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I am starting to look like you and become a real frugal Dutchman

In the Netherlands, the Prime Minister goes to work by bicycle. I know that image. Slowly I got used to the sober Dutch culture. Dutch people who are powerful do not have to show that with things. What they say or do is important here, not the size of their house, palace or car. I was hardly surprised when I recently saw the mayor of Arnheim shopping in my supermarket in Arnheim Presikhaaf. I thought it was a beautiful sight.

Now that I, as a newcomer, think I know the country and its habits, I suddenly see events that surprise me. I was invited on a public holiday for all volunteers from Refugee Intermidiate Workers. The party was at the Burgers ’Zoo in Arnheim. Half the zoo was rented and we were allowed to eat and drink as much as we wanted. Free. I didn’t understand anything. There is never any money at Refugee Intermidiate Workers? That’s why volunteers don’t get paid? Then why suddenly such a huge party that costs so much money? And what should we do at the zoo?

I had experienced it before. As a volunteer at the Eusebius Church in Arnheim we worked for three days on the preparation of an event of the municipality of Arnhem. A truck brought chairs, posters and special websites were designed, all for one afternoon. The municipality had something to present and wanted to do it at a special location. But the town hall is next to the church, the halls are beautiful there and the coffee is free from the machine. A good idea does not suddenly improve if it is presented at an expensive location. I am starting to look more and more like you. I am becoming a real economical Dutchman.

A goal in mind

I wanted to become an architect from an early age. I didn’t have enough points on my final exam in Syria to be able to study architecture, so I studied law. Once in the Netherlands I was advised not to study architecture here either, because there is not enough work to do. Well, everyone who reads my columns more often knows that I shall die because I am not able to find work as a lawyer, so I chose a different study program: Industrial Product Design at HAN. Some students in my study are allowed to do an internship with interior architect and product designer Kees Marcelis. Oh, I am a fan of his work. Sometimes, if I have no inspiration, I swipe through his designs for a while. At HAN it is a reason to walk with your nose in the air, if you can do an internship at Marcelis. I sent him a message on Facebook, to compliment him on his work and to ask if I could come and talk. “The Dutch never do that,” he told me later when I came to see him. ,,That is why you are very welcome. Nice that you just ask directly.”

His house, near the central station in Arnhem, was a work of art in every corner. He designed everything himself, from the stove to the lamp, to the walls and tables. I think that is great to do. And best of all: he said that as interns he prefers people from our education, because we are technically focused but we can also think creatively. I went to him uncertainly and without much hope for the future and went home as a proud IPO student. I have seen what I want to achieve and I feel it will work.

How can the people here not go to paradise?

Muslims go to heaven. Non-Muslims do not go to paradise. I always learned it that way. I thought that was fine, because I didn’t know any non-believing people in Syria. It was easy to believe that “the rest” would not go to paradise with us. The war in Syria changed the plan for my life. No longer do I spend my days between Muslims alone, because I came to the Netherlands. Here I live among “the rest”. Here I meet lovely people who take care of me, invite me into their house, cook for me, help me start up in the Netherlands and I even met a couple who took me home. All non-Muslims. Do they then earn nothing through these good deeds?

My Syrian friends in the Netherlands struggle with the same thoughts. How can the people here not go to paradise? They can’t help it that they were born here? That they don’t know Allah and can’t read an Arabic language?

When we pray, we all ask that question. We do not want to question the doctrine as we know it, but we feel so much sadness when we think of all the lovely people who do not go to heaven with us. “Together out, home together,” we joke. A Dutch friend said to me: if you look at it that way, it will be much nicer in hell, right? I thought of my friend Gijs, who makes me smile every day. When he comes to hell, it is indeed very pleasant there.

I’d rather go to heaven together with everyone. Our God is known as the great forgiver. I hope he is so forgiving that he turns a blind eye to the Dutch.

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