150 – “Do you want a cucumber on your son’s face?” The pregnant woman says threateningly
Pregnancy is a normal period for a Dutch woman. She is working, she does the groceries, runs around with children, drives a car or is at the gym. Rarely do I see a helpful man in the neighborhood who supports her in carrying the child.
Syrian men fear the pregnant woman. Extra attention and pampering are needed for nine months. Every effort must be made to relieve the carrying woman. “I am so excited about mango” is a great comment in the summer. But pregnant Syrian women also dare to ask for ice, watermelon or almonds in the winter. “It’s your son asking for this, not me,” she will say. There are only seasonal products in Syria. There is no ice in the winter, or tropical fruit. Yet an expectant father will have to wander city after city in search of a shopkeeper with frozen fruit, vegetables or ice cream.
Why? Because Syrians believe that if the husband does not make it, a stain will appear on the child’s face in the form of the unfulfilled message. “Do you want a cucumber on your son’s face?” The pregnant woman says threateningly. People with spots on their face or body are asked throughout their lives: what did your father refuse to buy during pregnancy? Are pregnant women spoiled and do they think their unborn child needs an ice cream, a strawberry or pomegranate? Or has science really demonstrated that the sudden need for a certain product comes from the baby? Somehow the man feels that he is being fooled. But then he imagines his future child, with a spot on the forehead in the shape of a cucumber.
Just go to the store anyway.
149 – “Our marriage is based on a lie,” my mother always says.
“Hey, you still have the plastic around your fridge,” I told a Syrian friend I was visiting. “Yes, for my future wife,” he answered. I knew what he meant. He is still single, but if he ever gets married, he has to show his future wife new furniture. It is a thing from our culture. The man takes care of the house and the furnishings, the woman comes to inspect everything, even before the wedding. My parents still talk about that period of their lives on a daily basis. “Our marriage is based on a lie,” my mother always says.
When she visited my father’s house, before the wedding, there were beautiful furniture, kitchen appliances and a radio. She approved it. A few days after the wedding party, my mother’s family left for her native village. My mother started her new life with my father in Aleppo. The neighbors came to congratulate her. After the congratulation, they took a piece of furniture or other object in the house and left. My father, that smart guy, had borrowed the most beautiful things in the entire neighborhood to persuade my mother. As a poor man, he did not have much to offer himself. After the wedding, all those borrowed items were collected. My father is still laughing in his chair when he tells this. My mother harasses him that she should have known by then what kind of meat she had in the tub. “I should have left you, but I am so stupid that I stayed,” she always says with a smile.
If you want a Syrian woman, you better leave the plastic around the fridge. Then, even after ten years, it still looks as good as new.
148 – A party full of drugs in this watertight country full of rules, how is that possible?
I had a party. One that you would think took place in Cuba. Between drug bosses, traders and other top criminals. In reality it was a student party in Arnhem. Upon arrival I could choose: pay 5 euros for an evening with drinks, or pay 15 euros for an evening with drinks and drugs. All kinds of drugs were displayed on the table. I received a complicated explanation. All kinds of powders that had a different name and effect. I was shocked. I already knew in Syria that the Netherlands is known as a drug country, but drugs at a student party? What a chaos.
The party looked like a scene from an action movie. Drugs on the table, half-naked women and lots of drinks. Every moment I was expecting the police who, with my Arabic accent, would take me away. I quickly looked into my phone. Was the invitation to the party still in my WhatsApp? With that I could at least prove that I was not the organizer of this spectacle. It just kept going through my mind. If even students have and use this stuff, then anyone in the Netherlands can easily get it. In this watertight country full of rules. How is that possible? Is the government turning a blind eye?
I think freedom in the Netherlands is beautiful, but does it also mean that people are allowed to know for themselves whether they are breaking? Is it good to wait for people to report homeless and addicted to the municipality for benefits? As a government I would promote freedom, but above that: safety and health. Simply because is involved.
147 – Our integration system only works for the language schools: they get rich asleep.
Happy! From 2021, newcomers will no longer be in control of their integration. The municipalities are taking over. It is high time, because the integration of many refugees runs into the hundred. Everyone with a residence status now receives a maximum of 10,000 euros from DUO, and must complete a language course within three years. Is that not possible? Then you pay back the borrowed money. The latter is now the case. For many newcomers, the three years have passed, while there is no diploma. So they now have a debt.
The system only works for the commercial language schools: they get rich asleep. Furthermore, it works for nobody. The newcomers do not feel any guilt that is hanging over their heads. It’s not for nothing that there is a queue at the ATM every month, because Syrians want to have their money in their hands. It must be tangible, otherwise it is not there. A debt that only exists on paper, or that can only be viewed through a complicated system with a DigiD login code, is not a debt for many people. It is not tangible.
Of course, newcomers would also have to complete their studies on time without that imminent debt. Appointment is really an appointment here. We newcomers have to get used to it and make mistakes.
A Syrian friend went to visit relatives in Austria. He had not seen them for years. Despite this, the Austrian Syrians simply left for school in the morning and left their Dutch guests home alone. That’s where the deal is: every school day that has been missed is a 40 euro deduction from your allowance. See, that is tangible. That works! I hope that municipalities will think about that when they are in control. Comprehensible and tangible agreements.
146 – Anwar meets the animal ambulance: “Two large men with special clothes”
I step out the door, on my way to the supermarket in Arnheim Presikhaaf. On the sidewalk my neighbor is sitting on her knees. I walk over to her to ask what is going on. Then I see what she’s doing, she’s bent over with a cat. She talks to the animal. With a pathetic voice, as if she has a lot of compassion. The cat has wounds on its body, I see now. It is such a sad face, the woman and the injured cat, I would almost shed a tear. My neighbor picks up her phone and calls someone. She says what’s going on and gives us our address. Then she walks the cat to her house.
I went on to the supermarket to do my shopping. When I returned there was a big car in front of her house. “Animal ambulance” stood on the side. Two large men with special clothes got into the car, with the cat and a large bag in which they transported the poor beast.
I was reminded of my friend Basel when he was sick. We had to pass on all his details, look for a pass and come up with a pathetic story to convince the GP that he was really ill and needed help. We were hours later when a doctor finally looked at him. Looking at the sick cat, who was picked up within the time of a supermarket visit at home, I thought I would take a different approach next time. The Dutch believe in the theory of evolution. Humans and monkeys are almost equal and descend from each other. The next time I have a sick friend, I call the animal ambulance. ,, I have a very smart monkey here, who doesn’t feel well. Can you come quickly? “
145 – 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.
144 – 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.
143 – 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.
142 – Reducing CO2 emissions is useless if developing countries burn our mountains of plastic
The Dutch are very good at processing waste. A solution is found for almost everything. And if not, we will send our remnants to developing countries. When I was a student in Aleppo, I was happy with that. I often bought cheap second-hand clothing from Europe. Then you had something affordable and something special. Well organized, I thought. I now know better. Clothing surpluses, cars and computers are given to poor countries of Europe as a gift. While Europe also knows that second-hand items do not end up safely and sustainably.
We abhor CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, so we bring computers that we cannot recycle to Ghana. There they throw everything on a mountain and light it. Children then look for copper among the remains. That again yields something: especially health and environmental damage. I know it from Syria. There too, there is a large mountain of waste in every neighborhood where children in particular roam. Other countries donate our remains: it seems generous and sustainable, but it is not. Reducing CO2 emissions in Europe makes no sense if we allow people in developing countries to burn our mountains of plastic. If such a “gift” is already given to a developing country, I think we should also provide the knowledge and technology. If you do not give me the waste to Ghana, if my residence permit has expired, I will be happy to help. At a factory, for example, where Ghanaians recycle computers in a safe way. Europe is smart, so let’s act that way.
141 – Shall we just throw each other here in the gray tin when we die?
If more than forty Muslims come to your funeral to pray for you, then you were a good person, the prophet Muhammad said. Syrians actually work their entire lives on a funeral network. You visit weddings and funerals, so that the families visited also come from your own family at special times. That is why there will be no forty, but a thousand people. The link between you and the person you visit is sometimes very thin. ,, When my grandfather’s brother died, they were there too. So now we go to the farewell service in that family, “my father would say. Often the head of the family keeps a booklet with the amounts given. If you give a wedding for one of your children yourself, you know how much money you can expect in return. You look in your booklet and see exactly how much you have given to which families, so how much you can expect at your son’s wedding. A kind of savings system.
When my Syrian friends and I talk about this subject, we find it sad for our parents that they have now built a network for free. And for ourselves, that there are not a thousand people around our grave in the Netherlands. “Shall we just throw each other here in the gray click when we die?” My roommate suggested. We have seen our entire life and learned how it “should” be. If I introduce myself now in a wedding room with only a handful of people, I get the shivers. I think I’ll just ask the Arnhem municipal administration. Then I will visit all the funerals and weddings in the city soon. Who knows, I may not need a gray click later on.