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.
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. “
“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.
“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.
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!”