0650-Anwar: columns 191 – 200

200 – In the darkest hour of the night I see myself studying medicine so that I can send my mother medicine.

“Mom! Mother? I beg you, wake up!” I called my mother who passed out on the line while calling. I was silent for three minutes, feeling paralyzed and looking helplessly at my mother. I thought this was the end for her. Later I spoke to my brother. “She has had this much more often since you had to flee.” She went to see a doctor in Aleppo a while ago. She told her that she is not the only one with these kinds of complaints. “All my patients have psychological problems after nine years of war. People have lost their homes, lost relatives or no longer see their children because they had to flee.”
The war in Syria not only cost many bodies, but also left horrific traces in the hearts and minds of the Syrians. Children, women and men have seen parts of the body and blood lying on the roads, their neighborhood being bombed. It has not resulted in blood and death alone, but in psychoses and depression among civilians.
“Your mother probably has a post-traumatic stress disorder,” said a Dutch doctor I know. A psychiatric problem is no longer something to be ashamed of in Syria, as it was before the war. Everyone is bothered by it now. Nevertheless, there are no good doctors in Syria for people with psychiatric problems. In recent years I have been able to offer good help to my mother from the Netherlands. I saved as much money as possible for her. When they no longer had a home, they could rent a new home. When food became very expensive in recent years, she could still buy it because I had provided her.
But now? I can’t sleep because I don’t see a solution. In the darkest hour of the night I see myself studying medicine, so that I can send my mother medicines from the Netherlands. I feel desperate.

199 – The cats used my house as a hotel to eat and pee.

“I don’t want her to run into other men and get pregnant, so I won’t let her go outside,” my friend Hasan told me. “But you can’t keep her inside forever, that’s abuse,” I told him. We were talking about his cat. Hasan and a friend came to stay. They had brought their pets. My housemate Ahmad and I are actually a bit afraid of animals. We didn’t want to be inhospitable either, so we decided that the animals could come along anyway. What could two little cats do to us, we thought. One of the cats is a cat. He tries to keep Hasan at home. The other is a hangover, stripped of its masculinity. I find that pathetic.
For two days at home, we only heard Ahmad scare the cats. That was his strategy to deal with the cats. I had another plan: to keep them as friends. I was sitting on the couch watching television when I suddenly smelled a foul odor. I asked the guest: “Do you smell that too?” “He said,” Oh oh, maybe he peed somewhere … “I immediately felt less friendship for those animals. They used my house as a hotel to eat and pee. I became increasingly angry with them, because I also had to get out of bed in the middle of the night to find the hangover outside.
I walked down the street and I said, “Kattie, pussie!” “When I met someone, I pretended to be singing. We found the hangover and took it home. I spoke to him sternly and told him to follow the rules of this house. “You are a guest here, my house is not a hotel.” “After my speech, the cat just walked away. As if I was talking to the wall.
After the friendly guests with their thankless cats left, I washed the house for days. Never again.

198 – Mothers see no other option than to marry off their daughters.

I’ve been hearing more and more about child marriage lately. Due to the difficult conditions in large refugee camps in Jordan or Turkey, this is becoming increasingly common there. The war in Syria and living conditions there have led many Syrian families to offer their daughters to wealthy men through a so-called “marriage”, most of whom are already married and older. Parents give away their daughters to save them from starvation. They receive a dowry in exchange for their daughter. The main reason for the increase in child marriages is the absence of the breadwinner in the family, which is often no longer visible due to an arrest or death. As a result, mothers see no option but to marry off their daughters to continue feeding their family’s mouths.
In addition, the girls in question often have poor prospects for the future, because they did not go to school due to the dangerous circumstances. All family members live in a tent, so the marriage applicant makes promises of roses, as we call it in Arabic. Rose promises about money, clothes and a decent life. The bride will live in a house away from the poverty of the camp. In the Netherlands, a lot of attention is paid to underage asylum seekers. They immediately go to school and learn the language quickly. Development is also being stimulated in other areas, such as music and sports. This provides relief in the burden of the parents; they know that their child will end up well. The Netherlands recognizes that shelter should not only consist of shelter and food. Underage asylum seekers are not a commodity here. I am so happy that these young people made it to the Netherlands. A sad fate follows for the girls who were left in refugee camps.


197 – The reality is that I already feel like an internship abroad in the Netherlands.

“I’m going to do an internship abroad,” said a classmate to our teacher when asked what her next internship would be. It seemed like a vacation to her, she said to me later. Combine holidays and school, well what shall I say about that. Going on holiday and discovering new places is part of Dutch culture. The holiday photos fly around my ears on social media.
Several people I know are doing internships abroad. And of course I have to see how much they like it. Yes, I am jealous. I can not help that.
An internship during your studies is new to me at all. In Syria, you only do that in medicine and nursing. You usually gain work experience after graduation. For example, I would start training with a lawyer when my law degree was completed.
“And you Anwar? Do you also want to do an internship abroad? “, A classmate asked me. A compliment, because apparently this student already thinks I’m so Dutch that she thinks it’s time for me to broaden my horizons. The reality is that I already feel like an internship abroad in the Netherlands.
If you see me as a Dutchman, then I am a Dutchman with 25 years of international experience. If you see me as a foreigner, then I am a person with four and a half years of international experience. Employers love that. Thanks to international (work) experience, you always have an advantage over other applicants. I hope that future employers in the Netherlands will find international study, work and war experience as relevant as a study holiday abroad. Because to go to another country to study again, I don’t think about it.


196 – My mother thought that her son would be shot in front of her eyes.

“Al-Nusra will come to attack the neighborhood tomorrow morning, take your parents somewhere else,” a friend told me seven years ago. He was a vigilante in our Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo. Al-Nusra is one of many parties to the war in Syria. They had a list of two hundred people who they wanted to pick up from our neighborhood. It would be people who worked for the Assad regime, the enemy of Al-Nusra.
When my friend gave the warning, it was already too late. It was not allowed to go from neighborhood to neighborhood in the dark, so we would also be in danger. We woke up early in the morning from shots. It was announced that people should stay at home. My mother panicked. The neighbors wanted to flee the neighborhood with us. Once on the street we came across a heavily armed vehicle that had its weapon aimed at us, because “don’t stay home despite the orders, makes you suspicious.”
A few people were picked from the pack to compare their names with the names on the list. My brother was one of them, he turned out to be on the list. My mother collapsed, she could no longer stand on her feet. She thought her son would be shot in front of her eyes. I approached the man and begged him to release my brother. Then everyone heard planes come over. Planes of Assad. The men affiliated with Al-Nusra knew they were in acute danger. They ran away. We also ran away from the men of Al-Nusra and from the bombs of Assad. On the edge of the district was a barrier with checkpoint from Al-Nusra. 100 meters away one of the Kurds and 100 meters further one of Assad’s regime. At each checkpoint, we declared our loyalty to this group to be passed. We looked back and saw the bombs falling on our neighborhood. Seven years ago, when I became homeless in my home country.

195 – I don’t have to cry, because I’ve seen my parents exclusively on my phone for years.

“I am curious how you are doing in this strange time,” an acquaintance told me during the video calling. By ‘you’ he meant the refugees. It has two sides to me. On the one hand, it is not difficult, because we have already experienced a similar situation. The difference is that you will not be worried during this crisis until a test shows that you have the coronavirus.
The result was immediately known in Syria: death from a bullet or bombing. Because of the planes and bombing we often had to stay at home and when we were outside we walked anyway anyway. Then there are fewer deaths in a missile attack.
A friend I spoke to was crying on the phone. “It is very difficult for me, Anwar, because I cannot go to my grandfather.”
Well what should I say then. I don’t have to cry because I can’t congratulate my grandfather. I have seen my parents exclusively on my phone for years. On the other hand, I am concerned about the corona virus in Syria. The health system is not good. If people become infected, in many cases it means that they die. That is my main concern now. If my parents get infected, I can make video calls with them for the last time. Then I would never see them again, I only think that to cry. The other way around, my mother is worried about me. She knows that her son cannot stay at home because I am a social person. During our last conversation I said to her: ,, To be able to cope with corona, a person must have a good immune system. Do you think that after five years of war, a flight in a dinghy and wandering through foreign countries, your son will die of a virus? I am not a computer dying from a virus! ” She laughed. I know it doesn’t work like that, but you say something to reassure your mom.


194 – I will continue with social distancing until I have an appointment with the hairdresser.

Wow, the hairdressers are open again. Happy! One of the important things about looking groomed is that your hair is in good shape. For corona I did my best to keep this neat. I was in the garden a week ago. I saw the neighbor cut her husband. I didn’t know she was a hairdresser, but apparently she wants to make a career switch. Unfortunately, after two hours it turned out that it had not worked out completely, so it became a Grapperhaus model. So bare. In the past few weeks it was easy to see who followed the measures and who did not. On the street you saw bald people, people who look like cavemen or people with a ruined haircut, who follow the rules. People with a perfect haircut I no longer trusted.
When I was little, I worked as a tea boy at a hairdresser’s for five months. So I am an experienced hairdresser. That is why my friend Basel, who pays close attention to his money, was cut by me, no matter how risky. My hairdresser also closed during corona, after which Basel offered to cut my hair too. It was a difficult decision, because the image of the neighbor with his bald head was still fresh in my memory. It’s better than nothing, I thought, and I accepted his offer. I told Basel to only update the back of my neck. Basel turned on the music to distract me and started using the clippers. After four songs, he was still busy. “Is everything still going well, Basel?”, I asked a bit worried. In a flash I envisioned myself shaving my head like the neighbor. I saw the result in the mirror. He had a kind of triangle shaved in my hair.

I think I will continue with social distancing, until I have an appointment with the hairdresser.


193 – The school is not only a place where I learn, it is also where I connect with others.

“Dear all, I quit my studies, because I can no longer find my twist and motivation in my studies,” a classmate told us. It’s a nightmare I get every night. Temporarily stopping and resting during this crisis means increasing study delay. I do not want that. However, it is not possible to find the same motivation as for the corona crisis.
The schools are closed to protect the students and to limit the number of infections. Staying at home and continuing to study, it turns out to be a knockout not only for me, but also for other students. The school is not only a place where teaching is given, it is also a place where I connect with others and learn from my fellow students. We inspire each other. That helps me enormously as a new Dutchman, because the way of learning in the Netherlands is very different from what I am used to. In the Netherlands, students learn to figure things out for themselves and to use the internet if they don’t know something. In Syria I am used to getting the material with an example, and then discussing it with fellow students and working on our assignments together. The solution of distance learning is the least bad solution out of a range of bad options. The system is being improved in the process. It remains difficult to live your life from your own room and to continue to develop. It’s like using a device at full power continuously. It will go just fine for a while, but after a while things will overheat and explode. It is a matter of waiting and biting through. Will I stay in my room forever because of the burnout I will soon have, or will I have finished my academic year despite the difficult circumstances?

Let’s hope for the latter.

192 – Is January 1 the birthday of all Syrians and corona babies?

“Biggest increase in births since World War II”. A headline for a newspaper in 2021. The corona crisis is causing the families and couples to spend more time together. The weather is nice, people do not have to work and have nothing to do. The often used excuses to get out of their homework, such as “honey, I have to get up early tomorrow” or “honey, I have a headache and I am tired”, do not apply now. It has now become really serious. This gives us a new baby boom: the corona babies!
When I was in Syria during the war, just like at any other time, children were born. These children were not immediately reported to the municipality, because it was closed because of the war. When the congregation reopened, all these children were registered with a date of birth from the first day of the month in which they were born, or just January 1, as with me. Syrian parents often report their child only months after birth, so that their child does not have to go to school immediately at the age of 6 and does not immediately go to the military with 18.
In the Netherlands, people in many places are initially identified by their date of birth. When I pass my date of birth here, people get confused. They get to see a long list of my countrymen, who all have their passport on January 1st. I wonder if, if the intelligent lockdown remains in effect for a long time, the Syrian way will be used to enroll all babies on the same day, January 1, 2022. Then January 1 will be the birthday of all Syrians and corona babies.

191 – Apparently saving money on children’s backs is something all parents do.

Of course we don’t do that in school uniforms in the Netherlands. Everyone is free to know what he or she likes, because there is freedom here. Funny, because in practice almost all students look the same. Branded clothes, wireless earphones, an expensive mobile. The school appears to be a fashion show. That’s why I’m a fan of school uniforms. No difference between rich and poor and it teaches children to be less attached to appearance. I especially notice the backpack in the Dutch schools. It is the same for everyone. An Eastpak. That brand is apparently the brand you should have here.
It reminds me of the first backpack I had in Syria, and the last. When I was little, I wanted to have a backpack like my classmates. But my parents had a different plan for it. An economic plan. A backpack that I could spend my whole childhood with, one for about ten years. My backpack was about the size of me. That’s how my parents chose my school uniform. One on the growth. I was known for my school uniform that looked like a dress and my huge backpack.
When I was recently on the phone with my mom cleaning clothes, I asked. Is that backpack still alive? My mom laughed. “Yes, I now use it as a suitcase. It’s really smart that I bought that bag for my child. He’s still good now!”

The Dutch are generally not poor, but they are economical. So I sometimes see the same economic savings plans here. I have a colleague at De Gelderlander who helps me with these columns. Her youngest son Otis mainly has to make do with his sisters’ belongings. Apparently saving money on children’s backs is something all parents do. Poor Otis, and poor me. We are victims of our parents’ economic plans.

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