“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.
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.
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.