to be picked up. I packed my bike and went home. On the street I saw two cars collide. The traffic lights did not work without power. Motorists apparently can not do without it, so even on the road it became a chaos. I called my mother in Aleppo and told her about the disaster situation in Arnheim. We laughed together, very hard. You are a superhero mom, I said. She lives without power every day.

098 – Green

The Netherlands are doing their best to be better for the environment. Sometimes I think: are the Netherlands not doing a little too much? Cooking on gas is not allowed anymore, driving a car is bad and using energy is actually never good, even if you have green electricity. There was a friend visiting my roommate Ahmed. We drank tea together. She said that she always comes by bike, because even public transport is bad for the environment. She also buys second-hand clothing. She had pants that were only 15 euros. Aha! I also have trousers of 15 euros, I told them. From the Primark. No, that is not good either, she said. Because the clothing is made far away by people who get too little money for it. This friend really thinks about everything. She even thinks about the salaries of people on the other side of the world. I drank my tea quickly and I went to my own room. I thought: if I wait a little longer, she says that life is bad for the environment. Although it is good to think about the environment, I hope that the Dutch do not dig too far into it. Otherwise, in a couple of years we will go through Arnhem by horse and cart. Then we light a fire in the garden to get our food warm and we play football with a ball of paper. Then we only have to put a very large lid over the Netherlands to keep our oxygen fresh. Because I am not sure whether the countries alongside us want to participate. I think I’m going for horseback lessons for safety.

097 – Anwar replies – an interview

It is clear that the refugees living in the Dome have received a warm welcome in Arnheim-West. Nevertheless, there are also neighborhood residents who have difficulty with some issues. I have submitted a number of their remarks to Anwar Manlasadoon who fled Syria. Anwar is 25 years old and has had a weekly column in the Gelderlander for some time.

Q.: I have no problem that the refugees were welcomed by local residents, but it was a bit over the top with all those balloons. It was not a party after all?
A.: It may not have been a party, but for most of the new residents of the Dome it is a relief that after a long journey we finally had a roof over our heads. We felt very welcome by the balloons.

Q.: I do not feel safe in the dark when I walk from the bus stop with all those groups of men at the Dome. I sometimes think of Cologne, where Arab men have harassed young women.
A.: We have a culture where we live outside. I know the co-residents of the Dome have no evil intentions. The reason they go out is because they feel locked up. That we go in groups also has an advantage for us. Some of us do not speak Dutch or English yet. They are afraid to be addressed and do not understand. It is terrible what happened in Cologne. But it turned out afterwards that most of the men were from North African countries and there few refugees were involved. Most of the refugees abhor the behavior of these men in Cologne. It is a pity that this group of people ruined it for the other refugees. But the worst is of course for the victims. I hope that this kind of thing will not happen again.

Q.: All those men are wimps. Who is leaving his wife and children behind in a war zone?
A.: Most men go ahead to provide a safe crossing for their family. After arrival they can make a request for family reunification. That this would take a long time afterwards, most refugees did not expect. They prefer to take the risk themselves on a boat to cross the sea with all the dangers of this crossing. The journey is also expensive. People have to sell their house or borrow money for the crossing. They can not afford this for the whole family. Believe me, most refugees take this risk because there are no other options left.

Q.: There is more junk in the vicinity of the Dome.
A.: That is indeed annoying. It does not belong there either. I do not know why some people do not clean up their junk. A number of residents also speak to each other about this. I will definitely bring it to the attention again. I hope for the neighborhood that this will become less over time.

Q.: Why do all those men get free bikes? Many welfare families would also like that.
A.: Even as a refugee you sometimes have to go somewhere. To the hospital, the GP, dentist and the city. For most people, public transport is expensive and the purchase of a bicycle too. The bikes were second-hand. We were very happy with it. Many refugees can not even cycle. Now we can learn it.

Q.: How do some refugees dare to complain about the food?
A.: If you just enter an other country, it takes a lot of getting used to other food. You must also learn to eat things. We have been given the same five microwave meals over he past seven months. For sure we would cook ourselves, just as the average Dutchman.

Q.: Why do refugees no longer do something for Dutch society? Can they roll up their sleeves anyway?
A.: Most refugees would really want that. But as long as you do not have a status as a refugee, you can not do much. You can not go to school or work. There are indeed initiatives shown. For example, with volunteer work to help older people. A few guys, including myself, have helped with sorting second-hand clothing. We also help people living in the area in the neighborhood during the weekend.

Q.: Refugees with a good education will soon pick up jobs, while in the Netherlands there are a lot of unemployed people.
A.: First we have to go to school to learn the language. Of course, most refugees want paid work. If we all have to beg in the streets, that would not be good either. Then people say that refugees do not want to work and live the state. I hope that there is enough work for everyone in the Netherlands. For you but also for us. Not to become rich, but to live.

Q.: Refugees are simply assigned houses, while there are many people waiting for a house in the Netherlands.
A.: We find it very annoying for people who have been waiting for a house for a long time. Of course I would like to give them a home. For us, a home is important for a safe feeling and a roof over our heads. It really does not have to be quite luxury. Many of us have their homes in their own country or have to sell for the journey to a safe haven. Should I be assigned a property, I would like to invite a student to live in my house.

Anwar finally says: “I would like to invite these residents to join the conversation and in this way get understanding for each other. I quite understand the concerns of many Dutch people and hope to be able to take that away.”

The warm regards to all Dutch people from

Anwar Manlasadoon.

LangsRijn&Rails (Beside the Rhine and Railway), page 12/13

096 – Sirens

Every first Monday of the month the sirens roar in the Netherlands. That is quite important to know, but you do not learn anything about it in the integration course. In order to obtain your permanent status, you have to learn a lot of things that you do not need and those things are always asked for in the exams. For example: you need to know what insurance you should have if you buy a car. I am a refugee. Why do I have to learn that? By the time I have a job and a car, I speak enough Dutch to find that out. It is much better to know that the sirens are tested on the first Monday of the month in the Netherlands.

We also have sirens in Syria. But I have not heard them in the seven years that the war is taking now. The only time they were used was when I was 15 years old and attending school. The sirens were tested because the government had a conflict with Israel. But now that it is really war and half Syria has died or fled, you do not hear the sirens. I think they are not going now, because the war between parties in our own country is playing. We are not occupied by another country.

The first time I heard the sirens in the Netherlands was when I was in refugee shelter The Dome (Koepel) in Arnheim. The reception staff told us that the sirens were tested. I do not think it’s smart to do that every first Monday of the month at noon. What if another country wants to attack us? Then they can do that exactly at that time, nobody who knows.

I still have to get a few parts when it comes to my state exam. Coincidentally, I was recently invited to come and read my columns at a party, which is celebrated because the state exam lasts twenty years. I think I’m going to put it on a deal. I read those columns when they tell me which questions are in the exam.

095 – Kalashnikov

That you belong to your country and want to fight for it, is very important in Syria. When I was 15, we got theory about the army once a week at school. Then we learned how to maintain a kalashnikov. Fortunately, I never needed this knowledge. During the training industrial product design at the Highschool of Arnheim and Nimwegen I get lessons about the nature of materials. A few weeks ago a detailed photo was shown during that lesson. I immediately recognized the magazine of a Kalashnikov. When I told my fellow student what it was, he turned his head to see the picture better, but he did not see it. The teacher asked me: do you know the weapon? I felt uncomfortable and thought: is that wrong?

It is not that we used to have a weapon at home. That is prohibited as here. Only in the villages where there is no police station in the area, the head of a large family may own a weapon. This must be a member of the President’s party. Yet all Syrians know the Kalashnikov more than they like. Many people were killed in the war. Everyone knows a relative or neighbor who was killed with a Kalashnikov. Everyone knows the sound of the weapon. The same applies to the sound of rockets and bombers. Every child that comes from Syria knows what sound is part of that and will recognize that sound throughout his life.

094 – Authority

Studying in the Netherlands is very special. Perhaps the best education in the world, an opportunity to secure your future with a good education, while you can also deal with your teachers in an equal way. You would say: a school full of grateful students. That is not true. I have been studying at the HAN (Highschool Arnheim and Nimwegen) for six months now. Pupils play in the classroom, they talk, watch a movie together and then they laugh out loud and walk in and out of the room. I have to concentrate very well, even if it is quiet, to understand everything the teacher says. With noise that does not work at all, so I regularly call for everyone to pay attention. Then I think: should not a teacher do this? Why do teachers in the Netherlands have so little authority? Sometimes I feel like saying, “Sir, let me do a lesson, then I assure you that everyone keeps their mouths.” “Yes, in Syria you do not get it in your head to scream through class: ,,Hey, I do not understand a f**k of it.”

Just like you think everything is allowed in the Dutch class, you have the exam week. I did not understand a question, so I looked desperately at a friend next to me. My friend was shocked and dived away from me. He continued with his own exam. When I left the class, I was angry. I did not expect any answers, but an encouraging look had already helped me. “What are you for a friend,” I said. He said that he was afraid that a teacher would think that he was foretelling something and that he would receive an inadequate answer. Pffff. An inadequate is not bad if you put your friends a heart under their belt? I thought it was a disappointment. A plus point for the teachers: once every period all students have fear and awe for them. If students are afraid to give a wrong look, looking back is not really enough.

093 – The war of the nail

Now that it is getting quieter in Syria, I sometimes think about the beginning. The Arab Spring did not just enter our country. As often with wars, it started with a small incident. An incident that resulted in a great war. In the city of Daraa in southern Syria, children at their school wrote that President Bashar al-Assad should leave. The children of that school were arrested and thrown into prison. Fathers, grandfathers, and imams went to the head of the security service to get the children free. Children in prison, that should not be possible! The man answered them, “If your children misbehave, send your wives to me. Then I will make children with them who are of good quality.”
With that one sentence, he touched something important. The honor of Syrian men. They went out into the street in anger. The crowd grew bigger and bigger, until the entire country revolted and the Arab Spring was still blowing to Syria. After a while, the children were released. They were tortured. During the interrogation their nails were cut off. So far, that it hurt.
In the Netherlands the word ‘honor’ does not mean much. It is not a holy word where people have very deep feelings. It might not be the reason for a war here. In Syria, an impaired sense of honor, as it turns out, can work as a lighter that sets an entire country on fire. Of course there had been a lot of years for years, and the nail incident was just a spark that allowed things to explode. Nevertheless, to date there is talk about ‘the war of the nail’. You could also say: ‘The war of honor and freedom’.

092 – New years eve

I believe I have never been so happy that the holidays are over. Not because it was not fun, but because I feel that I got diabetes. The Dutch do not put sugar in the tea because that is unhealthy. But then it is December and suddenly everything can happen. As if all the saved sugar of the whole year should suddenly be eaten. Pooh, I did not even put sugar in my tea the first days of January. Very extreme for a Syrian. Around New years eve, many memories always come up. The sounds of the fireworks resemble the war. I decided to go to a friend in Wehl. I thought, there it is much quieter than in Arnheim. In the bus to Wehl I met a Syrian man whom I know. He came to the Netherlands with his wife and children. ,,I find it very difficult days”, he said. ,,Although the fireworks also reminds me of the war, I understand that it is fireworks. My children do not. They grab anxiously at their mother with every bang. Are they coming? Are they coming? then they scream.” Yes, if it sounds like that in Syria, soldiers will indeed arrive. The man finally went out into the street with his children in the evening to show them what fireworks are. Once we arrived in Wehl it turned out to be much harder there than in Presikhaaf. “Here live farmers, who shoot with a kind of bombs,” said the friend I visited. Meanwhile a friend called from my house in Arnheim. ,,It goes so fast here, I think Nijmegen has taken the city hall in Arnheim.” We laughed. Yes, after a big portion of noise you do not sweep the pavement in Syria, but inform yourself which district or building has been occupied and by whom. I decided to look at it differently, on New Year’s Eve. Economical Dutchmen, who just go crazy. Tens and hundreds of euros fly into the air, as if they are throwing a bunch of banknotes into the air and congratulating each other afterwards. The Dutch want to make themselves happy during the New Year, no matter how much money it costs. I think that’s funny.

091 – 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.


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