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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.