120 – I can hardly believe that there is so much freedom.
For a moment it seemed that the war in Syria would not change anything. President Bashar al-Assad still at the helm, only with a lot less subjects. Now that he is rebuilding the country, he is the first to start restoring all the statues of his father. Well, there we go again. Yet the country has changed very quickly in recent years. When I watch Syrian television, I regularly get my home and compatriot Ahmed to share my surprise. Journalists in news programs ask the government critical questions, on television! Presenters of entertainment programs take to the streets and ask people: “What do you think about cohabiting?” “A revolutionary question, in Syria. During the war that revolutionary atmosphere arose. Wild parties were given in cities. People danced in the street and drank alcohol. That atmosphere has now lingered. My mother recently told me on the phone: “Anwar, you’re missing a lot here. The women show more of themselves and are very beautiful. ”
I look at the changes with slight suspicion. I can hardly believe that there is so much freedom. Can you suddenly ask the government critical questions? Or does that only apply to television, and should actually be said: “Do not try this at home”? And women who dance on the streets and are not covered, do all men understand that these women only have fun, and want to be left alone? Sometimes I am afraid that this new freedom is like electricity. If suddenly there is a lot of release, the lamps will snap.
My state examination at level B2 is done. I wonder if I made it. In the listening exam I heard an old grandfather and grandmother say something with a crackling voice. I did not understand it. When I left the examination room in Eindhoven, fortunately I was not the only one who had found it difficult. I ran into the city to blow off steam. There were soldiers lined up in the city center, with weapons. Never before have I seen such a scene. They laughed and let everyone who wanted it sit on their arms. I was there and asked if I could take a picture. ,,Of course, that is what we are here today”, said a soldier. I asked if he liked his work. ,,Yes, great work”. The soldiers looked happy and proud. In Syria I often had to deal with soldiers during my volunteer work at relief organization UNHCR. I can already see that I would sit on their arms and ask them if they like their work. From childhood I have learned never to talk to soldiers, to look at them or to get in the way. Their eyes are not happy or proud either. Rather black and evil. Not because they have always been like that, but because they became like that during the war. Such a military position in the city center would be inappropriate in Syria. Then you get: “Look, with this we have killed your uncle” and “With this weapon we have thrown your house down”. The soldier asked me if I want to join the army. I said: ,,If this is what the army does in the Netherlands, then it seems nice to me”. The man looked at me from head to toe. ,,You have to weigh 65 kilos before you can work with us. So go eat first, boy.”
118 – University
The new Syrian students at the HAN (Highschool Arnheim / Nimwegen), I feel sorry for them. I felt the same way a year ago. Lost and stupid. In the first month of a study the language level is getting used to. My roommate Ahmad said: ,,I sat in front so that I could hear the teacher well. Then he gave me the turn! I had understood nothing of the question. I felt so stupid towards the rest of the class. It is as if they are treating the Koran, it is that difficult.” (The language level in the Arabic Quran is very high and sometimes difficult to understand). A year ago around this time, I was able to hang crying at the local government desk. “Please, please, take me back.” But I continued. At the end of each lesson I asked a classmate: :Do you want to write down for me which chapters we have handled and what kind of homework we have received?” At home I continued to translate, read and learn until midnight. That is how I got my first year. I try to cheer up my friends and tell about my development last year. ,,How should I develop then?”, Mahmoud said. ,,We have to do something at home, but I have no idea what”. Ahmad: ,,And during a lesson about Excel, they skipped the first six steps because ‘everyone who knows’. But I am not Anwar, I do not know those first six steps. So I made some sound on my keyboard throughout the lesson, so as not to stand out.”
Yet I am confident. Syrians are like an arrow from a bow. First backwards, then full speed ahead.
117 – Whining, the Dutch are good at it.
Syrians also hear, but we only complain about food. We love our stomach and can endlessly talk about where the food was good, and where not. Dutch people complain about everything. The favorite subject is the weather. ‘It’s always cold, we have to spend weeks on holiday to the sun to recharge!’ Now it was hot all summer and everyone complained after all. Our grass is burning! The animals have a hard time and the leaves are already falling from the trees! On such a hot day I walked across the street with a newly purchased fan under my arm. People in the street clung to me in despair: “Where did you get them? Are there any more? ” It reminded me of the times in Syria that there was no bread. When you saw someone walking in the street with bread, you rushed over to ask where it came from. Work is also a favorite complaint topic. The boss is not nice, the colleagues are not collegial and the wages too little. In Syria we have an expression that we use when someone nags. Because a tailor makes your clothes exactly for you, we say to someone who whines: ‘I’ll go tailor-made for you.’ What we actually say: life does not always exactly meet your needs and is not always ‘tailored’ for you. The good news is: if the Dutch suffer from something, they think up solutions. It is not for nothing that this country is so good with water. Another three times a summer and the Netherlands becomes a heat expert. One very large curtain across the Netherlands? I wonder what you are coming with.
116 – A day in Amsterdam made me a bit panicky.
Is the capital a look into the future? Is what I see now in Amsterdam in ten years across the country? In that case I am not on the right track.
I walked into a store with a bag full of new clothes. Just before that, I had bought the wrong size. I did not have the receipt, so I wanted to explain that I had accidentally taken too large a size and would like to exchange it. I started my story at the checkout. “No Dutch,” she said. “Oh,” I said, “is there someone else who speaks Dutch?” “No”, the woman said. I turned around and asked customers behind me if anyone could speak Dutch. They looked at me questioningly. No, no one understood me. Because I can hardly speak English, I started to portray everything. That the clothes are very big, but I am very small. That I had said at checkout: “A coupon does not have to be.” “The woman looked at me with a sigh, but had understood me by now. Exchange was allowed. I went for a drink outside. There was a note on the window of the cafe: the café was looking for staff. Requirements: very good command of the English language and possibly knowledge of Dutch. The courage sank even further in my shoes. Is this how it will soon be everywhere in the Netherlands? Or is Arnhem the only city where Dutch is the basic language? I already see myself trapped in Arnhem. Everywhere is work, but I can not go anywhere because I do not speak English. ‘It starts with language’, is shown on all folders of my integration. True, but they should have told me which language.
115 – Sometimes they secretly put a 30 percent discount sticker on an article.
My summer seemed almost empty and useless to drive past, when I managed to get a holiday job in a supermarket at the last minute. I learned that Dutch people do not like paying money. They wait as long as possible before they pull their wallet. First they lay one by one, with a long queue of waiting people behind them, their groceries in the bag. Sometimes they secretly put a 30 percent discount sticker on an article, while that sticker was not on that product. When purchasing a new towel for example, they also want to choose which towel gives the most value for their money. Maybe it is at the bottom, so they’ll overtake the whole mountain for safety. Always give customers the same, even if they do not, I find difficult. They already help in Dutch. “Do you still have green beans?” An old man asked. I know quite well Dutch, but not when it comes to supermarket items. I did not know what green beans were, but because I did not dare to say that, I said, “No, sorry, sir, we do not have that anymore.” “The man looked at me. “That’s strange,” he said. “They are now with you!” He shrugged and walked on, along a huge pile of green beans. He turned around. “Sir! They’re just right here. ” It could not go on like that, I thought. If someone asks: “Do you also have kjsdfcxiou” (that sounds in my head), then I ask: “In which category is it? Sauces? Soups? Herbs? Then I will take you to the right subject.” Now that my vacation is over, I can stay for three evenings a week. My preference: working in the warehouse.
114 – Beach, the most beautiful place in the Netherlands
I can not believe that I am 2,5 years in the Netherlands and only now discover the most beautiful place in the country: the beach. A friend took me to Scheveningen. It looks great and everyone is very free. I went to the beach twice before in my life, in Syria. I found the atmosphere a bit nervous. On the spot where I was, men watched whether their wife was being watched. That is why I did my best not to look around. I did not notice anything about this in Scheveningen. People felt free, had fun and enjoyed the sea. I ate like a real Dutchman a bowl of fish, which after a few minutes by a big bird was picked from my hands. He flew away with it like that. Walking across the boulevard I called all my Syrian friends. ‘We have not seen the Netherlands at all yet! We have to go to the sea !!’ I see Facebook photos of Portugal, Italy or Croatia on Facebook. Now that I’ve seen the Dutch coast, I do not understand why you go there on vacation. Is that so that you can put on the internet that you’ve been there? Once at home I discussed with Syrian friends that we still do not know how beautiful the Netherlands is. So many Dutch people try to show the country to us through museums. The municipality, province and refugee work also send us there. Pooh, what have I gone through in museums? I actually do not like it, but I do not dare to say that. I look at pictures on a wall or a piece of bent metal in a display case. ‘Oh yes, very beautiful’, I say. But the Dutch sea, our young. That is really beautiful.
113 – “Why do you marry your nephew and niece?”
I regularly get asked by the Dutch. I assume that people with ‘you’ mean all Arab people in the world. But honestly, for me there was also a niece appointed. Then it often starts as a child. She was also aware of it, because when we saw each other she was first brushed for fifteen minutes in the hallway. For me it was immediately clear, that I shall really to marry her. I always said that I wanted to marry a girl with blue eyes, so it was clear to everyone that it would not be my niece anyway. My brother was assigned to her older sister. He was still lucky, because she was handsome. My brother is, like me, still single. ,,I do not marry her, because then I get stupid children”, he said to my parents. That is my generation, we no longer want those old customs.
A marriage between cousin and niece is usually an issue of money. If I marry a girl, my parents have to pay a dowry to her parents. We call that ‘mehur’. My parents have little money. In my case they could make an agreement with my uncle and aunt, with ‘deferred mehur’. This means that my parents only have to pay the mehur if I divorce from my niece. And because my parents assume that I do not, I can get married without it costing them money. A solution for poor people. If I have a date with a girl in the Netherlands, I will make it clear to her immediately that I have an Arabic background, but I am very westernized. Saves a lot of money. The ‘underprivileged’ from Syria are doing very well here. Studying, studying, studying, that is the motto that parents give their children. Studying is the hope for a good future for them, a ‘high’ position and a nice income. My parents said that too. They were hoping for a better life for me. I went to the university in Aleppo and graduated as a lawyer. When the war started in Syria, I left for the Netherlands. Now I have been here for almost three years and I have nothing. My diploma is not valid here. I am following a college education in the hope that I will be working somewhere as a thirty-something without work experience. Who does have work and an income? The Syrian hairdressers, the construction workers, the cooks. They do not have to study here again, because they learned a craft. It all became painfully clear to me at a network meeting of refugees and companies. On questions such as: ‘who can install a heater?’, All hands went up, but not mine. No company needs me, because the knowledge I gained in the legal profession in Syria is worthless here. In the Netherlands we are in a reversed situation as displaced Syrians. The ‘underprivileged’ from Syria are doing very well here. They can immediately exercise their profession again, have an income and can even go on holiday. The highly educated refugees with a diploma, the ‘opportunity rich’ in Syria, are sitting here on the couch. Those who are not too old are trying to get a diploma here again, like me. I look around me, and see the Syrian craftsmen with their lives on the ride. It brings me to the point that I want to give my children another advice later. Learn a profession, then you are safe. Anywhere in the world.
112 – Inspectors
The HAN (Highschool Arnheim Nimwegen) where I studied received visits from inspectors. People who wanted to know whether my training in industrial product design (IPO) is good. Sometimes they check that, the teacher said. It is striking that the government controls the government. I can not see that happening in Syria. It would give a signal that there is something to be checked. That something is not right, in a government school. The inspectors spoke to everyone. With teachers, students and management. Classmates told the inspectors what they want differently on the course. I was shocked by that. It would be very strange for me to tell a government inspector that something is wrong with a school that is also from the government. When a visit comes from the government in a Syrian institution, everything is prepared for it. It is not an inspection, but a working visit. School pupils or employees are chosen who can best tell how good the organization is. A party flag will be posted and we would all tell you how happy and grateful we are with our education and our work. The HAN teacher who read the feedback from the inspectors was not angry with the students. He even liked to read what he could do better. He said: ,,We can learn from each other. As a teacher you can never be complete, everyone has weak points.” It reminded me of my professor in Aleppo who once inadvertently checked his own answer model, and gave only a seven. No one dared to point it out, but we had seen his weak side.
111 – World Cup in Syria
The exams are over and I have not yet found a job, so there is plenty of time to watch the football matches of the World Cup. The match between Russia and Saudi Arabia was the best. People from Syria look with different eyes. Russia represents President Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia for everything that is against him. So if you show on the internet that you are in need of a loss of Saudi Arabia, hundreds of Assad proponents start talking about the lack of your upbringing and the character of your mother. That is part of the fun my roommate Ahmed and I have when watching the matches. Read comments on the internet. It brings out the deepest emotions of our countrymen and we laugh about it. Then we also hear on the Syrian state television: ‘Before we start the broadcast we want to congratulate Russia with the 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia’. Well, this is no longer about football. In Syria we also had a World Cup. I do not know if people remember that. We had a host of countries that qualified themselves, such as the United States, Canada, Jordan, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Qatar. We also had video referees. They interfered from a distance with our country, such as, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. More than 60 countries participated in this world championship in Syria. The playing field was very Syria and the ball the population.
Too bad the guests have never left.