180 – In Syria we are used to scorpions, but dogs are a different story.
I was having lunch with a few acquaintances. One of them asked: ,, Anwar, when my mother encounters refugees from her street while she walks the dog, they cross the street. Why do they react so exaggeratedly to my mother’s dog? “It was clearly an annoyance for him and his mother.” Why doesn’t she ask them? “I asked. “Well, she has no contact with them,” said the acquaintance.
I left my sandwich and sat ready for the explanation. “I don’t know what their reason is, but in general dogs in Syria are only there to watch. Our last years in Syria were bad. The people who were killed by snipers in the morning were eaten by aggressive dogs at night. So in the morning we heard fights and bombs, in the evening we heard dogs eating up the corpses.” It was quiet in the room. “Really!?” the knowledge asked.
“Yes, but faith also plays a role. When we were little, we learned from our parents that we are not allowed to pet dogs. Watchdogs and dogs with a herd of sheep are good, but otherwise you are never allowed to pet one. Every pat would mean a reduction in the number of good deeds in your life.”
“It takes a long time before we can replace our old image of dogs. In Syria we have many scorpions, we are used to that. Suppose Syrian family went for a walk with a scorpion. I think your mother is flying over the street in fear.”
He started to laugh. “Greetings to your dear mother and I hope she will chat with them next time. Then they may not be afraid of the dog, and your mother will not be afraid of her new neighbors.”
179 – The Dutch don’t want a man who lets you win at a game.
Presenting and debating is important in the Netherlands. It is part of the training on every course in the Netherlands. If you don’t speak the language well, this is an awkward moment. You are struggling in front of the class and it seems that everyone is trying to hold back their laughter. Debating is easier for me than presenting, because I can use my mouth well. And I always have an opinion. My roommate Ahmed came home from school and had a different experience with it. “We have had debate lessons. We got a subject and we have to sit in pairs in the next lesson and defend a position.”
He looked hard. His problem: he has to debate with a pretty girl. “Oeiii,” I said immediately. “Difficult.” Arabs among themselves understand the problem. We don’t say no to a beauty. Ahmed lost the debate beforehand, because winning means no more chances for the girl. “You have to act like Jack from “Titanic””, I said. “Help Rose and let yourself be drowned.”
We imagined how he already won in her proposal round, so that there was time left to talk and exchange songs. “If she says that all refugees must leave the country, I agree with her,” said Ahmed. “If necessary, I will set up an action with the PVV before her eyes so that she can achieve that goal.” We laughed. I said: “Ahmed, the Dutch unfortunately don’t like this. They want an attractive man, not one who lets you win at a game.” Here it would be sexist to let her win. “She just chose you because you don’t speak the language well,” I said. That comment had an effect. Ahmed has been preparing the debate for hours in his room. Sparks are now coming from his eyes. He is going to win this.
178 – Almost everyone has a Mercedes, and they only start driving when the music is loud.
In the first few weeks in the Netherlands I often went outside. Take a breath of fresh air, away from the asylum seekers center. I saw few blond people on the street. The men on the street looked alike because of the same hairstyle, golden glasses, thick cars and expensive clothes. I thought: well, the newcomers are doing well in this country. Then I’ll be fine too. Now I live in Arnhem Presikhaaf, where the majority of these described people also live. Almost every house you see a Volkswagen Golf or a Mercedes. The owner of the car is wearing pajamas, expensive sneakers and a small slanting bag around his shoulder. They only start driving when the music is loud.
I asked the neighbor: “Is that your car?” I pointed to his Golf. “Yes, brother,” he said. “And you also have your own house?” I asked him. ,,No brother, it’s a rented house. Look brother, I swear Allah, there is not a single girl that you are going to ask: is it your house? They do ask: is it your car? ” “So you don’t want to buy a house?” I asked. ,,What is this brother, buying a house is very expensive in the Netherlands. Are you crazy or so brother? From that money I can buy four houses in the country where I come from.”
I thought about his priorities and didn’t know what to think about it. I suddenly needed to go to the real Netherlands, so I got on the bus to the city. I saw a fellow countryman of mine, I know him from the asylum seekers’ center. “Hey, Anwar!” He greeted me. I looked surprised at what he looked like. Completely adapted to our neighborhood, because he was suddenly in pajamas, with a chain around, a short haircut and a slanting bag around his shoulder. I said, “Brother, stay away from me, otherwise I will destroy you, I swear Allah.” He laughed and understood that I was referring to his new appearance. He said: “Well, what a beautiful style, right?”
I still hope to find a house in a more Dutch neighborhood. If it doesn’t work out, I will also buy pajamas.
177 – She asked: “Then why didn’t you have earplugs in?”
I have to make a prototype for every design I make during my Industrial Product Design study. I designed a lamp for which I cycled to the HAN workshop. I brought my technical drawings. And before I went to the workplace, I put on my work clothes, safety goggles and a mask. No idea why all of them, but I was tired, did not want to whine, so I packed myself in completely. I looked like a surgeon who was going to do surgery. While sawing a very small piece of wood, an employee came to me. “Hey Anwar stop sawing.” I was already turning my eyes, what the hell? I had to put earplugs in from the inspector.
“It’s just a very small piece of wood,” I said. “Let me go.” The woman did not settle for my answer. “If you don’t put earplugs in your head, your ears will bother you tonight.” I thanked her for her attention. ,,But honestly, I am old enough to know what is good for me. I had a ring in my ears every night. Not from a small saw, but from war bombs. Do you think the romantic sound of a saw is bothering me?”
She returned to her own place and said nothing more. After half an hour she came to me. ,,Was the sound really that bad? Because the worst sound I’ve heard is a cracking bicycle tire”, she said. We laughed together. “You can’t describe how bad it was,” I said. ,,You are very lucky if the bomb does not hit you and you are still alive, but you do not hear anything for minutes. Only a beep as if it were the end of your life.” Her face was imprinted. “Then why didn’t you have earplugs in?” She asked. I noticed that I was dealing with a persistent health and safety officer. She even sees opportunities for her work in a war situation. Oh well, the girl was actually quite young too. “Fortunately I’m here now,” I said quickly. “Now I’m going back to work, otherwise I won’t finish my prototype on time.” The noise from the sawing machine filled the room.
176 – “Are you graduating about my life or something?”
Choosing a study in the Netherlands says relatively little. In many cases, a student stops again after one or two years of study. “It doesn’t suit me,” they say. Last year I met someone who wanted to interview me for a school assignment about refugees. He studied social work. A year later the same boy called me again. Whether he could interview me for a school assignment. “Can you interview me multiple times for your school assignment?” I asked. “Are you graduating about my life or something?” He laughed. ,, No, I’m doing a different education now. I didn’t like social work.” There are even people who have done more than three different courses, but nothing has been completed. The challenge was not there, or “not that interesting”. “Are you still doing Industrial Product Design?”, People ask me. “Do you still find it interesting?” I am almost urged to look a little further.
In Syria you are only allowed to change an education once in your life, and then nobody does. It doesn’t suit me either. If I want to do something else, I first finish what I was doing. We believe that a challenge is part of everything and that it is a waste of your time to change studies every time. In Syria, too, no one believes it when you say, “I didn’t find it that interesting anymore.” “You say that the grapes are not yet ripe for picking, but actually they are just too high for you. You cannot reach it.”
But in advance: because I cannot say no, I will continue to help students with school assignments on refugees, even if it is for a different study each year.
175 – A wrong judgment about a refugee in the Netherlands is quickly made.
Not only by Dutch people, but also by people who did not flee. Some Syrians who stayed behind in a war zone think they know exactly what life is like here. That sometimes scares me, it is also painful. They think that we wake up in the morning, walk to the money tree in our garden and pick 50 notes. Then we start our day calmly. “Your son Anwar has bought an expensive mobile for you, he is really rich now,” people tell my mother in Aleppo. Nobody thinks I bought that phone for her because I miss her and want to call her for longer than two minutes, because her battery has run out. That I don’t want to see her in cubes, but sharp. She was crying with happiness when she got it, because it’s a gift from me. Now she is sleeping in bed with her phone. We call more than ever.
I am sad that people I left behind think that I am a kind of Justin Bieber who manages it. Even if I had it all done, money, fame or things are never things to envy. “Hang that message in your ears like an earring,” we say in Syria. Because what do I want with a room when I am alone? What can I do with nice clothes if I don’t have anyone who tells me it looks good? My mother and I try to slide all our comments away. Thanks to the good wifi signal, we can finally make a good call. It also has disadvantages that my mother sees me sharp again. ‘Anwar, why do you have those red eyes, did you drink? Did you cry? ” Mmm okay.
I think the wifi signal is almost out …
174 – Drops typically Dutch? Because they are so cheap for sure.
If you visit a Dutch family as a new Dutchman, you will get products that are typically Dutch. Drops for example, and syrup waffles. Man, how many drops and waffles I had. I almost see stars. At one point I was even at a point that I would probably leave before the dessert came with the tea, because I didn’t want to chew through those stiff liquorice again. Especially with old people, the liquorice often stand behind a spice rack in a rusty old can. A glance is cast and yes, there are still liquorice for our Syrian guest. While I get stuck in the hard liquorice, I get to hear a story about this typical Dutch product.
Conversely, I also want to introduce Dutch people to typical Syrian products, such as pistachio, soap, the za’atar (a spice blend) and Aleppo Sweets. The latter are Syrian sweets. They are considered the best in the Levant region. The name of that region is not so well known here, but it is something that you have with ‘Europe’. The Levant consists of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Now the only problem is that those Syrian products are super expensive in the Netherlands. I am bankrupt if I make two visits a week and take soap or sweets from Syria. Suddenly I started to wonder if liquorice and syrup waffles are really typical Dutch products. Or are they only chosen because they are cheap.
Now that I have been in the Netherlands for four years, I feel so Dutch that I also take a big drop of 1 euro with me when I visit. Well, you’re not the only one who’s smart.
173 – In Arab culture, the family is only ideal after the birth of a male child.
Most people in the Netherlands want a female child. And if they have two children, they want a son and a daughter. That is the ideal family and they call it a royal wish. In Arab culture, the family is only ideal after the birth of a male child. A Dutch acquaintance of mine has three boys. “Wouldn’t you rather have a daughter, rather than your last, failed son?” I asked. We laughed together. His last child is my best friend Gijs. “I am happy with my children,” he said, and the most important thing is that they are healthy.”
The birth of a man is an important event in the lives of most Arab families. Especially for the father who regards it as an event that is worth celebrating. It can even be celebrated months before birth if the gender is revealed.
In the past, some women refused to say gender because they were reluctant to criticize if it was a girl. Now it is no longer that old-fashioned, but a woman gets a lot of compliments when she does give birth to a boy.
The boy is a guarantee for his parents. They consider him a project that needs more attention and a good education, because the girl leaves when she gets married. A father sees himself in his son and wishes that he achieves what he has not achieved in his youth.
The son becomes a loyal friend he can trust. Even if his health becomes poor. Then the son becomes the extension of his father and the patron of the house. He bears his name and will take care of the family, even if the father dies.
There are no such guarantees in the Netherlands. Not if you have a daughter, not if you have a son. Children learn to live their own life apart from their parents. So now I am free of preferences. A boy, a girl, a rabbit, it doesn’t matter. As long as they are healthy.
172 – “Malburgen is a knife with two sides”
If I walk around in a neighborhood that the Dutch think is a disadvantaged neighborhood, I feel at home. Malburgen, for example, a neighborhood in Arnhem that many would rather walk around. It is a neighborhood just like a knife. One with two sides. It seems as if the knife cuts in the middle of the neighborhood. On the east side are the houses for sale and the working people, on the other side there are many unemployed immigrants. Nuisance, poverty, drug use and crime form the picture from that side.
I met a lady who has been living there for nineteen years and can barely speak Dutch. Only a few Dutch families live in her area. It is also strange that families with children live in a flat, while single people without children live in a house with a garden.
I recognize the negative side of the knife from my own childhood. I lived in a poor area of the Syrian city of Aleppo. We lived in an apartment building without a garden. All workers packed together in a neighborhood. Because we all had a low income, we supported each other.
A teacher in the neighborhood taught the poor children in the neighborhood, a carpenter made the broken door of his neighbor for free. We were hospitable and looked after each other.
The children who grew up in my time, almost all went to college later. I also see these possibilities in the youth of Malburgen. The people in the Arnhem district are also hospitable, look at each other and take care of the youth in the neighborhood together.
The comment of the old woman who barely spoke Dutch was significant. “I don’t want to move. I will stay here until I die.”
171 – People keep all receipts as if they have to prove to their partner where the money is going
When a Dutchman is shopping, he always asks for the receipt at the checkout. Viewing and checking the receipt is not the end of the buying process. People keep all receipts as if they have to prove to their partner where the money is going.
In the house of my Dutch mother Gerda is a room that is theoretically an office, but in practice a sort of warehouse. Years of old papers and receipts are mixed up. It is chaos. Every time I offer to clean and tidy her room, she says: “No, my husband Erik knows exactly where everything is.”
A while ago I registered with the Chamber of Commerce to start my own business under the title AnwarVerbindt. This way I can earn money in a decent way with the chores that I do or lectures that I give. That is instead of the Tony Chocolate lonely chocolate that I always get as a thank you, that has almost given me diabetes. I find it difficult to start such a warehouse. A room full of receipts with which I can prove to the tax authorities what I have issued or received. And then paying tax on work that you have done yourself, terrible!
I didn’t think it was fair. Erik, the man from Gerda, helped me with my declaration and gave me a different perspective on the case. “I’m happy if I have to pay a lot of taxes,” he said. “That means that I have earned a lot.” Good point. Moreover, no one can say to me anymore: we pay for you. No, it is not. I have been here four years now and have been paying tax for two years. Hopefully for people who need it more than me.