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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.