0353-Anwar: columns 101 – 110

110 – The concerns these children had in Syria are not over here

Children who come to the Netherlands from Syria or another war country, alas!, what do I have to do with them. I have had a happy childhood. The problems in my homeland only came to me when I was already grown up. I knew what was going on with our country and took the decision to flee. Children from a war country have experienced the tension and problems in their native country. They did not have a carefree time behind them. Arriving in the Netherlands does not interrupt that carefree time for them either. Soon they speak better Dutch than their parents. That’s why they have to go with their parents to the doctor, to the dentist and the municipality. They play as a translator. The start-up in the Netherlands goes by trial and error in all refugee families. The children who translate remember every event. They read in a letter that their parents have not paid an invoice or hear from the doctor that their father or mother is ill. They take a phone call in which their parents are rejected for a job, or have failed a language exam. Setbacks that children can not overlook. Setbacks that my parents used to have, but did not share with me. I often think of the generation of Syrian children who have accompanied their parents to the Netherlands in recent years. The concerns they had in Syria or another war country are not over for them. Nevertheless, I think that it will give something to both them and the Netherlands. Boys and girls with a lot of life experience. A generation that employers do not have to ask about in the future: do you have experience?

The base

“No, I can not meet tomorrow, because I’m going to a psychologist,” a friend said to me. What an openness you sometimes encounter here. He was not ashamed. Others who heard the conversation did not look strange either. In Syria we see people who go to a psychologist as crazy. We have a special hospital for them. Sometimes when I’m on the train, the train stops because someone has jumped on the track. There are many people in the Netherlands who do not feel well. They use medicines for it, go to a psychologist or commit suicide.
I think I understand how that is possible. In Syria you work every day at the base of your life. You do your best to be safe, get food on the table or buy a house. Is your washing machine broken? Then you save for six months until you can buy one. In the Netherlands you are safe, there is always food, for everyone a house and after one salary you buy a washing machine. You can work, but if you do not work, you also get money. I think people can therefore feel that they are extra in this life. Nobody is needed here. You do not have to work hard to maintain yourself. If I later have a wife or children, the government will take care of them more than I do. I sometimes find it difficult to be happy in the Netherlands, because I do not know what happiness is here. What does my life expect now that I have the basis? Now that my life goal does not consist in obtaining safety, money and a house? I study, I do volunteer work, I make friends and learn Dutch, but feeling useful in a country that already has everything remains difficult.

109 – “Hold up my hand to my wife after 25 years of marriage?”

I was at home with a classmate and drank tea with her mother. She was happy, the mother said, because on Saturday she was married for 25 years. There will be a big party, with family, friends and colleagues. The Dutch do that. They continue to celebrate, even when they are old. With 50 years an Abraham at the door, with 40 years of marriage another great party. In Syria, we say in such a case: “They should respect their age.” “Giving a party or letting you go is no longer appropriate from the moment you get older. “Those people are not ashamed of anything,” we would say about them. That starts soon, because people aged 50 and over are seen as old. As if they only have a few years to live. A Syrian friend of mine of 20 years will soon have a brother. He is not happy, but is ashamed of his parents. At that age, and then still have a child … I like that old people can also party here and behave as they want. “Congratulations!”, They say to a pregnant woman of 43. “Nice that you still have a baby!” I like to participate in the Dutch way. I want to keep celebrating. When I just wondered how Dutch men can give so many parties in their lives, a Dutch friend said, “Women pay for this too.” I could not. After 25 years of marriage, I hold up my hand to my wife to give her a party. That will not happen. Merging cultural aspects of the Netherlands and Syria is fine. A disadvantage: it costs me a lot of money.


I was lying in the sun, near a swimming pool. I heard a father talking to his son. He said: ,, I hope you will become in the future something you like”. He made me smile. It is nice that fathers and mothers in the Netherlands think that is important. I am used to always being told that you have to become something that you gives you pots of money. Doctor, engineer or IT professional. It is not for nothing that you have so many doctors in some Syrian streets, that you have to look for an accident to find the one you have an appointment with. All children who once heard from their parents: “You must become a doctor”. If you are now wondering whether there is work for so many doctors in Syria: yes, there is. We like to go to the doctor. We do not want pain, but just medicines that take away our pain. The father at the pool was talking about something else, but I was still thinking about his remark. If his son likes to dance, does he like it when he becomes a dancer? In the Netherlands, not all fathers and mothers assume that their children will be happy with money. That is why they do not send their children in that special direction, when they have to choose an education. “You should become an actor”, I hear my whole life. That was not serious advice, they would have looked mad in Syria if I had really done it. In the Netherlands it is not surprising, but here I do not speak the language sufficiently for the drama training. So, I remain dreaming, along the side of the pool. About a Dutch film with a Syrian protagonist. Then I shall convince everyone. Have a bet?

108 – ‘Dutch people love drama on their desks’

When I’m at the Gelderlander, I see cuddly toys on the table, a football, food, papers, everything. When I ask, ‘can I have a screwdriver?’ someone picks it is so off his desk. I often wonder why that is. Do people want to show their boss that they are busy? A Syrian office is always tight. Only the necessary is arranged in an office. It would be crazy to put a pink stuffed dog on your desk, because you will be so happy. Or a football, so that you can occasionally kick a ball on the work floor. Also at the text office where my girlfriend works, it’s a mess. I offered to clean it up there. I do not need money for it. Just one Saturday on which I organize everything clearly. “No, we do not want that,” my friend said. ,,We feel happy in this way.” Dutch people quickly feel happy and at ease. I was once asked to have dinner with Dutch people, who still had to cook at the time I came. “Hello Anwar!” they said happy. ‘Nice to have you here’. They grabbed a few knives and cut vegetables. I did not know what to do. Help out? Wait in silence in the room? Come back later? I kept wondering if I had remembered the time of the appointment. Dutch people also invite you to their home, and do not clean up in advance. I was with a friend, who had to pick up all his clothes and belongings from the couch. ‘Look, sit down,’ he said afterwards. When I walked home I had an ass full of dog hairs. Apparently I had been seated in his place. When I get guests, from now on I will say at the door: come in! Do you first take off your clothes for your and my hygiene?

107 – Dirty

After my opinion a lot is dirty. I understand that since I am in the Netherlands. Not because it is not clean here, on the contrary. The streets, parks and gardens are much cleaner than in Syria. Perhaps that is precisely why Syrians who learn to rid themselves of dirt are important. When I and my fellow refugees were assigned their own house in Arnhem, we were shocked by the first time that we were getting Dutchmen over the floor. They walked in with their shoes. Rude to say something about it, so we left it that way. Afterwards we exchanged experiences with each other: “Did they do that to you too ?!” I mopped the whole house after the Dutch visitors were gone. “My Palestinian friend always wants to borrow my slippers when he goes to the bathroom,” a Dutch woman said to me. ‘Why is that?’ We do have our shoes when we are indoors, but we do not wear socks to the toilet. Like wiping with toilet paper, bah! The first days in the Dutch refugee shelter everyone went to the store to buy a watering can. We see it as follows: you break a raw egg in your hands. Are you going to get a napkin or wash your hands with water? When I temporarily lived with a Dutch couple, they insisted that I kept my shoes on. The lady of the house caught me that I was walking around her carpet. ‘Nonsense!’ she said. “Just walk over the rug!” With shoes, which have all the dirt on the street, I walked over her beautiful rugs. I honestly found it difficult. At the Dutch couple in the house I could only clean certain pans with a napkin. When I was alone at home, I secretly cleaned the pans with a brush. Nobody who sees it, and a lot cleaner. The next day the woman took the pans out of the cupboard. She looked surprised. Because they were so clean, I thought for a moment. But no, because there were scratches. An anti-stick coating, they can better call it an anti-wash layer.

106 – Waiter

When I sit at the table with Dutch people, I sometimes feel like a waiter. “Can I have the lettuce?” Well, here you have it. “Can I have the salt?”, Okay please. “Can I have the potatoes?”, Sigh, why is everything on my side of the table ?! The Dutch are not too lazy to take it for themselves, but find it rude if you reach someone. In Syria, we think differently: you do not have to put your fellow guests to work, but take your food yourself. We don’t have table manners in Syria anyway. Not because we are indecent, but because we are always on the ground. So it would be better to call it ‘ground manners’. There is not even a table in most houses. We are so used to sitting on the floor that many old people find it harder to sit on a chair than on the floor. We all eat the food from one large plate. When I stayed in refugee shelter De Koepel, Dutch people came to eat with me for the first time. I had prepared a joint plate and some separate dishes. Nobody at the joint board, only me. At that time I did not know that the Dutch would be afraid to eat together from one plate. In any case, there is little washing up, because we only use a spoon. We do not need a knife and a fork, because there is never a piece of meat on the table. The meat is processed in dishes. After starting the meal, the owner of the house can’t stop eating until everyone has finished it. Otherwise, guests might think that they should not be too greedy and stop eating too. It is therefore important, as head of the family, to eat slowly. In the Netherlands you have to pay attention to something else. Choose a table corner with as few items as possible that have to be indicated. You can eat nice and quiet. “

105 – “How much money do you get?”

The Dutch often ask me that. They want to know how high my benefit is, as a refugee. I can now answer that I no longer have a benefit because I am studying, but I still give an answer. If I then ask: “And how much do you earn?”, the Dutch look at the ground. They want to know how much money I have, but do not tell it myself. I think that is strange. I find it useful to know what the salary is for certain professions in the Netherlands, but I never get an answer to that. When I ask a friend what his father, a dentist, earns, it turns out that his friend does not know what his own father earns. In Syria it is a normal question. It is no secret. You know what your family and friends earn. That way every culture has those ‘secrets’. With us, for example, it is very strange to ask how someone’s mother or sister is called. The name of a woman, you do not ask.

Also something like that, you really should not ask questions about that. At least, the women among themselves, but not the men. Never would you ask a friend: how is sex with your wife? A ridiculous question, private, and a disgrace to tell what your wife is doing in bed. In the Netherlands, the conversation among young men often involves sex. Boys also ask each other: what kind of positions did you all do in bed? Everyone tells it freely. When I am in such a conversation, I only think: please do not let this circle come to me. Maybe I should consider discussing it in exchange for salary information.

104 – Vegetarians

“No, grandmother, you do not have to brag me meat, because I’m a vegetarian.” I sometimes imagine that I would say that in my family. My grandmother would sell me a blow. Then I would still eat the meat with a bowed head. Being a vegetarian does not actually exist in Syria. There are people who do not eat meat, but they do that for example because they are not allowed by the doctor or their diet. Syrian people often cook vegetarian, but they do so because there is no meat in the recipe. Not because they think about the life of the animals. In the Netherlands I speak a lot of people who do not eat meat. I even met someone who did not want my home baked cake, because milk was used. ,,Milk? What is sad about that?”, I asked. That was pathetic, because that cow did not necessarily want to give milk itself. I assured her that I personally knew this cow and that she had given me the milk with full conviction and pleasure. She did not believe that and did not want a cake. I find it sad, because now she is mainly dependent on fruit and vegetables in the Netherlands. And sorry, but those are just not that good here. There is little taste. I think that is not surprising, when you consider that food sometimes even comes from a laboratory. For example, lemons and grapes without kernels exist in the Netherlands. Conceived in a computer, tested in a laboratory. If I hear so, I can imagine that the taste has lost somewhere along the way. As is often the case when you think back to something; it gets better and better in your head. The oranges from Syria are in my head from month to month sweeter. Just like the tomatoes getting juicier and the cucumbers more crispy. A little while longer and I even long for okra, a vegetable that is quite unknown in the Netherlands, which -in the past- I used to refuse to eat.

103 – To create SPRING

I awoke this week and suddenly I saw flowers everywhere. I did not see them coming up from the earth. No, they were suddenly everywhere in the streets, after gardeners had passed by. That is how the spring begins in the Netherlands. The spring has also started happily in Aleppo. My parents, who now live in a loft without daylight, can then stay outside more often. That is how my mother at least reassured me. I heard my brother calling in the background: “Yes, good for you! And who has to stay indoors all day in the dark ?.” Well, he can not get out of the streets, otherwise he has to go into the army. In Syria, the flowers come naturally from the ground. There are many fragrant roses and the streets smell wonderfully like jasmine. I often used the leaves to throw them over someone else. A cheerful use, because it smells so good. Every spring my mother makes jam from flowers. All leaves are placed in a bath with water. Then something is done with sugar, kneading and drying in the sun. As you already hear, I do not know the recipe, but it tastes fantastic. When I put my nose in flowers in the Netherlands, I do not smell anything. Perhaps that is why there is no jam here. Spring, which is made here, by gardeners. I asked a friend: why did the Dutch prepare the spring? Nature does that yourself? “People pay for this via tax. They want to feel that it is spring,” he said. If it is autumn, but it will not rain, then what? Municipal employees may hide behind the bushes with a garden hose. They secretly spray everyone on the street. Citizens exclaim: “It is autumn, I feel it!”

102 – Diesel oil

The Dutch always think carefully. About consequences and disaster scenarios in particular. Therefore, it strikes me when something does not seem to be well thought about. In Arnheim your old diesel car is not worth much more. That is because we will soon have the most stringent environmental zone in the Netherlands, which ensures that old diesel cars are not allowed into the city center. Maybe you now think: okay, that’s a good solution. We dispose of old, polluting cars. That is good for the environment. But what if I tell you that old diesel cars are worth a lot in poor countries? That it is just an advantage, because the fuel is so cheap? A light now lits up at born traders. And indeed, those lights have also started to burn at traders in Arnheim. I now know a number of people who buy old diesel cars and ship them to countries where there is a need for these simmering cars. I may not be a born politician, but I can still remember that this is not a real solution. As if the neighbor at the top of the flat washes his balcony clean, and pours all the dirty water down over the balconies of the downstairs neighbors. Then I wonder, has not this been thought about, or is it not interesting that we pass on the dirty air to other countries? Do we find clean air only important for ourselves and not for others? If we want to get rid of old, polluting cars, then we have to make a rule that these cars have to be scrapped. Flattening, so that no one is bothered by it anymore.

101 – Sad that I can not find a safe life for my family

Problems, do they actually happen at a time when it convenient? I have exams in two weeks, but my mind is overflowing with stress. My parents in Syria have no longer a home. After our family home was bombed completely seven years ago, we went to my aunt’s house in Aleppo. She was in Afrin with her husband and children in recent years. Now that it is unsafe there, she and her family have returned to Aleppo. So my parents and brother have to leave. My parents had put all their money into the house that was destroyed, so they can not buy anything new. Renting is expensive, because all people from the area around Afrin now move to Aleppo. When my father sent a video of the new house they now rented, I panicked. It is terrible. There are no windows, and there is no water and no electricity. It looks like a space under the stairs, as you can see here. They can not even pay the rent for that ‘home’. I am thinking all day, how I can solve this situation without getting into trouble. I also do not have the money to buy a property for them. ,,It is not your responsibility Anwar”, Dutch people say to me. But I can not really think like that and I do not want to think like that either. My family is, of course, my responsibility! I came to Europe to find a safe and good life for all of us. I feel sad and depressed now that I realize that I have only found a better life for myself. There are many rules that ensure that I can not protect my family. That are rules without any sentiment.

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