Dutch and congratulations? ‘I do not get it’
Get well soon! Happy Birthday! Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! The Netherlands has a standard wish for every event. Arabic has a lot of words. You always have to say something different. Especially if you wish someone something. Then it must be personal and poetic. When my mother is ill, I come up with a story. “A bird flies high from the sky, lands on your shoulders, sings a song for you, and wishes all bad things to stay far away from your heart.” This story has to rhyme and be thought up especially for her. You may not arrive with a standard verse.
If you wish someone a good New Year, the story must be focused on his or her life. You can not wish the same every year, because every year is different. You have to take into account the bond you have and quote examples of nice or emotional things that you have experienced together. With astonishment, I see on Facebook that sick Dutch people get typed a hundred times ‘get well’ in their timeline. The crazy thing is, the sick person also feels strengthened. “Thank you for your kind comments!”, You read. Just like olds, who after a hundred messages with only the text ‘congratulations’ feel ‘a huge anniversary of all your messages’. I do not understand it, but my Dutch friend Gijs came up with a logical explanation. “Anwar, you know how Dutch people are,” he said. ,, We love rules and structure. It’s nice to know what you have to say at what time. And it is also easy, with few words ready quickly! “Oh well, he’s right. And I do not know many Dutch words at all.
Happy holidays all!
When I see pictures of how Syria used to be before the war, I remember how beautiful green it was. In Aleppo there was a beautiful park with large trees. In spring and summer, people sat in the shade eating or playing cards, while their children rolled through the grass and played. Musicians played music and all kinds of food were sold. In the fall and winter people used the park to shelter from the rain. The leaves were so thick that the raindrops barely got through. Even in bad weather, the park was full of families and friends, who shared appointments and whole days with each other in nature. Everything has changed since the war. Parts of families have been killed or fled. The people who are left out do not dare to go outside anymore. The park is no longer safe. The large trees that once adorned the park were used to light the stoves in the houses. The trees that have not been burned are cut out as a precaution, to prevent sharp shooters in the middle of the city from hiding. When I walk through Sonsbeek in Arnhem, I see how strong and beautiful nature is. Then I keep hoping. Hope that plants do not care about war, snipers and safety. Hope that new trees will struggle through the debris and make new parks. Parks where families can eat in the shade and maps and where children can roll and play through the grass. Parks where the trees are so beautiful and so big that you can not only shelter from the rain, but also before the war.
Being smart does not pay off in politics.
I like to watch the NPO Politics channel. I learn words and try to discover what they say about ‘us’, the refugees. I still hope that legislation will be put in place that will allow me, for example, to bring my parents to the Netherlands. I also follow Syrian politics from here. The difference with the Netherlands is huge. I noticed during the debates in the Dutch House of Representatives that politicians in the Netherlands are smart. They have good arguments, think carefully and use difficult words. It works the other way around in Syria. People who are smart have little power. And you usually do not see them back in the government. The smartest among us are the doctors and the technicians. They are never the boss, because they are controlled by people who have studied something lager, such as business economics. The Syrian police officers and soldiers come a little lower. No studies, but people with more power and influence than the business economists, doctors and technicians together. Then we reach the very lowest step: the unskilled farmers. They have the most powerful power. The president has a famous statement: ‘The earth is for the farmer who works on it’. That is why 40 percent of the government consists of farmers. That is easy for President Bashar al-Assad. These unskilled workers can not read in most cases, do not ask critical questions and raise their hands in a vote at times when the president wants it. If you look at it like this, the president is the smartest.
‘What does a resident of Aleppo have to look for on the Arnheim Korenmarkt?’
More than a week ago I surfaced in an article by the editorial staff of De Gelderlander about discrimination. I was refused at a pub at the Arnheim Korenmarkt because the porter on my identity card saw that I was born in Aleppo. People who responded to the article did not speak about the refusal based on my origin, or about the porter’s motives or about the owner’s reaction, which called me “an idiot” because I had filed a complaint.
I wanted to answer that I had received an invitation from someone who celebrated his birthday in that cafe. I had not been at the Korenmarkt for a year, I have a serious life and just wanted to go to a friend’s birthday. A little later I realized of course that I should not respond at all. The need to justify me remains. That I have to explain why I filed a report, why I was at the Korenmarkt and why I actually am here anyway. Sometimes it feels like my contribution in the Netherlands should only be positive. The reaction of the man also touched me because I am afraid that now there is the impression that I am walking around the Korenmarkt three times a week. While I chose the Netherlands because I have the freedom to say, think and do what I want. Only when I really dare say so: I am integrated!
I have not had to brush my shoes here yet.
Lego, who does not like that? The Dutch are not played with it. Building houses is just like playing with Lego. A house will be clicked together within two months. I am used to it that it takes a year for a building to stand. Layer by layer it is built up, there must be weeks to wait until the cement is well dry. They are solid, thick buildings in Syria. You will never hear an upstairs neighbor walk around, let alone a few tripping mice. Sounds good, from those sturdy houses. But it is also awkward. A renovation is almost impossible. A piece of cake in the Netherlands. If I drill a hole in the wall, I can already wave to the neighbors, so to speak. If there is a problem with the water supply in Syria, you will be in trouble for a long time. The street is closed for weeks and broken open, with heavy, large drills. Dust drops down all over the neighborhood, you can hardly see through the windows. Due to the thick layer of concrete in Aleppo, rainwater is difficult to drain. Sand comes from the desert, so soon there is mud everywhere. Brushing shoes is a daily activity in Syria, because people with decent shoes can see that they live in a luxury street or own a car. I cycled past a building in Arnheim that was demolished. There was a machine that sprayed with water. This ensured that the fabric did not roam around the whole neighborhood. Very nice Netherlands, and smart! Since I’ve been here, I have not had to brush my shoes.
Risks do not belong to life in the Netherlands.
I came to the Netherlands for safety. A good choice, because risks do not belong to life in the Netherlands. If a tile is loose in the street, a team sets off the street. Warning signs and lights show road users from far away: something is wrong here. People in protective suits and with helmets put everything right again. At my school, the HAN (Highschool Arnheim Nimwegen), they do not take safety light either. When I had to see a board last week, I first had to dress up as a clown. With large glasses, heavy shoes and a safety vest. Cutting can not be done independently, because I did not get a safety certificate. The Dutch language used in the exam was still too difficult for me. Logically, a Dutchman thinks. You can not work with devices without papers. With me in such a situation comes some Syrian impatience. I know how to deal with machines. I never throw away a defective device at home. I turn everything apart and puzzle until I know how to fix it. Saves money and it’s fun. At home I made my own workshop with a saw machine.
I do it at home, I think grumpy. I cycle home at the end of the afternoon and see, just like in the morning, construction workers build a gantry. Suddenly I see it differently. Yes, it is a hassle for the construction workers. Working all day on a safe working environment and not taking a step in the actual renovation. But that is actually beautiful. In the Netherlands, it’s all about people first, and then about the work.
How much more beautiful is a bouquet with different flowers.
I come from the best country in the world. Syria. Writing, they did that in our country as first ever, just like making fire. We have so much oil, the rest of the world can only dream of that. And then our position in the world: so central that everyone has to go past or over us. What a happiness and a coincidence, that I just come from that very best country in the world. Until I came to the Netherlands, and here noticed that the Dutch also think that they come from the very best country in the world. And I saw with a distance that Syria might not be good at everything. Funny, that most people in the world learn from an early age that they ended up in a very special country. And you, as a child, are fortunate that you have just been born in that special culture. “Choose a woman with the same skin” is an expression in Syria. What we mean: look no further, but choose a Syrian woman. One with our skin. Many Dutch people also prefer someone ‘with the same skin’. In recent years I have learned how beautiful it is to look further. I did that myself, but I see Dutch people doing the same. When I make new Dutch friends, I hear afterwards: “I had such a different image of Muslims / refugees / Syrians.” The ideas we have about each other are quickly negative, while reality turns out to be much more beautiful. If we put a lot of the same flowers together in a vase, you get a bunch. But how much better it is when a florist puts all sorts of colors and types together. Then you do not have a bunch, but a beautiful bouquet.
The Netherlands and rules. Sometimes it seems they are alone to bother you.
My debit card does not work anymore. The magnetic strip is unreadable, said the pin device. It happened Saturday night, so I had a problem until Monday. I bought some food from my last cash euros. On Monday I went to ING to request a new pass. An employee showed me how I could do that via my phone. I had to enter my PIN code into my ING app and then could request a new card. ,,It takes four working days”, the woman said. “Then you will receive the card at home”. I asked if I could then withdraw 50 euros. ,,Can I see your ID for that?”, she said. I gave her my travel document. “No, this is not valid”, she said. ,,I need a passport, an identity card or your residence permit”. I have lost my residence permit. I have reported this to the police, it takes three months before I have a new one. “But ma’am, my travel document is of the same value”, I said. ,,It is an official document from the municipality of Arnhem. Moreover, you have just seen that I am really Anwar, because I have entered my PIN code and my bank account”. “It’s just the rules”, said the woman. ,,But what should I eat from?”, I asked. She said: ,, You can ask if you can transfer 50 euros to someone. Then withdraws the one for you”. ,,Oh yeah, I want that”, I said. “I’ll immediately transfer 50 euros to you.” The woman: “No, you have to ask your friends”. “But my friends are at Rabobank. Transferring takes one day”. The woman shook her head. ,,Unfortunately, I can not do anything for you.”
The Netherlands and rules. Sometimes it seems they are alone to bother you.
Your mother has been operated, the neighbor wrote from the hospital in Aleppo.
My mother has breast cancer. At least that’s what I think. I suddenly received a message from my parents’ neighbor last week. She was in bed with my mother, in a hospital in Aleppo. “Your mother has undergone surgery,” she wrote. I had my mother on the phone almost every day that week, but she told me nothing about her operation. ,,You could have noticed”, said my mother. ,,I said in the last conversation several times that you had to take good care of your brother? I thought I was going to die during the operation”. My mother is being operated, she does not know when that will be, only that there was something very big in her chest that had to be removed immediately. Last summer it became known that the woman of the president in Syria, Asma al-Assad, has breast cancer. As she undergoes her treatments, she has given all women in Syria the opportunity to also test for breast cancer. My mother also went and was told that she had to be operated immediately the next day. “What have I done to get this life?”, m y mother said. “First the poverty, then the war, my one son far away and my other son in hiding for the army. And then I’m still seriously ill now”. It all hurts. That she is ill, that she loves her life so much and that I did not know anything about her illness. Although it is painful, I understand. In recent years there have been times when things did not go well for me. I did not tell her that either, because I did not want to worry her. If I ever get a daughter, I call her Suhaila, after my mother. I hope I can give that girl the life my mother wanted.
I myself am 28 years old, and am still on the platform.
Women in the Netherlands, sometimes I feel sorry for them. Parents teach their daughters that there are many liberties for them. They can work, study, cut their hair, everything they want. Personal development is the highest good. I spoke with a friend of almost 40 years. She has everything she wants. A car, a house and a good job. “Anwar, I got a lot of things,” she said. ,,But I am alone. I have no husband or children”. There are many women like her. They have completely plunged into their personal development. If they are very far with it, they only look around. With whom will I share my life? Sometimes it is too late, because they can no longer have children. “The train has already left for you,” we say in Arabic.
In Syria you learn as a girl from an early age how you can take good care of your future family. You learn that it is important to start your own family. A Syrian woman will not look up suddenly at the age of 35 and realize that she is alone. Her life focuses first on creating a family. This is followed by personal development. It is an order that appeals to me because there is always time for personal development. That train is never gone. I myself am 28 years old, and am still on the platform. I hope, as often in my life, on the best of both worlds. A woman who develops personally but in the meantime looks up. Then we take the train together.
The Syrian is just working here, and now suddenly a bomb in the building.
If you live in the Netherlands, it can sometimes be that you have a lot more appointments than you actually can handle. Because you said ‘yes’ to all kinds of requests five months ago and thought: ‘I’ll see that’ … So I’m in a busy month. At the same time my internship started at industrial park Kleefse Waard in Arnheim. I was working on my internship report when a woman came into the study room. ,, Pack your things and leave the building as quietly as possible. A bomb has been reported in this building. People came in with special suits and we were set up outside. I immediately felt shame. Would people think I did it? The Syrian Anwar is just working here, and now suddenly a bomb in the building… I saw an other Syrian boy who worked in the building. He said in Arabic: “Could you no longer have been able to wait with this? Now it falls on this …” Let’s not just stand together, we thought. I felt guilty and did not want to make us extra suspicious. A little later we were all sent home.
The next morning I received an email from my internship address. ,,Have you all had a nice free afternoon yesterday? Yesterday there was an exercise in our building, where there was supposedly a bomb in our building. ” I could beat myself for my head. An exercise… of course. That is the Netherlands. The next time I do not really kick in and say: “Yes, I know there is a bomb threat. But I’d rather die, so I’ll just sit down. “
Then I get my internship report at least.
I can hardly believe that there is so much freedom.
For a moment it seemed that the war in Syria would not change anything. President Bashar al-Assad still at the helm, only with a lot less subjects. Now that he is rebuilding the country, he is the first to start restoring all the statues of his father. Well, there we go again. Yet the country has changed very quickly in recent years. When I watch Syrian television, I regularly get my home and compatriot Ahmed to share my surprise. Journalists in news programs ask the government critical questions, on television! Presenters of entertainment programs take to the streets and ask people: “What do you think about cohabiting?” “A revolutionary question, in Syria. During the war that revolutionary atmosphere arose. Wild parties were given in cities. People danced in the street and drank alcohol. That atmosphere has now lingered. My mother recently told me on the phone: “Anwar, you’re missing a lot here. The women show more of themselves and are very beautiful. ”
I look at the changes with slight suspicion. I can hardly believe that there is so much freedom. Can you suddenly ask the government critical questions? Or does that only apply to television, and should actually be said: “Do not try this at home”? And women who dance on the streets and are not covered, do all men understand that these women only have fun, and want to be left alone? Sometimes I am afraid that this new freedom is like electricity. If suddenly there is a lot of release, the lamps will snap.
My state examination at level B2 is done. I wonder if I made it. In the listening exam I heard an old grandfather and grandmother say something with a crackling voice. I did not understand it. When I left the examination room in Eindhoven, fortunately I was not the only one who had found it difficult. I ran into the city to blow off steam. There were soldiers lined up in the city center, with weapons. Never before have I seen such a scene. They laughed and let everyone who wanted it sit on their arms. I was there and asked if I could take a picture. ,,Of course, that is what we are here today”, said a soldier. I asked if he liked his work. ,,Yes, great work”. The soldiers looked happy and proud. In Syria I often had to deal with soldiers during my volunteer work at relief organization UNHCR. I can already see that I would sit on their arms and ask them if they like their work.
From childhood I have learned never to talk to soldiers, to look at them or to get in the way. Their eyes are not happy or proud either. Rather black and evil. Not because they have always been like that, but because they became like that during the war. Such a military position in the city center would be inappropriate in Syria. Then you get: “Look, with this we have killed your uncle” and “With this weapon we have thrown your house down”.
The soldier asked me if I want to join the army. I said: ,,If this is what the army does in the Netherlands, then it seems nice to me”. The man looked at me from head to toe. ,,You have to weigh 65 kilos before you can work with us. So go eat first, boy.”
The new Syrian students at the HAN (Highschool Arnheim / Nimwegen), I feel sorry for them. I felt the same way a year ago. Lost and stupid. In the first month of a study the language level is getting used to. My roommate Ahmad said: ,,I sat in front so that I could hear the teacher well. Then he gave me the turn! I had understood nothing of the question. I felt so stupid towards the rest of the class. It is as if they are treating the Koran, it is that difficult.” (The language level in the Arabic Quran is very high and sometimes difficult to understand).
A year ago around this time, I was able to hang crying at the local government desk. “Please, please, take me back.” But I continued. At the end of each lesson I asked a classmate: :Do you want to write down for me which chapters we have handled and what kind of homework we have received?” At home I continued to translate, read and learn until midnight. That is how I got my first year. I try to cheer up my friends and tell about my development last year. ,,How should I develop then?”, Mahmoud said. ,,We have to do something at home, but I have no idea what”. Ahmad: ,,And during a lesson about Excel, they skipped the first six steps because ‘everyone who knows’. But I am not Anwar, I do not know those first six steps. So I made some sound on my keyboard throughout the lesson, so as not to stand out.”
Yet I am confident. Syrians are like an arrow from a bow. First backwards, then full speed ahead.
Whining, the Dutch are good at it.
Syrians also hear, but we only complain about food. We love our stomach and can endlessly talk about where the food was good, and where not. Dutch people complain about everything. The favorite subject is the weather.
‘It’s always cold, we have to spend weeks on holiday to the sun to recharge!’ Now it was hot all summer and everyone complained after all. Our grass is burning! The animals have a hard time and the leaves are already falling from the trees! On such a hot day I walked across the street with a newly purchased fan under my arm. People in the street clung to me in despair: “Where did you get them? Are there any more? ” It reminded me of the times in Syria that there was no bread. When you saw someone walking in the street with bread, you rushed over to ask where it came from.
Work is also a favorite complaint topic. The boss is not nice, the colleagues are not collegial and the wages too little. In Syria we have an expression that we use when someone nags. Because a tailor makes your clothes exactly for you, we say to someone who whines: ‘I’ll go tailor-made for you.’ What we actually say: life does not always exactly meet your needs and is not always ‘tailored’ for you.
The good news is: if the Dutch suffer from something, they think up solutions. It is not for nothing that this country is so good with water. Another three times a summer and the Netherlands becomes a heat expert. One very large curtain across the Netherlands? I wonder what you are coming with.
A day in Amsterdam made me a bit panicky.
Is the capital a look into the future? Is what I see now in Amsterdam in ten years across the country? In that case I am not on the right track.
I walked into a store with a bag full of new clothes. Just before that, I had bought the wrong size. I did not have the receipt, so I wanted to explain that I had accidentally taken too large a size and would like to exchange it. I started my story at the checkout. “No Dutch,” she said. “Oh,” I said, “is there someone else who speaks Dutch?” “No”, the woman said.
I turned around and asked customers behind me if anyone could speak Dutch. They looked at me questioningly. No, no one understood me. Because I can hardly speak English, I started to portray everything. That the clothes are very big, but I am very small. That I had said at checkout: “A coupon does not have to be.” “The woman looked at me with a sigh, but had understood me by now. Exchange was allowed.
I went for a drink outside. There was a note on the window of the cafe: the café was looking for staff. Requirements: very good command of the English language and possibly knowledge of Dutch. The courage sank even further in my shoes. Is this how it will soon be everywhere in the Netherlands? Or is Arnhem the only city where Dutch is the basic language? I already see myself trapped in Arnhem. Everywhere is work, but I can not go anywhere because I do not speak English. ‘It starts with language’, is shown on all folders of my integration. True, but they should have told me which language.
Sometimes they secretly put a 30 percent discount sticker on an article.
My summer seemed almost empty and useless to drive past, when I managed to get a holiday job in a supermarket at the last minute. I learned that Dutch people do not like paying money. They wait as long as possible before they pull their wallet. First they lay one by one, with a long queue of waiting people behind them, their groceries in the bag. Sometimes they secretly put a 30 percent discount sticker on an article, while that sticker was not on that product. When purchasing a new towel for example, they also want to choose which towel gives the most value for their money. Maybe it is at the bottom, so they’ll overtake the whole mountain for safety. Always give customers the same, even if they do not, I find difficult. They already help in Dutch. “Do you still have green beans?” An old man asked. I know quite well Dutch, but not when it comes to supermarket items. I did not know what green beans were, but because I did not dare to say that, I said, “No, sorry, sir, we do not have that anymore.” “The man looked at me. “That’s strange,” he said. “They are now with you!” He shrugged and walked on, along a huge pile of green beans. He turned around. “Sir! They’re just right here. ” It could not go on like that, I thought. If someone asks: “Do you also have kjsdfcxiou” (that sounds in my head), then I ask: “In which category is it? Sauces? Soups? Herbs? Then I will take you to the right subject.” Now that my vacation is over, I can stay for three evenings a week. My preference: working in the warehouse.
Beach, the most beautiful place in the Netherlands
I can not believe that I am 2,5 years in the Netherlands and only now discover the most beautiful place in the country: the beach. A friend took me to Scheveningen. It looks great and everyone is very free. I went to the beach twice before in my life, in Syria. I found the atmosphere a bit nervous. On the spot where I was, men watched whether their wife was being watched. That is why I did my best not to look around. I did not notice anything about this in Scheveningen. People felt free, had fun and enjoyed the sea. I ate like a real Dutchman a bowl of fish, which after a few minutes by a big bird was picked from my hands. He flew away with it like that. Walking across the boulevard I called all my Syrian friends. ‘We have not seen the Netherlands at all yet! We have to go to the sea !!’ I see Facebook photos of Portugal, Italy or Croatia on Facebook. Now that I’ve seen the Dutch coast, I do not understand why you go there on vacation. Is that so that you can put on the internet that you’ve been there? Once at home I discussed with Syrian friends that we still do not know how beautiful the Netherlands is. So many Dutch people try to show the country to us through museums. The municipality, province and refugee work also send us there. Pooh, what have I gone through in museums? I actually do not like it, but I do not dare to say that. I look at pictures on a wall or a piece of bent metal in a display case. ‘Oh yes, very beautiful’, I say. But the Dutch sea, our young. That is really beautiful.
“Why do you marry your nephew and niece?”
I regularly get asked by the Dutch. I assume that people with ‘you’ mean all Arab people in the world. But honestly, for me there was also a niece appointed. Then it often starts as a child. She was also aware of it, because when we saw each other she was first brushed for fifteen minutes in the hallway. For me it was immediately clear, that I shall really to marry her. I always said that I wanted to marry a girl with blue eyes, so it was clear to everyone that it would not be my niece anyway. My brother was assigned to her older sister. He was still lucky, because she was handsome. My brother is, like me, still single. ,,I do not marry her, because then I get stupid children”, he said to my parents. That is my generation, we no longer want those old customs.
A marriage between cousin and niece is usually an issue of money. If I marry a girl, my parents have to pay a dowry to her parents. We call that ‘mehur’. My parents have little money. In my case they could make an agreement with my uncle and aunt, with ‘deferred mehur’. This means that my parents only have to pay the mehur if I divorce from my niece. And because my parents assume that I do not, I can get married without it costing them money. A solution for poor people. If I have a date with a girl in the Netherlands, I will make it clear to her immediately that I have an Arabic background, but I am very westernized. Saves a lot of money.
The ‘underprivileged’ from Syria are doing very well here. Studying, studying, studying, that is the motto that parents give their children. Studying is the hope for a good future for them, a ‘high’ position and a nice income. My parents said that too. They were hoping for a better life for me. I went to the university in Aleppo and graduated as a lawyer. When the war started in Syria, I left for the Netherlands. Now I have been here for almost three years and I have nothing. My diploma is not valid here. I am following a college education in the hope that I will be working somewhere as a thirty-something without work experience. Who does have work and an income? The Syrian hairdressers, the construction workers, the cooks. They do not have to study here again, because they learned a craft. It all became painfully clear to me at a network meeting of refugees and companies. On questions such as: ‘who can install a heater?’, All hands went up, but not mine. No company needs me, because the knowledge I gained in the legal profession in Syria is worthless here. In the Netherlands we are in a reversed situation as displaced Syrians. The ‘underprivileged’ from Syria are doing very well here. They can immediately exercise their profession again, have an income and can even go on holiday. The highly educated refugees with a diploma, the ‘opportunity rich’ in Syria, are sitting here on the couch. Those who are not too old are trying to get a diploma here again, like me. I look around me, and see the Syrian craftsmen with their lives on the ride. It brings me to the point that I want to give my children another advice later. Learn a profession, then you are safe. Anywhere in the world.
The HAN (Highschool Arnheim Nimwegen) where I studied received visits from inspectors. People who wanted to know whether my training in industrial product design (IPO) is good. Sometimes they check that, the teacher said. It is striking that the government controls the government. I can not see that happening in Syria. It would give a signal that there is something to be checked. That something is not right, in a government school. The inspectors spoke to everyone. With teachers, students and management. Classmates told the inspectors what they want differently on the course. I was shocked by that. It would be very strange for me to tell a government inspector that something is wrong with a school that is also from the government. When a visit comes from the government in a Syrian institution, everything is prepared for it. It is not an inspection, but a working visit. School pupils or employees are chosen who can best tell how good the organization is. A party flag will be posted and we would all tell you how happy and grateful we are with our education and our work. The HAN teacher who read the feedback from the inspectors was not angry with the students. He even liked to read what he could do better. He said: ,,We can learn from each other. As a teacher you can never be complete, everyone has weak points.” It reminded me of my professor in Aleppo who once inadvertently checked his own answer model, and gave only a seven. No one dared to point it out, but we had seen his weak side.
World Cup in Syria
The exams are over and I have not yet found a job, so there is plenty of time to watch the football matches of the World Cup. The match between Russia and Saudi Arabia was the best. People from Syria look with different eyes. Russia represents President Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia for everything that is against him. So if you show on the internet that you are in need of a loss of Saudi Arabia, hundreds of Assad proponents start talking about the lack of your upbringing and the character of your mother. That is part of the fun my roommate Ahmed and I have when watching the matches. Read comments on the internet. It brings out the deepest emotions of our countrymen and we laugh about it. Then we also hear on the Syrian state television: ‘Before we start the broadcast we want to congratulate Russia with the 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia’. Well, this is no longer about football. In Syria we also had a World Cup. I do not know if people remember that. We had a host of countries that qualified themselves, such as the United States, Canada, Jordan, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Qatar. We also had video referees. They interfered from a distance with our country, such as, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. More than 60 countries participated in this world championship in Syria. The playing field was very Syria and the ball the population.
Too bad the guests have never left.
The concerns these children had in Syria are not over here
Children who come to the Netherlands from Syria or another war country, alas!, what do I have to do with them. I have had a happy childhood. The problems in my homeland only came to me when I was already grown up. I knew what was going on with our country and took the decision to flee. Children from a war country have experienced the tension and problems in their native country. They did not have a carefree time behind them. Arriving in the Netherlands does not interrupt that carefree time for them either. Soon they speak better Dutch than their parents. That’s why they have to go with their parents to the doctor, to the dentist and the municipality. They play as a translator.
The start-up in the Netherlands goes by trial and error in all refugee families. The children who translate remember every event. They read in a letter that their parents have not paid an invoice or hear from the doctor that their father or mother is ill. They take a phone call in which their parents are rejected for a job, or have failed a language exam. Setbacks that children can not overlook. Setbacks that my parents used to have, but did not share with me. I often think of the generation of Syrian children who have accompanied their parents to the Netherlands in recent years. The concerns they had in Syria or another war country are not over for them. Nevertheless, I think that it will give something to both them and the Netherlands. Boys and girls with a lot of life experience. A generation that employers do not have to ask about in the future: do you have experience?
“No, I can not meet tomorrow, because I’m going to a psychologist,” a friend said to me. What an openness you sometimes encounter here. He was not ashamed. Others who heard the conversation did not look strange either. In Syria we see people who go to a psychologist as crazy. We have a special hospital for them. Sometimes when I’m on the train, the train stops because someone has jumped on the track. There are many people in the Netherlands who do not feel well. They use medicines for it, go to a psychologist or commit suicide.
I think I understand how that is possible. In Syria you work every day at the base of your life. You do your best to be safe, get food on the table or buy a house. Is your washing machine broken? Then you save for six months until you can buy one. In the Netherlands you are safe, there is always food, for everyone a house and after one salary you buy a washing machine. You can work, but if you do not work, you also get money. I think people can therefore feel that they are extra in this life. Nobody is needed here. You do not have to work hard to maintain yourself. If I later have a wife or children, the government will take care of them more than I do. I sometimes find it difficult to be happy in the Netherlands, because I do not know what happiness is here. What does my life expect now that I have the basis? Now that my life goal does not consist in obtaining safety, money and a house? I study, I do volunteer work, I make friends and learn Dutch, but feeling useful in a country that already has everything remains difficult.
“Hold up my hand to my wife after 25 years of marriage?”
I was at home with a classmate and drank tea with her mother. She was happy, the mother said, because on Saturday she was married for 25 years. There will be a big party, with family, friends and colleagues. The Dutch do that. They continue to celebrate, even when they are old. With 50 years an Abraham at the door, with 40 years of marriage another great party. In Syria, we say in such a case: “They should respect their age.” “Giving a party or letting you go is no longer appropriate from the moment you get older. “Those people are not ashamed of anything,” we would say about them. That starts soon, because people aged 50 and over are seen as old. As if they only have a few years to live.
A Syrian friend of mine of 20 years will soon have a brother. He is not happy, but is ashamed of his parents. At that age, and then still have a child … I like that old people can also party here and behave as they want. “Congratulations!”, They say to a pregnant woman of 43. “Nice that you still have a baby!” I like to participate in the Dutch way. I want to keep celebrating. When I just wondered how Dutch men can give so many parties in their lives, a Dutch friend said, “Women pay for this too.” I could not. After 25 years of marriage, I hold up my hand to my wife to give her a party. That will not happen. Merging cultural aspects of the Netherlands and Syria is fine. A disadvantage: it costs me a lot of money.
I was lying in the sun, near a swimming pool. I heard a father talking to his son. He said: ,, I hope you will become in the future something you like”. He made me smile. It is nice that fathers and mothers in the Netherlands think that is important.
I am used to always being told that you have to become something that you gives you pots of money. Doctor, engineer or IT professional. It is not for nothing that you have so many doctors in some Syrian streets, that you have to look for an accident to find the one you have an appointment with. All children who once heard from their parents: “You must become a doctor”. If you are now wondering whether there is work for so many doctors in Syria: yes, there is. We like to go to the doctor. We do not want pain, but just medicines that take away our pain.
The father at the pool was talking about something else, but I was still thinking about his remark. If his son likes to dance, does he like it when he becomes a dancer? In the Netherlands, not all fathers and mothers assume that their children will be happy with money. That is why they do not send their children in that special direction, when they have to choose an education.
“You should become an actor”, I hear my whole life. That was not serious advice, they would have looked mad in Syria if I had really done it. In the Netherlands it is not surprising, but here I do not speak the language sufficiently for the drama training. So, I remain dreaming, along the side of the pool. About a Dutch film with a Syrian protagonist. Then I shall convince everyone. Have a bet?
‘Dutch people love drama on their desks’
When I’m at the Gelderlander, I see cuddly toys on the table, a football, food, papers, everything. When I ask, ‘can I have a screwdriver?’ someone picks it is so off his desk. I often wonder why that is. Do people want to show their boss that they are busy? A Syrian office is always tight. Only the necessary is arranged in an office. It would be crazy to put a pink stuffed dog on your desk, because you will be so happy. Or a football, so that you can occasionally kick a ball on the work floor.
Also at the text office where my girlfriend works, it’s a mess. I offered to clean it up there. I do not need money for it. Just one Saturday on which I organize everything clearly. “No, we do not want that,” my friend said. ,,We feel happy in this way.”
Dutch people quickly feel happy and at ease. I was once asked to have dinner with Dutch people, who still had to cook at the time I came. “Hello Anwar!” they said happy. ‘Nice to have you here’. They grabbed a few knives and cut vegetables. I did not know what to do. Help out? Wait in silence in the room? Come back later? I kept wondering if I had remembered the time of the appointment.
Dutch people also invite you to their home, and do not clean up in advance. I was with a friend, who had to pick up all his clothes and belongings from the couch. ‘Look, sit down,’ he said afterwards. When I walked home I had an ass full of dog hairs. Apparently I had been seated in his place.
When I get guests, from now on I will say at the door: come in! Do you first take off your clothes for your and my hygiene?
After my opinion a lot is dirty. I understand that since I am in the Netherlands. Not because it is not clean here, on the contrary. The streets, parks and gardens are much cleaner than in Syria. Perhaps that is precisely why Syrians who learn to rid themselves of dirt are important.
When I and my fellow refugees were assigned their own house in Arnhem, we were shocked by the first time that we were getting Dutchmen over the floor. They walked in with their shoes. Rude to say something about it, so we left it that way. Afterwards we exchanged experiences with each other: “Did they do that to you too ?!” I mopped the whole house after the Dutch visitors were gone. “My Palestinian friend always wants to borrow my slippers when he goes to the bathroom,” a Dutch woman said to me. ‘Why is that?’ We do have our shoes when we are indoors, but we do not wear socks to the toilet. Like wiping with toilet paper, bah! The first days in the Dutch refugee shelter everyone went to the store to buy a watering can. We see it as follows: you break a raw egg in your hands. Are you going to get a napkin or wash your hands with water?
When I temporarily lived with a Dutch couple, they insisted that I kept my shoes on. The lady of the house caught me that I was walking around her carpet. ‘Nonsense!’ she said. “Just walk over the rug!” With shoes, which have all the dirt on the street, I walked over her beautiful rugs. I honestly found it difficult. At the Dutch couple in the house I could only clean certain pans with a napkin. When I was alone at home, I secretly cleaned the pans with a brush. Nobody who sees it, and a lot cleaner. The next day the woman took the pans out of the cupboard. She looked surprised. Because they were so clean, I thought for a moment. But no, because there were scratches. An anti-stick coating, they can better call it an anti-wash layer.
When I sit at the table with Dutch people, I sometimes feel like a waiter. “Can I have the lettuce?” Well, here you have it. “Can I have the salt?”, Okay please. “Can I have the potatoes?”, Sigh, why is everything on my side of the table ?! The Dutch are not too lazy to take it for themselves, but find it rude if you reach someone.
In Syria, we think differently: you do not have to put your fellow guests to work, but take your food yourself. We don’t have table manners in Syria anyway. Not because we are indecent, but because we are always on the ground. So it would be better to call it ‘ground manners’. There is not even a table in most houses. We are so used to sitting on the floor that many old people find it harder to sit on a chair than on the floor. We all eat the food from one large plate.
When I stayed in refugee shelter De Koepel, Dutch people came to eat with me for the first time. I had prepared a joint plate and some separate dishes. Nobody at the joint board, only me. At that time I did not know that the Dutch would be afraid to eat together from one plate. In any case, there is little washing up, because we only use a spoon. We do not need a knife and a fork, because there is never a piece of meat on the table. The meat is processed in dishes. After starting the meal, the owner of the house can’t stop eating until everyone has finished it. Otherwise, guests might think that they should not be too greedy and stop eating too. It is therefore important, as head of the family, to eat slowly.
In the Netherlands you have to pay attention to something else. Choose a table corner with as few items as possible that have to be indicated. You can eat nice and quiet. “
“How much money do you get?”
The Dutch often ask me that. They want to know how high my benefit is, as a refugee. I can now answer that I no longer have a benefit because I am studying, but I still give an answer. If I then ask: “And how much do you earn?”, the Dutch look at the ground. They want to know how much money I have, but do not tell it myself.
I think that is strange. I find it useful to know what the salary is for certain professions in the Netherlands, but I never get an answer to that. When I ask a friend what his father, a dentist, earns, it turns out that his friend does not know what his own father earns. In Syria it is a normal question. It is no secret. You know what your family and friends earn. That way every culture has those ‘secrets’. With us, for example, it is very strange to ask how someone’s mother or sister is called. The name of a woman, you do not ask.
Also something like that, you really should not ask questions about that. At least, the women among themselves, but not the men. Never would you ask a friend: how is sex with your wife? A ridiculous question, private, and a disgrace to tell what your wife is doing in bed.
In the Netherlands, the conversation among young men often involves sex. Boys also ask each other: what kind of positions did you all do in bed? Everyone tells it freely. When I am in such a conversation, I only think: please do not let this circle come to me. Maybe I should consider discussing it in exchange for salary information.
“No, grandmother, you do not have to brag me meat, because I’m a vegetarian.” I sometimes imagine that I would say that in my family. My grandmother would sell me a blow. Then I would still eat the meat with a bowed head.
Being a vegetarian does not actually exist in Syria. There are people who do not eat meat, but they do that for example because they are not allowed by the doctor or their diet. Syrian people often cook vegetarian, but they do so because there is no meat in the recipe. Not because they think about the life of the animals.
In the Netherlands I speak a lot of people who do not eat meat. I even met someone who did not want my home baked cake, because milk was used. ,,Milk? What is sad about that?”, I asked. That was pathetic, because that cow did not necessarily want to give milk itself. I assured her that I personally knew this cow and that she had given me the milk with full conviction and pleasure. She did not believe that and did not want a cake.
I find it sad, because now she is mainly dependent on fruit and vegetables in the Netherlands. And sorry, but those are just not that good here. There is little taste. I think that is not surprising, when you consider that food sometimes even comes from a laboratory. For example, lemons and grapes without kernels exist in the Netherlands. Conceived in a computer, tested in a laboratory. If I hear so, I can imagine that the taste has lost somewhere along the way.
As is often the case when you think back to something; it gets better and better in your head. The oranges from Syria are in my head from month to month sweeter. Just like the tomatoes getting juicier and the cucumbers more crispy. A little while longer and I even long for okra, a vegetable that is quite unknown in the Netherlands, which -in the past- I used to refuse to eat.
To create SPRING
I awoke this week and suddenly I saw flowers everywhere. I did not see them coming up from the earth. No, they were suddenly everywhere in the streets, after gardeners had passed by. That is how the spring begins in the Netherlands.
The spring has also started happily in Aleppo. My parents, who now live in a loft without daylight, can then stay outside more often. That is how my mother at least reassured me. I heard my brother calling in the background: “Yes, good for you! And who has to stay indoors all day in the dark ?.” Well, he can not get out of the streets, otherwise he has to go into the army. In Syria, the flowers come naturally from the ground. There are many fragrant roses and the streets smell wonderfully like jasmine. I often used the leaves to throw them over someone else. A cheerful use, because it smells so good. Every spring my mother makes jam from flowers. All leaves are placed in a bath with water. Then something is done with sugar, kneading and drying in the sun. As you already hear, I do not know the recipe, but it tastes fantastic.
When I put my nose in flowers in the Netherlands, I do not smell anything. Perhaps that is why there is no jam here. Spring, which is made here, by gardeners. I asked a friend: why did the Dutch prepare the spring? Nature does that yourself? “People pay for this via tax. They want to feel that it is spring,” he said. If it is autumn, but it will not rain, then what? Municipal employees may hide behind the bushes with a garden hose. They secretly spray everyone on the street. Citizens exclaim: “It is autumn, I feel it!”
The Dutch always think carefully. About consequences and disaster scenarios in particular. Therefore, it strikes me when something does not seem to be well thought about. In Arnheim your old diesel car is not worth much more. That is because we will soon have the most stringent environmental zone in the Netherlands, which ensures that old diesel cars are not allowed into the city center. Maybe you now think: okay, that’s a good solution. We dispose of old, polluting cars. That is good for the environment.
But what if I tell you that old diesel cars are worth a lot in poor countries? That it is just an advantage, because the fuel is so cheap? A light now lits up at born traders. And indeed, those lights have also started to burn at traders in Arnheim. I now know a number of people who buy old diesel cars and ship them to countries where there is a need for these simmering cars.
I may not be a born politician, but I can still remember that this is not a real solution. As if the neighbor at the top of the flat washes his balcony clean, and pours all the dirty water down over the balconies of the downstairs neighbors. Then I wonder, has not this been thought about, or is it not interesting that we pass on the dirty air to other countries? Do we find clean air only important for ourselves and not for others? If we want to get rid of old, polluting cars, then we have to make a rule that these cars have to be scrapped. Flattening, so that no one is bothered by it anymore.
Sad that I can not find a safe life for my family
Problems, do they actually happen at a time when it convenient? I have exams in two weeks, but my mind is overflowing with stress.
My parents in Syria have no longer a home. After our family home was bombed completely seven years ago, we went to my aunt’s house in Aleppo. She was in Afrin with her husband and children in recent years. Now that it is unsafe there, she and her family have returned to Aleppo. So my parents and brother have to leave. My parents had put all their money into the house that was destroyed, so they can not buy anything new. Renting is expensive, because all people from the area around Afrin now move to Aleppo. When my father sent a video of the new house they now rented, I panicked. It is terrible. There are no windows, and there is no water and no electricity. It looks like a space under the stairs, as you can see here. They can not even pay the rent for that ‘home’. I am thinking all day, how I can solve this situation without getting into trouble. I also do not have the money to buy a property for them.
,,It is not your responsibility Anwar”, Dutch people say to me. But I can not really think like that and I do not want to think like that either. My family is, of course, my responsibility! I came to Europe to find a safe and good life for all of us. I feel sad and depressed now that I realize that I have only found a better life for myself. There are many rules that ensure that I can not protect my family. That are rules without any sentiment.
As Syrian husband and father you are expected to pay for the wedding of your sons and to buy a house for them. It is an important goal that you save your money as long as you live. You will not save money for your daughter, because she will be kept by her husband.
When I have children in the Netherlands, I have double expenses. I will also have to pay for a possible daughter, she will not find a man here who will pay everything for her. I am going to have a hard life. I think it is unbelievable, then, that you have to pay tax to the Dutch government on an inheritance. Soon I will have worked for my children for a lifetime, a paid house and then my children will only get the TV when I die. Because the tax authorities have stopped by. Do you already pay taxes during your life? Why then when you are dead?
I talked about it with Dutch fathers. ‘We want our children to work for a house themselves. Otherwise they might not do anything at all”, they said. In my culture that will not happen, because after you have received a house from your parents you start saving yourself for the house that you will later give to your own children. When you die, the child with whom you have lived in your home for the last few years receives the most money from the inheritance, or the parental home. It could be a tip for Dutch elderly people who do not want to go to an old people’s home. Just keep the Syrian rule: who takes care of you, then gets your house (or what is left of it after the tax authorities have been). Then it will be fighting: who can take in mom and dad?
I have experienced quite a few disasters and emergency situations in my life. Now for the first time also one in the Netherlands. A week ago I was studying at the Highschool Arnhemi Nimwegen. Suddenly there was a power failure. I got a smile on my face, it reminded me of Syria. In the last few years that I lived in Aleppo, there was about 1.5 hours of electricity every day. I bowed my head down again to continue reading in my textbooks. But I was the only one who thought that life went on.
‘What is happening?’ people called. Phones were anxiously kept in the air. “I do not have internet!”, a classmate called. The power was not back after an hour. For some reason everyone wanted to go home. “Papa, you have to pick me up! the trains do not run because of the power failure. I heard students speak in their phones. “Oh no!”, said an other. ‘I have my whole freezer full of meat! Would the insurance compensate?” I shook my head and dived into the books again. A teacher walked past. “You have to go home. The building will close due to the power failure”. I did not understand anything. Can a teacher not even teach without electricity? “It’s about the fire alarm that does not work now,” he explained. Oh yes, forgot. The Dutch always think about what can go wrong. A blazing fire, in the hour and a half that we do not have power. I made my way through the students who told their parents and grandparents by telephone the way to HAN. Everyone had to be picked up. I packed my bike and went home.
On the street I saw two cars collide. The traffic lights did not work without power. Motorists apparently can not do without it, so even on the road it became a chaos. I called my mother in Aleppo and told her about the disaster situation in Arnheim. We laughed together, very hard. You are a superhero mom, I said. She lives without power every day.
The Netherlands are doing their best to be better for the environment. Sometimes I think: are the Netherlands not doing a little too much? Cooking on gas is not allowed anymore, driving a car is bad and using energy is actually never good, even if you have green electricity.
There was a friend visiting my roommate Ahmed. We drank tea together. She said that she always comes by bike, because even public transport is bad for the environment. She also buys second-hand clothing. She had pants that were only 15 euros. Aha! I also have trousers of 15 euros, I told them. From the Primark. No, that is not good either, she said. Because the clothing is made far away by people who get too little money for it. This friend really thinks about everything. She even thinks about the salaries of people on the other side of the world.
I drank my tea quickly and I went to my own room. I thought: if I wait a little longer, she says that life is bad for the environment. Although it is good to think about the environment, I hope that the Dutch do not dig too far into it. Otherwise, in a couple of years we will go through Arnhem by horse and cart. Then we light a fire in the garden to get our food warm and we play football with a ball of paper. Then we only have to put a very large lid over the Netherlands to keep our oxygen fresh. Because I am not sure whether the countries alongside us want to participate. I think I’m going for horseback lessons for safety.
Every first Monday of the month the sirens roar in the Netherlands. That is quite important to know, but you do not learn anything about it in the integration course. In order to obtain your permanent status, you have to learn a lot of things that you do not need and those things are always asked for in the exams. For example: you need to know what insurance you should have if you buy a car. I am a refugee. Why do I have to learn that? By the time I have a job and a car, I speak enough Dutch to find that out. It is much better to know that the sirens are tested on the first Monday of the month in the Netherlands.
We also have sirens in Syria. But I have not heard them in the seven years that the war is taking now. The only time they were used was when I was 15 years old and attending school. The sirens were tested because the government had a conflict with Israel. But now that it is really war and half Syria has died or fled, you do not hear the sirens. I think they are not going now, because the war between parties in our own country is playing. We are not occupied by another country.
The first time I heard the sirens in the Netherlands was when I was in refugee shelter The Dome (Koepel) in Arnheim. The reception staff told us that the sirens were tested. I do not think it’s smart to do that every first Monday of the month at noon. What if another country wants to attack us? Then they can do that exactly at that time, nobody who knows.
I still have to get a few parts when it comes to my state exam. Coincidentally, I was recently invited to come and read my columns at a party, which is celebrated because the state exam lasts twenty years. I think I’m going to put it on a deal. I read those columns when they tell me which questions are in the exam.
That you belong to your country and want to fight for it, is very important in Syria. When I was 15, we got theory about the army once a week at school. Then we learned how to maintain a kalashnikov. Fortunately, I never needed this knowledge. During the training industrial product design at the Highschool of Arnheim and Nimwegen I get lessons about the nature of materials. A few weeks ago a detailed photo was shown during that lesson. I immediately recognized the magazine of a Kalashnikov. When I told my fellow student what it was, he turned his head to see the picture better, but he did not see it. The teacher asked me: do you know the weapon? I felt uncomfortable and thought: is that wrong?
It is not that we used to have a weapon at home. That is prohibited as here. Only in the villages where there is no police station in the area, the head of a large family may own a weapon. This must be a member of the President’s party. Yet all Syrians know the Kalashnikov more than they like. Many people were killed in the war. Everyone knows a relative or neighbor who was killed with a Kalashnikov. Everyone knows the sound of the weapon. The same applies to the sound of rockets and bombers. Every child that comes from Syria knows what sound is part of that and will recognize that sound throughout his life.
Studying in the Netherlands is very special. Perhaps the best education in the world, an opportunity to secure your future with a good education, while you can also deal with your teachers in an equal way. You would say: a school full of grateful students. That is not true. I have been studying at the HAN (Highschool Arnheim and Nimwegen) for six months now. Pupils play in the classroom, they talk, watch a movie together and then they laugh out loud and walk in and out of the room. I have to concentrate very well, even if it is quiet, to understand everything the teacher says. With noise that does not work at all, so I regularly call for everyone to pay attention. Then I think: should not a teacher do this? Why do teachers in the Netherlands have so little authority? Sometimes I feel like saying, “Sir, let me do a lesson, then I assure you that everyone keeps their mouths.” “Yes, in Syria you do not get it in your head to scream through class: ,,Hey, I do not understand a f**k of it.”
Just like you think everything is allowed in the Dutch class, you have the exam week. I did not understand a question, so I looked desperately at a friend next to me. My friend was shocked and dived away from me. He continued with his own exam. When I left the class, I was angry. I did not expect any answers, but an encouraging look had already helped me. “What are you for a friend,” I said. He said that he was afraid that a teacher would think that he was foretelling something and that he would receive an inadequate answer. Pffff. An inadequate is not bad if you put your friends a heart under their belt? I thought it was a disappointment. A plus point for the teachers: once every period all students have fear and awe for them. If students are afraid to give a wrong look, looking back is not really enough.
The war of the nail
Now that it is getting quieter in Syria, I sometimes think about the beginning. The Arab Spring did not just enter our country. As often with wars, it started with a small incident. An incident that resulted in a great war. In the city of Daraa in southern Syria, children at their school wrote that President Bashar al-Assad should leave. The children of that school were arrested and thrown into prison. Fathers, grandfathers, and imams went to the head of the security service to get the children free. Children in prison, that should not be possible! The man answered them, “If your children misbehave, send your wives to me. Then I will make children with them who are of good quality.”
With that one sentence, he touched something important. The honor of Syrian men. They went out into the street in anger. The crowd grew bigger and bigger, until the entire country revolted and the Arab Spring was still blowing to Syria. After a while, the children were released. They were tortured. During the interrogation their nails were cut off. So far, that it hurt.
In the Netherlands the word ‘honor’ does not mean much. It is not a holy word where people have very deep feelings. It might not be the reason for a war here. In Syria, an impaired sense of honor, as it turns out, can work as a lighter that sets an entire country on fire. Of course there had been a lot of years for years, and the nail incident was just a spark that allowed things to explode. Nevertheless, to date there is talk about ‘the war of the nail’. You could also say: ‘The war of honor and freedom’.
New years eve
I believe I have never been so happy that the holidays are over. Not because it was not fun, but because I feel that I got diabetes. The Dutch do not put sugar in the tea because that is unhealthy. But then it is December and suddenly everything can happen. As if all the saved sugar of the whole year should suddenly be eaten. Pooh, I did not even put sugar in my tea the first days of January. Very extreme for a Syrian. Around New years eve, many memories always come up. The sounds of the fireworks resemble the war. I decided to go to a friend in Wehl. I thought, there it is much quieter than in Arnheim. In the bus to Wehl I met a Syrian man whom I know. He came to the Netherlands with his wife and children. ,,I find it very difficult days”, he said. ,,Although the fireworks also reminds me of the war, I understand that it is fireworks. My children do not. They grab anxiously at their mother with every bang. Are they coming? Are they coming? then they scream.” Yes, if it sounds like that in Syria, soldiers will indeed arrive. The man finally went out into the street with his children in the evening to show them what fireworks are. Once we arrived in Wehl it turned out to be much harder there than in Presikhaaf. “Here live farmers, who shoot with a kind of bombs,” said the friend I visited. Meanwhile a friend called from my house in Arnheim. ,,It goes so fast here, I think Nijmegen has taken the city hall in Arnheim.” We laughed. Yes, after a big portion of noise you do not sweep the pavement in Syria, but inform yourself which district or building has been occupied and by whom. I decided to look at it differently, on New Year’s Eve. Economical Dutchmen, who just go crazy. Tens and hundreds of euros fly into the air, as if they are throwing a bunch of banknotes into the air and congratulating each other afterwards. The Dutch want to make themselves happy during the New Year, no matter how much money it costs. I think that’s funny.
Anwar replies – an interview
It is clear that the refugees living in the Dome have received a warm welcome in Arnheim-West. Nevertheless, there are also neighborhood residents who have difficulty with some issues. I have submitted a number of their remarks to Anwar Manlasadoon who fled Syria. Anwar is 25 years old and has had a weekly column in the Gelderlander for some time.
Q.: I have no problem that the refugees were welcomed by local residents, but it was a bit over the top with all those balloons. It was not a party after all?
A.: It may not have been a party, but for most of the new residents of the Dome it is a relief that after a long journey we finally had a roof over our heads. We felt very welcome by the balloons.
Q.: I do not feel safe in the dark when I walk from the bus stop with all those groups of men at the Dome. I sometimes think of Cologne, where Arab men have harassed young women.
A.: We have a culture where we live outside. I know the co-residents of the Dome have no evil intentions. The reason they go out is because they feel locked up. That we go in groups also has an advantage for us. Some of us do not speak Dutch or English yet. They are afraid to be addressed and do not understand. It is terrible what happened in Cologne. But it turned out afterwards that most of the men were from North African countries and there few refugees were involved. Most of the refugees abhor the behavior of these men in Cologne. It is a pity that this group of people ruined it for the other refugees. But the worst is of course for the victims. I hope that this kind of thing will not happen again.
Q.: All those men are wimps. Who is leaving his wife and children behind in a war zone?
A.: Most men go ahead to provide a safe crossing for their family. After arrival they can make a request for family reunification. That this would take a long time afterwards, most refugees did not expect. They prefer to take the risk themselves on a boat to cross the sea with all the dangers of this crossing. The journey is also expensive. People have to sell their house or borrow money for the crossing. They can not afford this for the whole family. Believe me, most refugees take this risk because there are no other options left.
Q.: There is more junk in the vicinity of the Dome.
A.: That is indeed annoying. It does not belong there either. I do not know why some people do not clean up their junk. A number of residents also speak to each other about this. I will definitely bring it to the attention again. I hope for the neighborhood that this will become less over time.
Q.: Why do all those men get free bikes? Many welfare families would also like that.
A.: Even as a refugee you sometimes have to go somewhere. To the hospital, the GP, dentist and the city. For most people, public transport is expensive and the purchase of a bicycle too. The bikes were second-hand. We were very happy with it. Many refugees can not even cycle. Now we can learn it.
Q.: How do some refugees dare to complain about the food?
A.: If you just enter an other country, it takes a lot of getting used to other food. You must also learn to eat things. We have been given the same five microwave meals over he past seven months. For sure we would cook ourselves, just as the average Dutchman.
Q.: Why do refugees no longer do something for Dutch society? Can they roll up their sleeves anyway?
A.: Most refugees would really want that. But as long as you do not have a status as a refugee, you can not do much. You can not go to school or work. There are indeed initiatives shown. For example, with volunteer work to help older people. A few guys, including myself, have helped with sorting second-hand clothing. We also help people living in the area in the neighborhood during the weekend.
Q.: Refugees with a good education will soon pick up jobs, while in the Netherlands there are a lot of unemployed people.
A.: First we have to go to school to learn the language. Of course, most refugees want paid work. If we all have to beg in the streets, that would not be good either. Then people say that refugees do not want to work and live the state. I hope that there is enough work for everyone in the Netherlands. For you but also for us. Not to become rich, but to live.
Q.: Refugees are simply assigned houses, while there are many people waiting for a house in the Netherlands.
A.: We find it very annoying for people who have been waiting for a house for a long time. Of course I would like to give them a home. For us, a home is important for a safe feeling and a roof over our heads. It really does not have to be quite luxury. Many of us have their homes in their own country or have to sell for the journey to a safe haven. Should I be assigned a property, I would like to invite a student to live in my house.
Anwar finally says: “I would like to invite these residents to join the conversation and in this way get understanding for each other. I quite understand the concerns of many Dutch people and hope to be able to take that away.”
The warm regards to all Dutch people from
Are you going back?
Do you want to stay here or are you going back to Syria? That question is often asked, since my first day in the Netherlands. I still do not know what to say. When I say that I want to stay here, I am afraid of the reaction: “This is not your country, you have to go back to Syria.” When I say that I want to go back, I am afraid of the reaction: “Why do we still invest money and time in you?” Sometimes I listen to my heart. Then I want to go back. Drinking tea at the stove with my mother. No electricity, no work, no home of your own, but just the fun that was always there. Sometimes I listen to my mind. Then I want to stay here. Making steps in my development, seizing opportunities and advancing. In addition, I can make money here that I can also secure a good future for me and my family. Now that the war in Syria is slowly coming to an end, the circumstances for my family are getting better. My brother goes back to the street every now and then (he is hiding with my parents to avoid the army), there seems to be more openness in the media than before and for the first time in seven years more is being built up than being demolished. Many positive images of the reconstruction can be seen on the Syrian state television. According to my parents, this is not just propaganda, but something actually happens. People sometimes respond to this column, who believe that I believe that I am a supporter of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. I’m not that. I am, like many other citizens in Syria, for the one who gets the country quiet again. Whether that is Assad, the rebels, or my mother.
‘Here you have the freedom to abandon religion.
There is a small artificial Christmas tree with very small Christmas balls on a stool next to the sofa. There are a few candles under the tree. It will not be more this year. ,,I wanted to remove my desk and put a Christmas tree from Ikea, but my girlfriend did not think that was a good idea, because the desk is screwed to the wall. Too much hassle.” For Anwar Manla Sadoon (27) from Arnheim is the third Christmas in the Netherlands. The first time he was just a few months in the Netherlands. Fled from the war in Syria. He lived in refugee shelter “The Dome” (De Koepel) in Arnheim, where a large Christmas tree stood in the hall. “People came to make music, but everyone looked like that”, says Anwar, pulling a bored face. Since last year he has been celebrating Christmas with his Dutch girlfriend in Limbourg, with her family. Setting up the Christmas tree, buying presents for each other, putting on nice clothes, good food, the rituals are known to him. ,,People in the Netherlands have been talking about the holidays and the holidays for weeks. It does not stop.” With a sense of drama, typical Anwar: ,,I sometimes get a headache!” Then seriously: ,,I now feel the pain of Christians in Syria, because we Muslims did the same thing around Ramadan and the Sugar Festival”. As he is now a Muslim minority in the Netherlands, Christians are in Syria.
Christmas reminds him of the Islamic holidays he celebrated in Syria. ,,That is why Christmas gives a painful feeling. Most refugees do not have people to look for, but at this time they remember how it was in the past when they celebrated with family and friends.” The harsh reality is imminent: he is alone here. Father, mother and brother are in Syria. ,,My mother would find it a fun party. She loves these things; the decorated houses, the delicious food. Now that it is war, she misses this kind of fun”. Anwar would like to have her with her. He always calls her between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Does he tell her how things are going. “Where is the snow?” His mother asked last year. “She expected that because it always snows in movies at Christmas.” Christmas gives the Syrian a double feeling. On the one hand the confrontation with the past and with what has disappeared, on the other hand Anwar also enjoys the pleasure that Dutch people have in the party. ,,Everybody is happy. The streets are beautiful, Christmas trees are full of lights everywhere. The city will become one big house.”
He also sees a big difference between the Islamic festivals and the Christmas party. ,,I feel that something is missing here. We eat well during Ramadan, but that’s not what it’s all about. You must also pray and go to the mosque. Here people watch a movie and share gifts, but they do not take the meaning of the party. I think that’s funny. Here you have the freedom to drop the religion.” Where else could it be, he wonders. “The church in Klarendal became a skate hall, the church in Sonsbeek has been converted into studios and you can no longer pray in the Eusebius church.”
During the Islamic festivals, such as the Sugar Festival, it is also the intention that you give something away to someone else. Even if you can hardly miss it yourself. “There is always someone poorer than you.” Anwar asked his mother in Syria to give money on his behalf to give someone who needed it. He does not know anyone who is poor in the Netherlands. ,,Then the woman to whom she had given the money called me to thank me. The woman has a disabled child and she had also bought something for the child from the money. That gives me a good feeling.” It is now quieter in Syria. Terror organization IS is almost completely driven out of the country and is being rebuilt. Anwar hopes that the people in Syria can forget the pain of the war and forgive each other in the coming year. ,,I am sure that peace will come again in Syria. Not through government intervention, but because people want it themselves.”
I walked across the station in Arnhem and saw five different types of trains. All with their own check-in posts and gates in the colors of the train. If you take two different trains during a trip, you have to check over halfway. You keep your ticket in front of the post of one carrier to check out and then in front of the post next to check in again. If you have checked in with the wrong carrier, you will be fined. I asked a classmate why it was so complicated, if all the money goes to the government. It took a while before he understood. In the Netherlands the trains are not from the government, he said. That used to be the case. Meanwhile, they are all separate companies that compete with each other. The telecom companies, energy suppliers and mail deliverers are also not of the government here. For all large companies in Syria, there is a link with the government. It wants to participate in decision making and benefits. Calling with your cell phone is expensive. That is because there are only two telecom companies and they are both from relatives of President Bashar al-Assad. In Syria no one other than these family members may have a telecom company. That way they can keep the prices high. It is choosing between high costs or non-mobile calls. The gas and oil are also from the government. The citizens have nothing to do with it. There is no supply of fuels to the houses, like here in the Netherlands. You always have to go to the store to get 10 or 15 liters of oil for the oil stove. We used 2 to 3 liters of oil per day in our small apartment. Only 200 liters of oil are available for each household this winter. You can not switch, there are no other companies that do it well. The Netherlands proves to me that not everything needs to be done by the government to have it well organized. Here everyone has hot water and heating in the house. If the electricity, the call credit or the water becomes cheaper elsewhere, you switch companies. When I was in the train afterwards, I thought about it again. Companies are doing their best to continue competing with each other. They continue to think and make inventions to always remain the cheapest, fastest or environmentally friendly. So it remains fair, the price goes down and the technology goes up. I want to check that a bit more often.
I’m not used to having money. Dealing with money is already better than when I just was in the Netherlands, but there is still ‘room for growth’, shall we say. Saving is possible, but sometimes when I am in town I am tempted to buy clothes. Through my ING app I transfer money from my savings account to my payment account and, hop, a new coat. I asked the ING bank in Arnheim if they could give me a savings account that I can not see on my phone. Then I can not spend my savings impulsively. But no, that is not possible. All accounts will always be accessible to me on my phone. I asked if I could open a savings account with another bank. Then I can simply transfer money to it, without seeing it constantly on my screen. “Of course, you can do what you want, Mr. Manlasadoon,” said the nice man. Beautiful. So I walk across the street to the Arnheim Rabobank building. I told an employee that I wanted to save money. “No,” said the woman. ,,That is not possible. It has been agreed that refugees must keep their money with one bank.” My Dutch classmate was sitting next to me. I asked if he could open an account. “Yes, he does. But not you.” “The woman was called away, she had to help her clients”. I came home angry. I felt rejected. Nobody had explained to me why I should not open an account. I wanted to understand. ,,I take all my money from the bank and keep it in my room! ”, I said to my roommate. “No, no, they’ll steal it here,” he said. At ING-Bank I can not save well, I can not save at Rabobank, they steal at home. I will have to transfer to the Syrian way of saving money. Everything cash in my pocket, or invest in gold. I will then wear it all day so that it will not be stolen. It’s a temporary solution, which I’m definitely going to find something else for, but until that time your eyes will be hurt by the shiny savings account around my neck and hands.
Personally, I have had a good year. I started my studies and I do a higher level of language than last year. I have made more friends and many people are satisfied with me. I hope that with my columns I have helped people to learn more about Syria. I came to the Netherlands during the refugee tsunami and people found it difficult. Hopefully people are happier now. The refugees have given a good picture of their country and I see many refugees who are doing well. There is much that I am satisfied with, but everything I do now has a greater purpose. That is to bring my parents and brother from Syria here. Only when that succeeds, my mission is complete. Even if things improve in Syria and there is peace, the future does not look good for my parents. They no longer have a house and my father is too old to earn enough money for a new home. My brother can not earn the money either, because he has to go into the army and he will not receive any wages. When will I see them again? I am not allowed to travel to Syria as a refugee and they can not leave the country now. Sometimes I cry in silence. I want to be alone and listen to sad Arabic songs. As soon as I have an income, I tell the Immigration and Naturalisation Service that I want my parents to come over and that I will pay for them. We do not have the luxury that is the basis for the Dutch. The two rooms I have in Arnhem are enough for our entire family. That’s how we lived in Syria too. In 2018 I will continue to do my best to build a life in this country. All for my higher purpose.
The neighbor of my mother may come to the Netherlands. My mother told me this week. “Can not you let me come over?”, she asked. She, my father and my brother are still in Syria, in Aleppo. They do not have a house anymore. I hope I succeed in getting them to the Netherlands, but how? In Syria there is always something special during holidays. Then the president will release prisoners, for example. Or he will nevertheless allow students who did not complete their first year in two years to continue studying. The rule is that you then have to stop the study. These kinds of decisions make people grateful. In Syria you can also wait for a politician if you want to do something for each other. With a bit of luck he puts his signature and it is arranged. Making a suicide attempt also helps. I understand why some refugees do that when they are angry or desperate. That works in Syria. Not here. One and one is always two here, never two-point-something. The neighbor of my mother may come to the Netherlands, because there is a rule that determines that. I have not found such a rule for my parents yet. I want to make a video in which I ask the boss of the Netherlands to let my parents come over. I thought of King Willem-Alexander. My friend said that does not make sense. If I record the video for the mother of the king then? She is a mother herself. No, she said, does not help either. For Prime Minister Mark Rutte? No, my friend said, he is also not the boss. I have a nice coat in Syria. I asked my mother if she would like to give it to her neighbor. She did not want that. She wants to keep the coat with her, as if it were me. She said: “I am coming to the Netherlands with your coat”.
In the Netherlands Santa Claus is so important that he even has his own news. On TV I saw his entry into Dokkum. He arrived with a boat, got on a horse and walked through the city. Children were singing loudly songs and had pieten hats and mites on. They became overjoyed when Piet gave them a handful of ginger-nuts. In Syria we do not have a party that looks like Santa Claus. Christian Syrians do have Santa. A symbol of peace and for children that makes everyone happy. Also the Muslims. At the end of the year the Syrian Christians decorated their streets and we helped Muslims thereby. We wanted to be part of their party and also bought gifts for each other. Conversely, the Christians participated in the sacrificial feast and the Sugar Festival. They were happy with our cookies during Ramadan and we were happy with their chocolate during Christmas. Christians and Muslims lived together very well in Syria. The integration was good, until the war came. Now everyone is on the run. Now that I am in the Netherlands, I celebrate the Santa Claus celebration. Recently I put my shoe at my friend’s parents with a carrot in it. In the morning there were presents in our shoes and the carrot was gone. Eaten by the horse. I wonder who the horse was at home, but I did not ask for it. I got a chocolate letter from “Santa Claus mother-in-law”‘. I wondered if Santa Claus knew my name, or whether I would get the R from ‘refugee’. But no, Santa Claus knows everything. I got an A. Santa Claus is a beautiful tradition. I think it’s nice how happy children become of Santa Claus and Peter. I would be honored to make children happy during the entry. I like to offer myself as Anwar-Peter. And when I have children, I will also teach them about Sinterklaas and Peter and then my children can proudly say: My dad is Anwar-Peter!
I am jealous of this country. For a lot of reasons. There is only one thing that I find special and ridiculous, namely that you do not know your national anthem. You can sing along on Spotify, but when I ask people to sing the national anthem, they say they only know the first sentences. Or they do not know it at all. “Boeiuh,” they say. As a child in Syria I had to go to school as a soldier. We wore green uniforms from the age of six and that went on until we were 17 years old. Now school children in Syria no longer have to go to school in such a uniform. However, on the first and the last day of the school week they are still in rows in the schoolyard and the national flag is hoisted. I remember it well. With the right hand against our sleep we sang the national anthem. When I was small and did not know the words, I was playing along. We also had to swear allegiance to the ruling party and to the country every day. Then the teacher asked: “Do you have to be ready to defend your country?” And we called in unison: “Yes, we are ready to defend our country!” We also had to shout: “The president forever!” while we tilted our stretched right arm upwards. The President and the party were so important in Syria that I thought I should learn everything here about politics and the royal family. For my civic integration exam, I read everything about King Willem-Alexander. I know who he is married to, how many children he has and much more, but there was not one question about that on the exam. That is not all that important to you. Arjan Lubach even ridicules the king in his television program. Unbelievable! Now a political party has said that all children in school must learn the national anthem and there is discussion about it. I do not think it’s odd to teach all children the national anthem. The national anthem is part of the country you belong to and that you love. That’s why you have to know it. That is not boeiuh. I just do not understand what it has to do with the Netherlands that Wilhelmus van Nassouwe is of German blood.
‘There is another language in Dutch. That of abbreviations’
Just when I thought I had mastered the Dutch language a bit, I learned that there is still a language in Dutch. The language in abbreviations. Vlgs, sws, ipv, idd, ff. Sigh. I discovered this new language at school. In September I started the Industrial Product Design course at the Hogeschool of Arnheim and Nimwegen. In the lessons on materials science we received powerpoint presentations that were full of words that I did not know. They were abbreviations. My friend made a list of abbreviations and their meaning for me. It is now hanging over my desk. There were also many abbreviations in the materials science exam. Because I have only been in the Netherlands for a short time, I can use a dictionary during exams, but some abbreviations did not. Idd, for example. That means ‘indeed’, but is not an official abbreviation. I felt like returning my pain to the teacher and using Arabic words or self-invented abbreviations in my answers. I soon made up “vlgsa”. If I were to use that, the teacher would be surprised and ask me: What is that? Then I would say: According to Anwar! I did not do it. I did not dare. All exams and reports that I had to make in these first months, I have achieved, except material science. This is not only due to the abbreviations, but also because the material was in two languages. We were taught in Dutch, but had an English study book that was almost too English. It was full of jargon. The test was also in Dutch and English. That was hard. I became angry with myself because I found it difficult. I also became angry because we received an English textbook in the Netherlands. It reminded me of Geert Wilders. I felt like using his words: President, we are losing our country. Mr President, in the Netherlands we speak Dutch! I thought about saying that in class, but I did not do it. We are in school, not in the House of Representatives. In April I have a second chance regarding the exam about materials science. Fortunately I am not the only person who has to do the exam again, but there are more people who did not pass the test. So that is sws again ff blocks.
Once a week I come to the office at De Gelderlander in Arnheim. To enter you must have a pass. I do not have that, so I depend on someone who opens the door for me. That is an exciting moment every time. Already on the stairs to the editors, I see who is there. When I see the boss, I think: not you, not you! He always immediately stands up to open the door for me. I can not get used to that kind of equality, it makes me uncomfortable. In Syria I would keep the door open for him and say: “Boss, you make the best newspaper in the Netherlands. Here you have another present, fresh food from the market.” In Syria we all stand up when the boss comes in. We praise him, say that we missed him and that the day is so beautiful because he came in. Yes, it is slime. But it’s part of it. I remember from the past that the boss of my father regularly called our house number. Then something was broken again in his house. My father and I then solved it for him. It had nothing to do with my father’s work, but he had to “come”. A kind of involuntary volunteer work. At De Gelderlander I do not have to rub, stand up for anyone, not bring gifts or repair something from the boss when it is broken. In Syria I would have been fired for a long time now, which is why I can hardly get used to it. That it really does not have to be here. Yet I am happy with it. If I have work after my studies, it seems nice that I am important, even though I have just started working. That I may give my opinion and may also contradict the boss. Now I would not dare to. Fortunately, my study just started. I have four years to get used to.
‘Striking that everyone talks about these children, except for the people in Syria’
Aylan was the first Syrian child to shock the world. He was the boy who washed up on the Turkish beach and that symbol stood for thousands of children who drowned during their get-away to Europe. Now there is Samar, a baby that is emaciated in the hands of a nurse. The Dutch newspapers state that they are suffering from hunger, but they could also be the victims of the chemical weapons used in the area where they were born. She too symbolizes thousands of children. It is striking that everyone talks about these children, except for the people in Syria. There was nothing to see about Aylan on Syrian television. I think, out of embarrassment. In the case of Samar, the government says: This is a propaganda message. If the government broadcasts reports of abuses, the opponents say so too. Nothing changes like that. Nobody says: Now it’s done. Nobody wants to change his opinion and that is how people keep going. Even when the war is over, I think the suffering continues for many people in Syria. When I lived in Syria, I went to a village for UNICEF to give people food. In that village, thousands of Kurds who were born in Syria lived, but had no identity card. They could not go to school and could not work. The father of the current president was then in power and said that these people were not Syrians, but came from Iraq. No papers. That could just be the fate of the children like Samar. They live in areas that are occupied by groups that are against the government and their parents can not outsource the villages to report the birth of their child. They are undocumented children who will not be able to go to school and have no work. There are a few organizations that use lawyers to arrange the paperwork for these people, but that is far too little. It does not matter to Samar. She died 35 days after her birth. The number of people who die is no longer shocking me. Hundred deaths in Aleppo have become normal words. A picture of a child like Samar never gets used to. It keeps touching me. She is a baby who did nothing wrong, but happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the Netherlands, the weather can suddenly change. Within three minutes it can turn from dry, good weather to hard rain. Last happened to me. I was sitting on the bike and when I left, it rained a bit. It was romantic rain. Nothing’s going on. But then it became an immense rain, and then death seemed to come out of the air. It was so much water that you could hardly name it anymore. My eye lashes became so wet that they became heavy and I could hardly open my eyes. Because it was raining so hard, I could not brake well anymore. Through the hard wind I drove down to the left. It was not normal. I think the Netherlands has natural disasters all the time because it rains a lot and it’s very hard here. In my view, you do not have to worry about anything here except for the weather. It seems to me that people in the Netherlands suddenly wear a lot of funny clothes when it starts to rain. Jackets and trousers in all kinds of colors and ponchos with dashes. Those clothes are always way too big. If people have become thicker in two years, those clothes still fit. I think they think that too. I do not have such clothes, so I got wet on that stormy day. It was suddenly also very cold due to the windy wind. The wind does nothing to the Dutch, it hits me. They just keep riding straight. I can not do that. I swab back and forth. I think it’s best to buy an astronaut suit instead of rainwear. I keep my clothes dry, but also my head and I do not injure myself when I fall. Maybe I should first ride a bicycle-in-the-storm course. Exercise at the Afsluitdijk, because it always blows. Four times back and forth to train my muscles. With such training, I can advance until I, as student industrial design at HAN, have made the real solution: an electric bike that I can click on the trolley bus network in Arnhem. Then I’m sure I always keep straight and weather and wind can defy.
‘I wondered why people are so busy in the Netherlands’
In Syria, nobody does anything for nothing. Of course you bring a soup to your sick neighbor and you help the neighbor when he builds a barn. But no-one does voluntary work, so on a regular day in the wind and wind go somewhere to work unpaid. Even those who reported themselves in the Unicef war to help tents and food, got some money or something to eat in return. Actually, the fulfillment of your day in Syria is very simple: you work or you’re free and when you’re free, call someone to talk or watch tv. Older people who no longer have to work can not do anything anymore because they do not move. Then they need the help of two people to go to the toilet. They soon die because they only sit still. Here people continue to do something after retirement, no one is going to sit still. When I was still in the refugee shelter The Dome in Arnhem, I thought that every Dutchman had to deal with a refugee because there were so many people coming to the Dome. Other Syrians also encountered this and there was a rumor that you had to do hundreds of hours of volunteering to get Dutch nationality soon. So when a paper was put on the wall with the question of who wanted to help painting an elderly home or who wanted to help clean, everyone was urged to sign up. People thought, “Now I can do volunteering hours that hour. After that, I have work and I have no time for it. “If they had done a job, they stated that their name and the number of hours they worked were noted. Now I know that Dutch people do all kinds of unpaid work without anyone obliging them to do so. I see very often older women who make up their minds and do well-dressed volunteer work. Sometimes I sometimes think: Madam, go to bed and sit down with your husband. I wondered why people are so busy in the Netherlands. Perhaps it is because they feel lonely. In Syria no one is lonely. If you’re free, just call your friends or your children to come by. This is not the case, because everyone is always at work. Then you can stay busy if it does not really need it anymore.
‘Dutch are too honest and then it hurts’
Honesty is a beautiful quality. It’s great if someone is honest and not cheating on you. With Dutch people I do not think honesty is such a good quality, because they are too honest and then it hurts. It has happened to me that I had cooked food for someone but he did not want to eat it. He did not like the look of the food, lifted his nose and said, “I can not eat this.” He did not want to taste it either. This kind of honesty hurts. In Syria you would say, “Sorry, I have already eaten.” If you ask a Dutchman if they come along, they are too fair. ‘I can not. This week, it really does not work.” In Syria, you avoid saying ‘no’. If someone asks you to come by, you say yes and then you’re looking for an option to say no, because if you say that immediately, it hurts. So you send a message with “Sorry, I already have an appointment. I can not come” For some people, this may seem like lying, but it is not. It’s a nice excuse to not hurt anyone else. I no longer ask the Dutch what they think of my new clothes. I know they will say without shame, “I do not like the pants, but the sweater is fun.” On the other hand, it is also good for Dutch people to be so honest. If a teacher asks why I did not do my homework and I say I was sick, then the teacher believes that. He also says “Are you feeling better?”. I think it’s better to like this, than to say I did not like doing homework. That’s not fun for the teacher. So I keep on using my good stories. Except as the Dutch ask me what I think of their clothes. I find that many people wear very beautiful clothes here, but wear the ugliest socks at the same time. Who is wearing a black suit with socks with the Frisian flag? There are beautiful black socks underneath. Only in such situations is I a Dutchman straight away and I will say: ‘Those socks are ugly. Do not walk next to me. “
As a child, I had a wound on my leg and, according to my mother, it was through the evil eye. That’s right. When I was a baby, a woman came to visit, and declared with a strong voice that I was a beautiful baby. She did that with great conviction and repetition: “What a beautiful baby!” And then that wound came. In Syria, moms believe that they have to protect their babies against too many compliments. If a child is praised in all the heavens, the evil eye may go to work and an accident occurs. You may become sick or ugly. Mothers therefore ensure that the baby wears a blue bead, because it offers protection from the evil eye. Instead of a bead, a mother can also express the evil eye with words. When somebody’s in the arms of the baby says: “Oh, how cute!”, the mother says, “Masha Allah,” which means “God wanted that.” Every time the child is praised in heaven, she does. Some mothers also say to their guests: “If you say,” What is the baby beautiful, “say immediately, Masha Allah.” We never give clothes to a newborn baby, because it’s the mother who wants to dress her child in her own style. Guests bring gold, or a blue bead. Sometimes in the shape of the evil eye. “Allah” indicates whether the name of the baby is engraved in gold. That gold sits on a pin that is pinned on the baby’s clothes. Poor people sell the gold to buy clothes for the baby, but rich moms keep the gold for later. They keep it in a secret place with their other gold. By the way, it is not the case that giving compliments can only bring babies to an accident. If you want to flirt with a woman, you also say that she is beautiful because God wants it. Oh, it’s all superstition. However, you can not give me too many compliments. My mother is now not around here to turn off disaster with counterfeits.
If you miss me next week, I’m in prison.
My bike has been in the center of Arnhem for weeks. I lost the key. I dare not take it up and take it to my house. I have black hair, come from Syria and have no proof that it’s my bike, so it’s asking for trouble to lift the luggage rack and so walk the city. In the Netherlands, I have learned, you need a label for everything. I do not have a label for the bike, because I received him from neighborhood residents when I lived in the Dutch refugee shelter The Dome. When I was just dreaming about my new future, I wanted to rent a room and cook food. The Dutch said I had to have a diploma. I should organize everything and arrange things before I could open a small diner. If I have to do all of that, I do not want the diner anymore. In my opinion, everything in the Netherlands is so expensive because papers are needed everywhere. In Syria, each street has many restaurants, a few mini markets and a bakery. There are also small restaurants where almost all Syrians buy fool and humus or falafel on Friday morning, when everyone is at home. You pick it up at such a restaurant and have a nice time at home, as you get a fries. The owners of such a business need a license, but they just buy you. You go to the town hall, say what you want, pay and you have the paper in. You do not need it for small restaurants. Also no diploma. People with a small restaurant are just good at cooking. Experience is more important than a diploma or paper. Not here. Here you need a license to work, you must have a diploma to get a job and I have to prove that my bike is mine. I can not, but I’m going to pick up my bike and take home, no matter how risky it is. If you miss me in the newspaper next week, I’m in prison because I stole my own bike.
In the Netherlands “yes” is not “yes”
In the Netherlands “yes” is not “yes”. I often experience that. I wanted to attend a day at a HAN course. I walked to the relevant department and notified me. I was told that I had to do that again, but by mail. I did that. On the appointed training day I was not logged in. The woman said, “We have sent you an email asking us to confirm your application, we have not responded.” Two times saying “yes” was not enough. I myself went to that department to say that I would like to have a full day at that training. That seems enough to me that I would like to do? The same way as the communication with DUO. That institution finances my integration. If I made an appointment with someone from the DUO, that appointment is not valid. DUO’s letters all say something different because they are sent by different departments. They do not know that they send me letters, I think. It’s not that I’m not used to bureaucracy. In Syria it is at least so bad. But in a different way. We do not use a postal system and nothing is handled over the internet. If you want to arrange something, just take a lot of time. You are going to a building and in that building you are then sent from one cabinet to the an other. You must get a yellow paper on the first floor. Once there you have to be on the third floor. Then you get the assignment to collect stamps that need to be placed in a particular order. I do not see stamps in the Netherlands, in Syria they love it, especially in passports. In a Dutch passport, the King of the Netherlands requests everyone to assist the holder of this passport and to provide assistance if necessary. In a Syrian passport, that is not the case. That’s why we often joking that we do not get help but only pay a fine if we lose our passport.
My haircut is ruined. I now have spines, while only my points had to be cut. I cycled through my Arnhem Presikhaaf district and saw a new Syrian hairdresser. Oh, well, I thought, too. Can we speak Arabic? I should of course have better know, because in Syria the barbers are self-evident. They are negotiating your haircut. I still know that I used to put pictures in a hairdresser’s book. “I want my hair like this!” I said to the hairdresser. He looked professional and did not care about it. I was just a sec inside this hairdressing salon in Presikhaaf or this man started his negotiation. All my hair off! That was his opening bid. No, no, I said. Only the dots. The man acted as if he agreed and began to cut. A little later I sat completelycut short in the hairdressing chair. “What did you do?” I called. “I’m not a tree to be pruned!” He was not impressed. “This is a summer style. By summer, short hair belongs.’ He took a knife out of his apron and wanted to start my beard. ‘I’ll update that a little bit’. Ha, nothing of it. I did not let that happen. You’re off my beard! When I was young, I received doctor injections. They found me to be too small. As a result, I already had a beard on my twelfth, and my face is now completely closed if I do not stop it. Shaving my beard with knives only makes an increase of the hairs, which I can not use at all. In Syria, everyone is currently very short at. If you do not, then soldiers will take you on and send you to a hairdresser if you’re lucky. A big beard and long hair think too much of the appearance of a rebel, someone who disagrees with the government. Unfortunately, the Dutch government does not think my hair is important. Then my hairdressing visit was good for something.
Students doing crazy things here, I learned last week in the introduction week of Arnhem Nijmegen University (HAN). They whistle, stand on the table and curse a lot. One of the students had used one of the assignments to use his mobile to find something and that was not possible. He had to get on the table and everyone began to call: Pants on your head! Pants on your head! I did not know what I saw. When he really began to pull his pants off, I did not dare to look. I was baby 3 of a “mom,” a 19 year old girl. I’m 26 and thought: you’re here the baby, not me. But I had seen that boy on the table thinking, I do not want 162 boys and girls to look at me and laugh at me. I am going well and doing the assignments neatly. At night we all slept in a big tent. I could sleep no more than three hours, it was not quiet anymore. The second night I went home to sleep, even though I received a yellow card. I could not hold on any longer. I can not do crazy things for 24 hours, dance and pretend to sing songs about Brabant. If in Syria someone is going to study, he behaves very well and respectfully. Almost like a businessman. When I studied law in Syria, I looked like Mark Rutte with my shirt and without much gel in my hair. Singing and sitting on the table do not belong. In Syria you can not speak by a teacher. So when the teachers came last week, I thought it would be a little quiet, but no. The teachers also went crazy. When one of the teachers got up, they started calling again: Pants on your head! Pants on your head! The students are all crazy, but they are all lovely too. They are really happy and make friends fast. Why do I experience this now only when I’m 26? When I was younger, I would be much easier to participate. Then I might be in the middle of the night in my underpants under a cold shower where everyone was at. Now I’d rather pay 20 euros to go home with a taxi and shower there.
What Syria and the Netherlands have in common is beautiful nature. One big difference is that there is little attention in Syria and here very much. The municipality, people and children in the Netherlands are working on it. They do not throw any mess in nature, for example. In Syria you throw everything away from you. A well-known statement there is: “I’m not the only one who throws waste here, so I’m throwing my waste away.” Before the war broke out, the government began to advertise for nature. The message was that we did not have to pollute the environment, but no one listened to it. In the Netherlands, it’s often about the climate. I hear people talking about the news and politics. That’s new to me, because in Syria the climate is the last thing we care about. We have a minister of climate, but it only fills a ministerial seat because the whole world is doing it. This summer, I discovered that attention to nature and the environment is not only from the Netherlands but from all over Europe. I was on holiday in Austria and saw rivers and waterfalls with clean clear water. There was no waste in the woods. I only saw nature and breathed in fresh, fresh air, although there were many people everywhere. I saw that they stopped trashing their bags and did not leave the woods. Not only the Dutch did this, but all the people. Also the Italians and other tourists. What is also noticeable is that I have to split up all my waste in order to recycle it. This week, the gray container will be picked up, next week it will be plastic. In Syria you throw everything in one bag and the waste is collected every day. People immediately put their trash bags on the street when it is full, so you never see a clean street unless the town has just picked up the trash. In Austria, when I had in my hand in a wrapper of a chocolate, I noticed that I now have a European and Syrian Anwar in me. I wanted to wait until nobody looked and throw away the paper, but the new Anwar said, no, do not. If I throw a mess on the streets or in nature, I feel ashamed and I do not feel Dutch. I stopped the paper like a real European in my jacket pocket. For the climate.
I am the first refugee in Arnhem who has stopped his social service allowance after a year to study. That’s what the social services staff told me. I am proud of that because for me a benefit is more a problem than a solution. Syrians want to work. We are not used to getting money for nothing except our father. That’s why I feel now, with this benefit, just one child. The Dutch state helped me with it for fifteen months, and for this I thanked the social services employee. She did not think so, because she did not, but the government gave me the benefit. I see it so that if I thank her, I actually thank the government. When I said that to her, I saw she got a tear in her eyes. After the summer holidays, I begin to design industrial product training at the HAN. In Syria I was a graduate lawyer, but I have to start all over again in the Netherlands. In fact, I always wanted to be an architect, but in Syria my grades were not high enough to study architecture. Here I could go to study architecture, but it’s hard to find work and that’s why I do not. The Netherlands needs technical people. The study I’m going to do now is close to architecture and is technical. I hope I can do some back for this country that has provided me so well and has given me fifteen months of benefits. I have therefore thought about becoming a funeral entrepreneur. It turns out that there are many old people in the Netherlands. When I told Julie, my girlfriend, she began to tell me about the babyboom; that after the Second World War there there was a birthwave. Once those people were born at once, they all died at the same time and there were many funerals. It seems to me more fun to be a product designer. I hope that I will find a job in addition to my studies. When I had a benefit, what I earned was deducted from my allowance, but I can just keep the money I earn in addition to the student loan. That motivates me. I do not go anymore with the municipality and if I work later, I walk like a proud Syrian by Arnhem.
The streets in the Netherlands sometimes only seem to be a final eaminartion in mathematics. Lines, colors, shapes and ribbons have a meaning that only Dutch can get a diploma. Syrians also have a theory degree, but you can just buy that. Moreover, there is not much to learn. One hand on the steering wheel If the traffic light jumps on orange, indicating that it turns out to be green, you start cheating. This means that the car needs to be pushed forward. We do not have to drive apart as here, because every road has at least five lanes. Since the war there are four more, because one lane is now for the army. The soldiers do not drive along, but are already shooting in the air. And something else about the Dutch roads: the number of goody-goody cars that are on the roads. Dutch think before buying a car. The amount of groceries they need weekly and the number of children that may come. The cars are not sporty or beautiful, but practical and large. In Syria you can see racecars especially on the road. Children can be on lap and groceries between the legs, if that car looks sporty and fast. President Assad has made the belt mandatory since its entry, which means that motorists now hang a piece of belt around their shoulder. Not that they really clench him, as it seems. Meanwhile I know the traffic rules in the Netherlands. When I see a man with a long stick rolling down across the street, I now know that it is not the FBI that detects bombs under the sidewalk. It’s a blind who can find the way through ripples on the street. And that ripples are not there to wipe your shoes away. Including a theory exam in the integration course would not be crazy. And then one that can not be bought off is.
Children have ten weeks summer holiday in Syria. It is then very hot in the city. Because there are no playgrounds and it’s too dangerous to play football on the street, you have to sit in for the whole time. That is why many children go to a village in their long summer holiday. Everyone who lives in the city has family or acquaintances in a village. We always went by bus from our city of Aleppo to my grandpa and grandmother in Kobani, my father’s parents. In my youth it was two hours by bus, later in the war the same ride took ten hours. We were allowed to do everything we wanted, we had nature around us and grandpa and grandma spoiled us with candies. Not only my brother and I were in the summer at grandma and grandmother, my cousins and my cousins were there too and often the neighbor children also stayed. In the beginning we were shy because we had not seen each other for a long time, but soon we were a group and we went to argue with the children in another street. Sometimes we went to the forest to eat fruit, we played in the lake or went to family visit. Nobody could swim by the way, so we only played on the side of the lake. Through the whole house of our grandparents, children were sleeping on the ground. During the holidays Grandpa and Grandma were the boss. We listened to them, even if our mother was there. Sometimes grandma and grandma used something that my mother took the blood under the nails. She did not speak to her in-laws, but in the background she made wild gestures. It was therefore not always easy for the mothers, but at the end of the holiday they were rewarded. Before we went home, we always got a lot of food from the village. We arrived at home with bags of yogurt, olives and honey. The house in Kobani was destroyed by the war, the family who lived there fled to Turkey. New memories will no longer be created.
Dutch people have a lot of names. For example, a woman is called Maria, but says, “My real name is Maria Alexandra Sophia. In the past I was called Rutjes, but now I’m Beekman, just like my husband.’ I often ask in the Netherlands what does your name mean? People then begin to look glazed. A name does not always have a meaning here. In Syria this is a condition. We may have only one first name. Our last name can never change, even for women. My mother is not called Manlasadoon. Like in the Netherlands, we also have crazy surnames, like ‘donkey’. But usually are the occupations. The first part of my surname ‘Manla’ means imam. Sadoon is my ancestor’s first name. So apparently he was imam. Other common surnames in Syria are ‘iron trader’, ‘carpenter’ and ‘doctor’. First names are not used in Syria. Men and women are addressed by the name of their eldest son. My mother is Am Achmed. (The mother of Achmed) and my father Abu Achmed. (The father of Achmed). Because I find Jazan a pretty boy name, I’m in Syria ‘abu Jazan.’ If I had a son, he would be called Jazan. It’s an appeal title that shows respect. Certainly for women, because it is very unusual for me to know a woman’s first name in Aleppo. It is considered private. If I would know the first name of my neighbor in Aleppo, the rumor would immediately arise that I have a relationship with her. Because my nickname is ‘Abu Jazan’, my in-laws also know that I would like to name a future son in Jazan. My mother in law does not like it. My girlfriend’s brother neither. He wants Pickachu. Abu Pickachu, I have to get used to it.
My Dutch friends say that I do not lock my house well enough. I always leave open the back door and I do not lock my front door. I feel so safe in the Netherlands, I can not imagine it’s necessary. “Yes,” the Dutch say in my environment, “And if you see a burglar in your house, you do not have to do anything yourself. Walk back outside and call 112.” I’m trying to imagine that myself. I come home and see a burglar. I do not do anything but pick up my phone and go for a call. Meanwhile, I call in: “Sir, you want to leave that vase, please, that’s was a gift of my mother.” No, that’s not how it will be. That burglar is going home, I will do my best for myself. I have said it more often, but Syrians are not used to call the police themselves. Firstly, because Syrian agents are known to come when they feel like it. Once upon a time, you have to pay them money if they feel that they are outshoved for nothing. Really soon, emergency services can not be on the spot. They all have their own, complicated phone number. If you have someone to take, you can give them a 5 minute driving directions. Turn right at the supermarket, then drive to a red parasol, then twice left …. etcetera. Patient died, house burned, burglar flown again. You may want to do a cup of coffee with an intruder first, offer another dinner, after which the police may be in the area. Dutch say that the police can be at my house very quickly. Sometimes even in five minutes. I’m considering trying it out. I call 112 and time on my phone. If they are on time, I can say I’m proud of them. So fast at my house! But that does not seem to be possible in the Netherlands again.
A Dutch bathroom is like a department store. Dozens of bottles and pots in a row to choose from. When Ahmad and I moved to our house in Arnhem Presikhaaf, we bought for 50 euros of goods in the bathroom. We also wanted a whole row of bottles in the shower. “But it’s all shampoo!”, said a Dutchman who proudly showed us our bathroom. What appears, it is the intention that in all those pots is something different. A pot for the hair, one for the body, to use during the shower, to use after the shower, for blonde people, dark people, people with curly hair and little hair. There was no shampoo for newcomers. All those products seem the same, but according to my girlfriend, that is not the case. The stuff for your body is not allowed in your hair and body lotions do not allow you to use shampoo. I found myself there when we shared as house mates a Dove package of the Action as housewives. I got the bodylotion, which did not want to foam in my hair. Worrying, with my parents at Aleppo, there is only one product. Soap, we call it Ghar. Aleppo is famous for its soap, it has been made for olive oil and laurel for 4000 years. It is for your body and for your hair. For everything actually. A bodylotion is not used, certainly not by men. There your skin becomes soft while men still have a rough skin. With a soft skin, you think of a woman. Well, everybody carries perfume, very much. If you walk over the street, smell everyone’s perfume from a distance. In the Netherlands I get comment that I wear too much perfume. Indeed, I do not like two syringes in my neck, as I see Dutch. “Stop Anwar, that’s enough!” Calls my girlfriend when I spray perfume. I do not listen, because in some things I just want to stay my Syrian self.”
Many Dutch people have an extra room in their house. There is a lot of food. A kind of mini-Albert Heijn in back home. I once asked my Dutch host family where I lived for a while: “Do you know what you have there?” No, they actually did not know exactly. It looks like a room with an emergency supply, for when the war breaks out. In this extra room, many tools also hang out with a variety of hooks and protrusions. The first time I entered such a space, I thought I had discovered the dark side of the Dutch. A torture room, just at the back of the house! It looks scary. Meanwhile, I know that those items and devices are used to work in the garden. Because Dutch, they want to keep their garden tidy. No meadow with fruit trees, as I’m used to from Syria, but a garden that can be drawn by way of speaking. Every centimeter has been considered. I once thought that it was the municipalities in the Netherlands who are so precise and tidy to keep nature, but also the residents of the Netherlands like to do it. When I was taken by Dutchmen to the Intratuin, half the country turned out to be there. Logical too, because at the primary school in Aleppo, I learned that the Netherlands is the country of cheese, milk and flowers. I noticed that the contact with your neighbors depends to a large extent on your garden. My housemate Achmed and I have done nothing in our garden in Arnhem Presikhaaf for months. When we did that recently, the whole street went out. Neighbors greeted us and shared compliments. I think they think it’s important to do that more often.
Sometimes my head is just a problem book that I can only close when I go to sleep. How will my brother escape the charge of going in the army, where should my parents live now that they have no house anymore? Whenever I call my family in Syria, there are new problems. But there is also my new life in the Netherlands. Do I get my state exam before September? If I do not succeed, what should I do for a year? How do I pay my tuition fees later and how do I get to my own house? I’m sometimes tired of all those questions and problems. When I was in the refugee shelter a year ago, I had only one wish: a house. When the municipality of Arnhem proposed to make “dome couples” who live together in a house, I immediately said yes. It was a way for the municipality to quickly help refugees, for us a way to get the refugee shelter. Now, a year later, I wish I did not give up as a guinea pig. Our house does not appear to be temporary, but forever. If we do not take action ourselves, my house mate Achmed and I are old together. “If you’re lucky, you can find a house through our housing system within two years,” said a refugee employee. The verdict is strange. If I was lucky, I would not have been born in Syria, or would the war never be broken, so I would not have had to come to the Netherlands at all. It feels strange that in a rich, modern country like the Netherlands there are not enough houses. In Syria you can rent a house every day of the week. Not that people have money for it, but it can. Here people have money, but can not. Complaining as a refugee, it’s not possible. But sometimes, I’m just tired and I’m not talking about gratitude for a moment. Dutch people also complain, so I’m just really integrating.
My Syrian friend Basel and I integrate on the internet. Because in the Netherlands you do everything through your computer. Nobody can tell you anything, it must come from a screen. A doctor can not diagnose his head, like doctors in Syria. It seems like a doctor is talking to his screen, but actually he is talking to you. A receptionist knows nothing without internet and my contact on the HAN also gets everything from his computer. You wonder, where is this human questionbag still necessary, if anyone still looks in the PC for a while. In any case, Basel and I started with internet stores. I signed up for a free phone and Basel wanted to try herbal remedies. Within a few days I was called with the news that I had won a trip to Abu Dhabi. I scared my bike along the side of the road and answered all the questions of the woman. Who I wanted to go with, where I lived, how to reach me. I have heard nothing from that holiday, but from other companies. I’m called every day. ‘Mister Mr. Manlasadoon, we’ve heard you’re interested in solar panels?’ The search for Basel for herbal remedies was even more dramatic. Whenever something goes wrong, we call Gerda. A lovely Arnhem woman who took me home in my first time in the Netherlands. “Eh Gerda?” “Always when I call her, without having an appointment, she knows that I am in trouble. “We have a subscription for hair growth funds for the duration of one year. We have to pay 50 euros a month.” Gerda sighs. “Can’t you stay out of trouble once a week?” Her son wrote a letter stating that Basel is a refugee who does not know what he has clicked. There is a compromise, we have to pay one month for herbal remedies. I think we’re going to ‘integration on the internet’, but just break down. Nothing for us.
Last week there were flags from the window with school bags everywhere in Arnhem. Students received notice that they were successful. Here after the congratulations you ask the question: And? What are you going to do now? In Syria you do not choose what to study, the numbers determine it. You can earn a total of 240 points. In addition, a smart trick during an Syrian exam is involving President Assad in your answer. Few teachers who dared to put a red line by a statement from him. Of course, students make use it. If you are successful, your mother is yelling in Arabic from the window. The street will congratulate you. Then the question: And? How many points did you earn? I really wanted to be an architect, but for that you need 207 points. I had 201. I could do that with the law, so I did. If you have not reached enough points, you can pay by. Then you can study what you want. We had no money for that. For an ICT training you will need the second highest score. Only doctor is higher. In the Netherlands you can easily enter the ICT, so many Syrians do that too. A calll to your family that you are in ICT here can not make them more proud. Funny by the fact that in a country where everything really goes through the internet, the result of an exam is over the phone. You will be called here, or not. In Syria, nothing goes on the internet, but a test result then suddenly. While most do not have it. So Syrian students travel on the day of the results to a good neighborhood, looking for a shop where the internet is. There they go round the computer to see their results. My mother starts yelling when I have graduated from my graduation degree. I do not keep the phone out of the window, I suspect my neighbors do not understand that they need to congratulate me. So it just becomes a flag with a bag on it. As a citizenship certificate.
To greet in the Netherlands, that remains a bit uncomfortable. I want to adapt myself to Dutch by hand and kiss three times, while Dutch people want to adjust to me and give me a hand or give me a greeting from a distance. When I was just in the Netherlands and was in The Dome (De Koepel) in refugee care, it was much more uncomfortable. Women stormed down at me to give me a hand or kiss me, but I screamed and fell backwards. I’m used to the fact that it is very inappropriate to touch a woman at the first meeting. It could offend her husband. If Dutch women kiss me in the presence of their friend or husband, I still find it difficult. I always look nervous about her friend or husband. Is he all right? During that time, I also embarrassed the Dutch. I was taken home by the Dutch couple Gerda and Erik. When I met Erik, I gave him two kisses. I noticed that he did not like that. Now I understand that Dutch men do not kiss each other. If my father came to the Netherlands and he would meet Gerda and Erik, he would not give Gerda a hand at the first meeting. He would find it inappropriate in the presence of her husband. The Dutch might call it disrespectful, while my father would feel a brutal, respectless man if he would. Well, just culture difference. My dad and grandpa greet me for Syrian use with a handshake. After the kiss you touch your forehead with your hand. Then they said, “I’m happy about you”. Children in Syria kiss but like the hand of their (big) father, because in most cases they get money back. My father did not rarely call me when I walked: “Kissing does not make sense Anwar, I do not have money in my pocket!”
I attended a Dutch wedding. The word ‘wedding’ does not really match with what I am used to, because it was not a big party. We went to the town hall. There someone of the municipality said a few things, like the names of the couple. The husband and wife said yes, gave each other a kiss, after which it was finished. Afterwards we went to dinner in a restaurant. A wedding in Syrie does not seem to be far from here. It is common for the man to take care of the new house. Those furniture is brought to the girl’s house the day before the wedding. By the day, when twenty cars and hundreds of people get to the bride, the groom brings out the furniture with other men. Then the whole neighborhood can see what kind of decor the man has provided for his wife. Meanwhile, music is made on the streets and everyone dances. By that time my mother has been busy for years now. She makes the most beautiful pillows and looks for the most beautiful crockery. I have said to her very often, I do not want to wear furniture to show them around and I do not want a street full of dancing people. But she says it has to be because it belongs. After this whole ritual in the street, the wedding couple leaves for the party location. There are at least 1,000 people. The bride couple sits on a stage and can not kiss each other. Visitors do not give gifts, but money. Sometimes there is a ‘presenter’ that counts how much money is given. ‘Family Manlasadoon, 30,000 Lira!’ When our house was bombarded a few years ago, my entire “wedding booth” has been lost. I do not doubt my mother has started again.
King’s Day, a day when the Dutch people do very differently than on other days. The municipality arranges free partying in the city, people are clothed in orange and are drinking a lot. Where the Dutch usually walk well to the trash bin to throw away waste, they throw it on King’s Day negligently over their shoulder. “Because that’s what the municipality will clean up,” I heard from my Dutch friends last year. That seems similar to the mentality in Syria, although the municipality does not get rid of it. We do not have a king in Syria and the president’s birthday we do not celebrate. No idea why, but no one knows when he’s born. Saudi Arabia has a king. King Salman. He is also the head of state. He has women, money and Lamborghini’s, nothing is too crazy. He is especially known in Syria as stupid. When he speaks on television, nobody understands him. If he is to read for it, it’s even worse. It seems like he can not read Arabic. He never has to study because he is the king. I have heard that our king in the Netherlands is smart, that he is even engineer in the field of water. What I do not know is whether the Dutch are so passionate celebrate celebrations because of their love for him or because they just like parties. Sometimes I think the latter. I was once in a show in the city theater in Arnhem, where a king’s aunt came to see. When she was announced, people clashed with flaws. Some did not hit at all. I shocked that reaction and wondered if we should not stand up to show respect. If you’re just going to party, I’d like to organize an Anwarday. Everyone drank the street in the colors of the Syrian flag, with a touch of orange.
I am sometimes worried about how it all should be if I had children in the Netherlands. I do not know much about babies, I would e.g. give them a coke because I like it myself too. And should my house mate Achmed help us? I do not see it for me. He also knows nothing about babies. In Syria it would be easy, my mother and mother in law would teach us everything in the first few weeks. They have the experience and would take over the entire household for weeks, including the care of the baby. Recently I learned at school how Dutch people do that. They get a maternity aid. What a good system again. We also learned about midwives. Those in Syria are only for poor people. And for jealous husbands. A gynecologist is often a man, which is not acceptable for any spouse . Also many women do not like that. Female obstetricians often have to treat ailments that have nothing to do with pregnancy or birth. But the patient dares or is not allowed to go to a male doctor with his illness. In the Netherlands this is all better regulated. You can not go to the midwife with a sore ankle. Because I have to choose a new profession in the Netherlands, Dutch people sometimes think about me. “Why do not you become a dentist?” said a friend. “Then you will earn much money.” I did not understand that comment. In Syria, your profession has nothing to do with the amount you deserve. You can be a dentist with patients in a poor neighborhood, or a stone rich in another neighborhood. It’s all about your descent, your environment and your clientele. Funny that does not matter in the Netherlands. Thus, a student can choose how rich he would like to study before he studies.
Patience, I have not always. Especially not when I feel that my neighbor is wronged. The last time I lost my patience, it ended not very well. My then girlfriend in Syria walked over the street. I saw her walking from a distance. A man came up, he started calling things to her. My girlfriend did not respond. The man walked towards her and began to pull at her. I ran over there and hit the man to the ground. Finish well, I thought. Later in the day, there came jeeps in our street, full with soldiers. They had big rifles in their hands and shouted in the street: where is “Anwar Manlasadoon? Where is Anwar Manlasadoon?”. What turned out, the man I had hit was a military. They found our house and took me apart. I was struck while my father was questioned. My mother had to cry and my father tried to explain that he had a stupid, stupid son. That of course has a lot of respect for soldiers and for Assad. In the end, I was not shot as we had expected. They were susceptible to the argument that I could not have known that he was a military because he was wearing civic clothes. I shall never have the tendency to hit a Dutchman . Because the Dutch do not do it themselves. If my Dutch girlfriend was to be bothered on the streets, I would (hopefully) be quiet and talk about it. Well, talk with noise then. So I make an impression. And if all of this does not help, well …. then it does not matter if there is a Syrian or Dutchman for me.
The love between Anwar and Julie: it is complicated
When he does voluntary work in a nursing home in Arnhem, he meets the 21st of July 2016 Julie Droeghaag. A sober Dutch woman. Love begins simple, but becomes more serious, the more complicated.
Julie: “When we got to know each other I did a writing course in Arnhem. I lived as a student in a nursing home. Anwar loves the elderly, he came across the floor to walk with Arabic-speaking elderly people. We got a relationship. He soon started to talk about a marriage. I found that too fast, it was absolutely no option for me.”
The two see each other regularly. Even if Julie moves back to her birthplace Sittard. Although in Syria the status “in a relationship” does not exist, Anwar agrees to do so for the time being. Not engaged, not married, but together.
Anwar: ,,I soon saw the benefits of the ‘Dutch way’ that men and women interact with. You do not have to get married right away, you must get to know each other first. Even on vacation together. I like it well. I also have no problems that Julie is not faithful. She may be as good as a Muslim.”
Julie: “Years ago, a friend of mine asked me or I believed somewhere. My sister answered directly from the living room with: ‘No. We are heretics. “I was not baptized and not faithfully raised. I came alone in the church with Sinterklaas and with carnival. When my classmates made the communion, I was one of the seven exceptions from two full classes. As a “replacement assignment,” I made a paper about another faith. I chose Islam”.
Anwar: “For me, faith is important. I believe in God and want to do what He asks of me. Now I am in the Netherlands, I no longer think that believers are better people than unbelievers, because here I see many people do good things while they do not believe in God.”
Spotless: As long as there are no future plans on the table, the relationship goes smoothly. Julie is deep in Syrian culture and Anwar is learning the Netherlands through Julie. Together they celebrate Christmas in Sittard, New Years with Dutch friends in Germany and carnival in Limburg. Then Julie will be the first to live together in the new school year.
Julie: ,,Anwar accepts the unmarried relationship we have now. Now that I threaten to live together in the future, it starts to creak him again. He has learned for 26 years that he must first marry before he can live with a woman.”
Anwar: “For me, living together without being married is not an option. I do not have to marry the church, I’m not saying anything. An imam must connect us in real life. Then it has the approval of God. But then it will be complicated.”
Julie: “Muslims, Jews, and Christians can only marry women of the book. An unbelieving wife can not marry. We only know that syndrome. An imam will not really connect us. I’m not unbelieving. It just has no name. I believe there is more than just the earth and that things do not just happen, but if everything is settled by a man in heaven, I do not know.”
Anwar: “Maybe I could live together without being married, but if I already know that there will never be a marriage, it’s actually useless. I could never do my parents to stay married forever. Against God, I find it wrong. Maybe we find a liberal imam who wants to marry a Muslim with an “unbeliever”?”
Julie: ,,I do not know what I think about it. My thoughts have been a little war in my mind for months. That marital deduction seems a little trouble, but at the same time, it seems disrespectful to think so lightly. Nor do I know if it’s honest and sincere to marry a belief that I do not adhere to and whether it’s not too early.”
Anwar: “Now that I’m in the Netherlands for a long time, I notice that I do not want to stretch my boundaries any further. I want to change myself, but I do not lose myself and my faith either. I notice that there has been a boundary on the point of unmarried living for me.”
Julie: “It’s like, so often in the past year, a search for who has to adapt to the other person, I or he. Most of the time we find a golden middle way. It’s going to be stuck somewhere, but I do not know.”
First God, then your mother
In Syria it is every day Mother’s Day. In the Qur’an, obedience to God is as important as obedience to your parents, especially to your mother. Syrians also experience that. A mother is number 1, 2 and 3. At number 4 the father comes. It is a statement by Prophet Muhammad. I also, like most Syrians, have the conviction that I can only be happy if my mother is satisfied with me. My mother only has to do with sons, but I’m the daughter she never had for her. She always says that. So I have to help my whole life in the kitchen, with the groceries and the brushing. If I were to marry, my wife would take over my job. My mother would then be served by my wife because of her age. If I was a little older, I would also call very strict ‘coffee’ to my wife. To show to my mother that I am a strong husband. But in my generation, that’s no longer happening, we’re laughing at it. This week my mother sent me a video of our house in Aleppo. At least, what’s left of it. My parents have done 20 years for the payment of the house. Now that it has been destroyed by the war they have nothing anymore, because there is no insurance. We have been pulled into the house of my aunt flown to the countryside, but she wants to go back to her own house. My mother was crying when I called her about the movie. Talking to her is difficult because she has become deaf all the time by all bombings. Good doctors have fled, so she has treated her ears by a doctor who has helped her hearing even further. My light, my beauty, you are the love in my heart, my deer and the glory in my eyes: all the greetings of a Syrian son to his mother, she hears more.
Your parents and your grandparents are your lives
In the Netherlands people discuss the suicide pill. From the age of 70, you should have the opportunity to put an end to your life with a pill, because it has been beautiful. I think that very much because it shows that old people in the Netherlands do not like it. They are lonely and unnecessary. I know Dutch who visit their parents or grandparents only once a month and just drink a cup of coffee and make a puzzle together. Then they go back to their own lives. In Syria that is the other way around. Your parents and grandparents are yours. As grandpa or grandmother you are also in the main phase of your life. You are the center of the whole family. The most wise and the most important. In every case, the opinion of grandfather gives the breakdown. As grandparents there will not be a day without your family on the sidewalk. If you are too old to take care of yourself, you will live at your eldest son. Syrians do it out of tradition, out of family love, but there is also a financial aspect. If you lose your duty as a son or daughter, there is a chance that your legacy will pass by your nose. Cosy – Grandchildren visit faithfully their grandfather and grandmother. Every day you do not work, you go to your grandparents as a grandchild. On all public holidays, on all weekends. That’s no punishment, because it’s always cozy. It is the house where everyone meets. A suicide pill for the elderly is not necessary in Syria. They may be in the most beautiful phase of their lives. Should they nevertheless be tired, they do not need a pill. Just walk out and rebel against the government or any arbitrary rebel group is enough.
“I’m a muslim, but I do not mind my girlfriend is not”
A relationship with a Dutch woman, becomes complicated if it gets serious. I’m a Muslim, but I do not mind my girlfriend being not. A non believing girl can be as good as a muslim. Still, I can not erase the Syrian culture for 26 years. I was raised with the idea that marrying is important. You can not live together in a house without an imam really connected to the girl. I think that is important and I believe that God wants to. My girlfriend finds it difficult, but would have it for me. She is not faithful, but would be married by an imam if I really need it. Now it is only apparent that an imam does not really connect people whose one does not have faith. A friend of mine has recently married a Dutch girl. That girl is Christian, he is Muslim. That may be possible. But marry a girl who does not believe in a God, that does not make imams. To me, this is a serious problem. I do not know what to do now. I have to marry in my life, I certainly do not want to remain an unmarried man with a girlfriend. For my family, I would not want that, but not for myself. Just pretend my girlfriend is faithful is also not an option. We would lie to Imam and to God. Since I’ve been in the Netherlands, I’ve investigated many things. I have not been the perfect Muslim that I might have been to. A relationship with a girl is actually something that can not be done from my background. I think so, and I think so. Nevertheless, I notice that I have reached a limit now. Unmarried living together does not fit me. Certainly, knowing that Islamic marriage does not belong at all. I still have some hope. Maybe there are imams that are less strict and really want to connect us in the future. At least, we have enough to think about.
I am busy with my state examination at B2 level. I have acquired knowledge of society, I have to get the results from the listening and reading test. I suspect I did not get it, it was very difficult. In that case, I can not start a HBO study at the Hogeschool Arnheim Nimwegen in September. I’m already following colleges of physics. The content of the subject is not new to me, but to follow the courses in Dutch is difficult. The teachers speak quickly and use concepts that I do not know yet. The State Examination Knowledge of Society was easy. I had the trick soon. The answer to the questions is in most cases the last one that comes up to me.
Question: “Your mother in Morocco has died and you have to go there. What are you doing?
A. You report your child sick and leave for Morocco.
B. You do not report anything to the school and go to Morocco.
C. You make an appointment with the school director and discuss the situation.
The last answer would never come up in me, so that was the right one. Dutch people often think exactly the opposite of what I used to be, so I could easily answer each question in this way.
Question: ‘You will see a vacancy to apply for. You do not know how to write a good letter in Dutch.
A. You ask someone else to write the letter for you.
B. You do not ask for help and write the letter yourself
C. You are going to write a course where you will learn to write application letters.
The good answer, C, again does not come close to my first impulses. If I have passed the exams, I will have to get a good deal before September. Some classmates who follow the colleges of physics have decided to go to the mbo. Now, teachers take our tempo into account, no more. Reading lessons with Dutch people by Dutch seems a lot more difficult than I thought.
I have good news. Dutch will all be in paradise! Ever since childhood, I learned that the prophet Mohammed promised a place in paradise to people who care for orphans. In Syria is an orphanage for that reason a favorite charity. Donate money or time to essentially constitutes a ticket to heaven. I recently went looking for an orphanage in Arnhem where I can volunteer. Nobody could tell me of my Dutch friends where the nearest orphanage. “In fact, I think we have that do not in the Netherlands”, I got every time as response. An elderly woman was able to tell me that orphans are housed in the Netherlands with families. So they always live in a family. I got tears in my eyes when I heard that. I could not believe it. Dutch people have devised a system that essentially orphans always have a family. The most striking I find it incredulous Dutch to also participate in that system. So they catch a child of someone else, because they find it easy to do so. When I just arrived in the Netherlands, I assumed that all the people who helped me were believers. Gradually revealed that many of them adhered to no religion. Dutch do good deeds just from their hearts. Because they want to help others. Although Syria anyone assist orphans, is their inclusion in a family usually not an option. It would mean that a boy and a girl, not each other’s brothers and sister live under the same roof. And there would be so anything can happen. There is one exception. If a baby is so small that he or she is breastfeeding. If a girl could have drinks with my mother, she would be my sister in milk. And it is allowed.
The community Bronckhorst invited me to come to a meeting for refugees. The community welcomes this year new status holders They wanted to know: how to handle this? Or how not? There were many volunteers and employees of the community. All these people were together to consider how to ensure the best for the group of asylum seekers coming. I find that amazing. That’s so really great about the Netherlands. That so many people genuinely do their best to make the best of a situation. Maybe you think that’s normal, but it’s really special. The attendees questioned me about every detail of the past year.
What I missed in my first time at the refugee center? Training. We would rather have filled our time filled with Dutch lessons.
Wanting some guidance towards my own house? A translator. We had to sign anything, but we had no idea what we signed. I was happy with all the help of a Dutch woman, but the others did not.
Practical information would also be welcome. For example shops. We did not know what shops in the Netherlands are give good products for a low price. And what could be improved at my current stage? Control. I know refugees who still follow any Dutch lessons after 1.5 years. They have to arrange that themself, but do not. I liked that I “after a long time in the Netherlands”, now could give feedback. Information where all those people eager to get to work. And so I help other refugees who will walk the same path as I did. But then smoother.
I find it annoying that you can not bribe anyone in the Netherlands. It has been made quickly clear to me in my first time in the Netherlands that you can not bribe here, so I do not try. But I find it difficult. I’m used to that you can solve any problem with money. In our garden is blown over the fence and broke. We rang the housing association and they came to see. Here we can not do anything, they said. It is not up to us to fix this. “Who needs it or fix?”, we asked. “No idea”, said the housing association, “but we do not”. That they mean it. If we would offer them money, they would not repair the fence. It feels strange. Why Dutch want to earn extra money?
Certificate: When I graduated as a lawyer in Aleppo I wanted to get my diploma. In college I was told I had to wait a few weeks for me to receive my diploma. There was absolutely no way to get my degree before. I gave him an envelope with money and the employee told: “Tomorrow is your degree ready.”
Army: After graduation I had two months before I would have to report to the army. In those two months I was stopped three times by soldiers who wanted to take me. “If you’re only conscripted over two months, you’re two months but with us,” they said. I did it three times to get rid of them by giving them money. Then I fled.
Rules: That fence, I’m fine with it. That there is no way to get my parents and brother in Aleppo to here, is really frustrating. I try to explain to my parents, but that the rules here are really rules that is hard to believe for them.
Voting in the Netherlands, is the same as in Syria. There are different parties, you can choose who you vote and the finally is in the government not only the winning party. Yet there is a world of difference. When you go to vote, there are still people in the voting office who try to convince you. People flock from all sides on your arm and promise you free food and great feasts, if you vote goes to them. As in the Netherlands, there are booths where to hang curtains. However, it is thought, if your into that booth to vote you have attached something to hide. So most people vote in public. They cry aloud: “Ah, where do I sign for our President Assad? Here?’ And they put while everyone is watching, a tick behind the party of the president. People do not like to be known as an opponent of the president. So Assad wins. About half of the government then is composed of his party, the rest should consist of “workers” from the country. After all, they know what is going on among the people. Yet these workers can never be in the majority. The law states that the party of Assad should be the ruling party. So he always has a majority in the government, so all his decisions are approved. The Dutch have to hand over their voting pass on the day of the elections. Truly a Dutch system. Structured. If we vote in Syria, you have to dip it in a jar of ink your finger into the polling station. That remains twenty-four hours, and if anyone sees that you have already voted. The Dutch system I find convenient. Then at least you do not have to walk around all day with a dirty finger.
Dutch feel in public transport right at home. They read a book, eat, exchange some clothes, work on their makeup, do their homework or are on the phone nice and hard. Basically everything you do at home. People therefore take everything into their bag. At the HAN University of Applied Sciences students are walking with backpacks as if they go mountaineering. They get there an extra pair of shoes, a vest, a laptop, a tablet, and of course water and lots of food. Anyways, I do not understand why Dutch can not a few hours without food. I have on my Syrian university never seen someone with a sandwich in his hand. We come with a book under our arm to school, nothing more. We eat at home. Maybe because we are used to different mealtimes. In the morning, breakfast, after lunch and 16:00 to 22:00 for dinner. Public transport works in Syria very different. There is a bus, but there are not always bus stops and bus schedules. You usually just wait until one comes along. A bus leaves when all seats are occupied. And sounds in any transport always loud music. Unfortunately always to the taste of the bus driver. If passengers like it, it does not matter. You may give clues to a Syrian bus driver . “Would you stop here right? Since in that building should be me.” In the Netherlands, I do not try. The bus driver drops me at the stop Cologne Battle. Then I still have to walk a quarter. But if you only have a book under your arm, it is also best.
I got a visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses. I did not know at first, I thought they were the people of the municipality. They had clean clothes and said they wanted to talk about my future. Once inside they saw my roommates Basil and Achmed. ,,Great”, shouted one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. ,,Three people to talk to.” We did not understand what they meant with it, but offered them coffee and tea. “Ah”, said one of them. ,,I can see a Koran. Does that mean you believe in paradise?” I said: ,,Yes, we are Muslims”. ,,But how do you know that there is only one paradise?” he asked. I actually had not said that. I do not know if there is only one paradise, because no one has been there. But he knew. He had lots of questions. About there were children, why Adam had been the first man to be on the world, and why animals were so important. According to the man all answers could be found in the Bible. They had all kinds of biblical texts ready for us in Arabic. They felt encouraged because Basil ever said ‘yes’. He always says he does not understand anybody. After half an hour and two long Bible verses later Basil whispered to me: ,,Anwar, this is not the Koran”. He had understood nothing of the visit, except that it was about God… The Jehovah Witnesses continued to tell, but I had actually to leave. I had an appointment. I thought it was rude to say, so I sat out the whole conversation with the men. I tried to explain that I have great respect for them, but I just believe something different. He said he loved us to be very open and that he wanted to make a new appointment. Now he comes over a week. I hope that we’ll talk about something else.
In the county Limbourg, there are the Dutch unlike elsewhere in the Netherlands. They talk a lot about carnival. And I can barely understand them. So I was very long under the assumption that a boy from Limbourg talked always about his stomach. I did not understand much of the story, but later I understood that he was just the word “but” pronounce as “stomach”. Seems to do Limbourg. My father-in-law from Limbourg invited me to a course. I thought I would learn something important, but he took me to take a course rice tart. Also seems to be typical Limbourg. An absurd combination, rice and flan. Like all Dutch, they do all kinds of stuff with their bread. Each bread has a different color and other seeds. The choice is huge. Too big for me. Syrian bread looks like a pancake. We tear off a piece and dip it into the siege or pinch eat in between. In the Netherlands, the other way around. The siege is on the table and that should get you with cutlery from the pot and transfer to the bread. A hassle. In the course rice cake making I first ‘cooked’ as Dutch people. With a recipy. During the course leader and make the dough kneading asked how I got my technique. I did it -after her opinion- accordingly with my routine and different from the rest. During the war in Syria, I made lots and lots of bread. I bought a bag of flour and made bread with my mother. Meanwhile, I can make a rice cake. I can only say, it’s incredibly tasty. My Syrian housemates were gagging on the word “rice cake”, but after the experiments all about. I can set up a small business in Arnhem, it seems to be a gap in the market.
House of representatives
We have been with our integration class to parliament in The Hague. It was educational, but mostly funny. When we entered there were foreign guards who checked us. We spoke better Dutch than them. “Everyone who have a phone must give it in,” said one of them. Ehh? It’s anyone who HAS a phone, it must give it in. We suggested them to join our integration classes. Anyway, we found it nice to see that the foreigners were protecting the Dutch people in the government building. In the House, it was a strange affair. The logo on all blue chairs resembles the logo of Real Madrid . We were looking for Cristiano Ronaldo but he was not there. The members of Parliament looked all on their mobile, no one listened to the speaker. That looks very crazy. I could ask anything to the President of the House, so I asked why her the members should not pay attention. She stuck her hands in the air and shouted: “Exactly so! I agree, but yes.” The whole room had to vote on an issue. Everyone was there, except for one member of parliament. His chair was empty. The guide told us that the MP had missed the train. We all at once: “The train??” An important man who represents the state does not even have a car. Unbelievable. If arriving somewhere there are 20 armored and blinded cars for the Government of Syria. I was once in Syria at palace of President Bashar al-Assad. I was with a group of volunteers to receive an award from his wife. The guards were not really there for a chat, let alone a joke. I needed to visit the bathroom really urgently and after a long discussion she agreed. Even on the toilet were all sorts of elements of gold. It was a magnificent palace. And best of all: I pooped in it.
I experience for the first time in my life a real winter. Yes, last year I was also in the Netherlands, but when I was in the refugee shelter Dome in Arnhem. I had no obligations and did not run errands, so I did not leave the building on cold days. You see the Dutch running on the street, even if it is three degrees. I tend to pull them off the streets and turn to me for the heat, but they seem to want it for yourself. Furthermore, there is little on the street. I did not understand when I was just here, but now I do. I came last running in the Dutch language lesson and then my teacher asked: “Anwar is it going better with you?” I thought, huh? Did not go well with me then? And suddenly I remembered that I had reported sick a week earlier. When it was so cold that I did not go to school. I really could not go out the house. I now know how it feels to your fingers as you ride in the cold. They do such terrible pain that you they can hardly move. What a terrible feeling. The only experience with cold that I had in Syria, was when my mother asked me to pick something from the fridge. Here the country is a fridge. With freezer compartment. The country is the refrigerator, the Dutch are the freezer compartments that keep those in the fridge. They continue to sit in their own box and do not come out. And therefore Dutch are obviously very old. 90 years, 100 years, it’s nothing special here. Everything remains well once much more good in a freezer.
A colleague of De Gelderlander invited me for the match Feyenoord – Vitesse in the Gelredome. I’ve never been to a football stadium in the Netherlands, so I said yes immediately. “You can walk from the central station in Arnhem to the free busses along with supporters,” he said. I was standing at the station and saw indeed football fans boarding busses. They seemed very drunk and could not pronounce very well the word Vitesse. I saw lots of police and got a little scared. I ran into them, but a guard stopped me chasing the bus. He asked me about the season. It seemed like my integration course: “What season is it?” After five times he had repeated his question, I understood that he did not know in which season we are living now, but if I had a season ticket. I had no idea what that was so I said, “I am for Vitesse.” He shook his head. “Just kidding, I’m for Feyenoord,” I tried. But he shook his head again. Once by the normal bus at Gelredome, I entered with my colleague the press gallery of the stadium. I tried to act like a reporter from Syria. Behind me sat a man on the radio. He spoke loudly during the whole game in my ear, because he had to do live coverage. The sight of a stadium full of people is wonderful, especially because they are all singing and waving flags. There’s a real rhythm. After the first goal for Vitesse fell, the crowd became restless. Arose fights. Fighting to football, I got chills. It made for a nice nostalgic feeling, because it is in Syria normal. In the Netherlands I control me, because I know that crash is unusual. After the second goal, the number of disturbances far. I may say not really, but it was pure pleasure for me. Dutch to let their emotions free in football. Lovely.
My brother Muhammad in Syria has two months left. He was able to buy off the army for two months and has now, along with us, just some time left for some thinking. How do we ensure that it does not need to fight in the Syrian army? We’re a little out of our options. For travel, he needs a passport. Which gives the government a long time not to young men, because they do not want them to leave the country. Should it succeed my father somewhere illegally purchasing a passport, then chances are still very little that Muhammad can pass the border. Only the Turkish border succeed very occasionally, but he must first also arrive there unseen. Dutch ask me: why is your brother not fled before? Eighteen months ago there was money for one of the two of us to flee. He studied and was thus fairly safe. So I went. Not long after the borders were closed and my brother could not leave the country. I am ashamed that I’m here and he’s not. At the same time, I am mad at him that he has made mot every effort to leave Syria. He is scary to flee, he wants to stay with my parents. During a video call this week we spoke about it as a family. I cried and I blamed him for everything. That does not help, I know. We have to accept gradually that he should be in the army. I mentioned earlier that a Kurd in the army did not stand a chance. Kurds are worth little in Syria and are placed ahead in the battle. Mohammed knows, but we try to vote him nonetheless positive. I told him that he will meet smart, important people and that he, as military can protect our family. My father said he will make sure he gets a good place in the army. That is nonsense, because he knows no one. There is not much else we can do.
Suppose I’ve been kidnapped. I have no idea which country I am, I’m locked in a house. The first thing I would do is go to the bathroom. If I would see a book, a crossword puzzle, vases, candles, a calendar, all kinds of odors and pictures, I would immediately know that I am in the Netherlands. I’ve never experienced before, all the fun on the toilet. When I go to the toilet in the Netherlands, I find someone’s complete family history. When the man and woman of the house are born, where they met for the first time, the first kiss, the arrival of the children, 25-year marriage. Yes, you really make a party in the bathroom. Last December I celebrated the holidays with a Dutch family. There was even the toilet paper in the Christmas mood. Anyway, you can not silently pass a holiday in the Netherlands. The Dutch love decorating.
- If there’s anything with football or the king, everything orange.
- Christmas is all red with green. There will be a Christmas tree in the house, a paper sheet on the table, special napkins to wipe your mouth off and cups that says ‘Merry Christmas’. Families have new clothes, often color-coordinated with each other.
- Also, foods are different from normal. Milk is suddenly no longer a suit but is in a jug on the table.
In Syria we make on a public holiday the house tidy and we take nice clothes, but we do not change our home and look. I wonder how Dutch would celebrate the Day of sacrifice of the Muslims. Perhaps you would put sheeps statuettes at home. In the window a severed sheep head and a rug sheepskin on the table. Meanwhile, some sound of sheep bleating in the background. Sounds very cozy.
Paper, there is really too much in the Netherlands. My container is full of it. Every day I get letters that controls what to do. “Mr Manlasadoon, you remember to pick up your passport?” “Are you thinking of paying your water bill, or else you will be fined.” “Thank you for signing at the HAN, you will receive your schedules for the lessons”. So on. Sometimes the letter writer does not even know he writes to me, because then it says, “To the residents of this house.” During my language classes at the HAN, we treated the subject postal code. The teacher wondered if we have it in Syria. We looked at each other, but no one knew. We did not use the postal system . We do not send letters and never get mail. You just need to remember what to do. If you do not pay your water bill, you get the next time you are going to pay a fine. If you do not get paid they shut the water supply off. Other rules or orders of the government you have to remember, no one will remind you. Unless of course you do not listen, for example, because as a graduate young man you do not report to the military. But then you get no letter, they pick you up from the street or from home. New rules, there you are alerted through TV commercials. Except that I have to watch what tasks I need to perform in the letters here every day, there is also mail. When I entered the Netherlands I had to create an email address. Now while I manage to look at it regularly. I just forget about it. A Dutch woman who supports me now has the user name and the password of my mail. She looks down and see whether there is in something important. Sometimes I can not see any more the trees in the forest.
Paying taxes, that’s news to me. In Syria you don’t have to pay for anything. Schools and universities are free, hospital and doctor costs nothing and something like tax does not exist. In my house in Arnhem, I recently received a letter that I have to pay for the sewer system. Actually I must therefore pay to defecate. That is a bit too much!. You pay in the Netherlands much, but you get a lot. The state takes care of you, and you take care of the state, something like that. That’s a great system. By paying taxes you feel involved and responsible, I brand to Dutch. I was sitting in a building with a Dutchman and he wanted to smoke. He made preparative to go outside. I said, “Hey dude smoke him right here. We just sit in this room, no one sees it.” He did not, he went out and smoked it. I liked it. Even when no one is looking, wants to keep a Dutchman by the rules and act responsibly. Syrians are different in there. When nobody is looking, they quickly throw their garbage on the street. It is also very dirty. That shared sense of responsibility is not there. I felt it in Syria either. Now it is here too. Near my home in Arnhem is an underground waste container. There you can put in garbage if you have a pass. What happens: people only put their rubbish without it. And I always look into. I really want to call the church to announce that. I’m ugly and I think you may only use the container with a pass.
I am beginning to look more like you.
Aleppo is tearing my heart. That President Bashar al-Assad has driven the rebels from eastern Aleppo, makes me happy and sad at the same time. I’m happy because it means that my parents and brother are safer. Our house is in a neighborhood that is situated close to eastern Aleppo. My parents and brother were thus constantly during the past year in the line of fire. With each raid they were in danger.My parents are now out, the bombing is over. I asked my father to take pictures, to show me how the neighborhood looks after all the war. He would not. On Facebook, I see people of western Aleppo street celebrations. Not because they are all for the president, but because they’re happy that it’s finally quiet in the city. At the same time, I see people of eastern Aleppo on Facebook share how they feel. Deaths, destroyed homes, children under the rubble. While we breathe a sigh of relief in my family, the following problem arises. My brother is in hiding in our house, because he hass to join the army. Now whole Aleppo is back in the hands of Bashar al-Assad, his army has time to search the city. Looking for opponents.What to do? To abandon the city is not a good idea because everywhere are checkpoints. My father now has the idea to go to eastern Aleppo, where thousands of civilians leave their homes. The army does not search there. Although the city has been officially out of them, they have on that side much less power.I saw a speech by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs of Aleppo. He said, “it’s now been enough for the people of Aleppo.” I jumped up from my chair. What will he say? We bring the citizens of Aleppo here? He did not say it. I slumped back in my chair. The speech was finished.
Sex education, I remember it well. I was 18 and was in the final year of high school. A teacher reminded us to silence. He would tell us something that we were not allowed to laugh at. The girls had to go to the right side of the room and the boys to the left. Both groups were shown a picture where we were explained how a baby is made. What the girls got to see I do not know, but we could not be together. How different it is in the Netherlands. When children go to kindergarten they know the difference between the genitals of a boy and a girl. I knew for a long time only that girls had long hair and boys had not. At the end of primary school the children learn about sex, a little later on contraceptives. I saw a movie of Dr. Claudia explaining in detail the children how it all fits together. In Syria, we all know it, of course, a certain age, but we hear it on the street, no teachers and doctors. When I was visiting a Dutch family, asked the father of the family to me what Mary means to Muslims. I wanted to say something about the pregnancy of Mary. That this came about without having sex with her husband. I did not know how I could tell that story without the word ‘sex’. I began to stutter and cumbersome to talk. Droplets of sweat beaded on my forehead while I made my way through all the words. Nobody understood. The son said in the family: “ooooh you mean that Mary has not had sex with her husband.” I looked directly into the father of the family. He would be angry that I started about sex in front of his wife and children. He was not angry, he laughed at my clumsiness. Well Dutch are more accustomed. I have not. I am afraid of a shop window full of sex stuff. It feels uncomfortable to see a headband with two big wobbly plastic penises it. Or what about a dating program in which the participants are nude, or pasta in the shape of a penis. Well, openness is good, but I like it here sometimes a little exaggerated.
Who I am in the Netherlands, actually depends only on myself. If I apply, nobody asks me what my father is doing, where I was born, or I am an Alawite, Sunni, Kurd or whatever. In my Dutch passport does not even mentioned who my parents are. Who you are in Syria, does not depend on yourself. I was born in Aleppo, but according to my Syrian identity card I am from Kobanî. That’s because my father is coming from Kurdistan and there live many Kurds. If you are a wealthy Syrian parents or have influential relatives then your CV has many ‘vitamins’, as we call it. In that respect, I have a severe vitamin deficiency. My family is not rich and we are Kurdish. Syria is doubly wrong. It is currently advantageous to be an Alawite, because that is also President Assad. Preferably someone holding a public function in your family. You will have at least a reasonable vitamin rich resume. I have already written before that work for the government in my family is not possible, because we have an uncle who is with a “wrong” Kurdish party. Our family is therefore written off in its entirety as ‘appropriate’. In the Netherlands you brought up your children, and then they build themselves on their future. In Syria, the thought previously that parents provide for the future. Failing that, the feeling of failure is high. That is why I remember the day so well that my father asked me to flee. He cried. Because he would miss me, because it was war, but because he felt he had failed as a father. He could offer me no home, no money and no safe place to live. I need no one to tell you that he could do anything. Now I am in the Netherlands, I have to try it on their own. The stamp of refugee I have, but I’ll hopefully as if I speak Dutch and work. I’m working hard.
Yes, I passed my exam B1 Dutch. Now I continue with B2. More and more I begin separate things stand out in the Dutch language. If not you sit in front of the computer, but behind the computer. A Dutchman do not wait in the station, but on the station. In any language I speak is the “thirty minutes after three o’clock, not ‘half past three”, as in the Netherlands. Dutch words I always use in a different way than I had imagined. “What time shall I cut?”, asked the barber when I called. That sounds scary. I do not want to be cut, I would have just cut my hair. I can not even hold in the Dutch language of logic. So I spoke again against Dutch about our ‘shower room. That appears to be a word. It’s called a bathroom. I find quite strange, because we have no bath at all. I feel that the words I learn here, must first be put in a mixer. If I have mixed them, I can use them. I sleep next to Ahmed, here it would just be mean the same thing when I sleep on Ahmed. Fortunately, we now have between all the spelling and grammar lessons also the subject ‘knowledge society’. I’ve learned that here except for marriage and cohabitation also can choose a registered partnership. The teacher tried to explain to us why it might be a good idea to get married under a marriage contract. Where you will not share everything with each other. There was hardly anyone in the class who could find in there. Me neither. When I marry, it is not because I want money from my girlfriend, but because I want to share everything together. A marriage is still not ‘there’? For evening, if you’re just doing nothing? To me, a marriage “two spirits in one body.” I do not know if I’m good translation from the Arabic, but it at least means that we become one in marriage. We care for each other, forever.
I went out on the Korenmarkt in Arnheim, but nowhere I was admitted. Guards said everywhere that it was full. It only applied to me for people following me it was not full. So I stood outside and watched the people in the square. A group got into a fight with another group. They began to argue and distribute blows. Police arrived on horses. I thought, boy, now we have all been there. We were loaded into police vans and then I could for several days go to the police office, explaining that I really had nothing to do with the fight. It is the Syrian style, just about anybody drains and torture to get driving offenders above water. But it did not. The officers observed a moment and caught two leading figures in the group. They were taken separately. The main characters were drunk and screaming at the police. As if they knew it would serve no purpose to argue with drunks. The officers then let them blow off steam and wrote out a fine. Ready. Syria is the other way. When an incident is the police who rages, as a citizen you shut up and obey you. I thought back to the first week that Achmed and I lived in Presikhaaf, it was last summer. There were night two cars burned in the street. The police called us the next day. Achmed and I were terrified when we opened the door. To our surprise, the agent spoke kindly, he asked if we had seen anything. We had seen at night from everything, but we said ‘no’. We did not dare to talk to him. He also asked if we knew the emergency number in the Netherlands. We said ‘yes’, but we both did not. I have several times seen a television program about the Dutch police. The police in that program very nice and polite, just like on the Korenmarkt and at the door. Slowly I start to believe that fear the police here really is not necessary.
Ahmed, my roommate, and I have attended our first Dutch funeral. It was the mother of someone we know well. To our surprise the funeral was 7 days after the woman’s decease. All the shay lay in a coffin, above the ground.We are accustomed to a death a man to be buried as soon as possible. Often within a few hours. My grandfather we buried shortly after his death in the park, in front of his house. It is expected that the grief is clearly shown. Women cry loudly and hysterically, the men sit after the funeral together and looking glum down. At the Dutch funeral where we were, people did not look very sad. They were wearing normal clothes and chatted with each other. During the service was even played music. Achmed and I looked at it, we did not understand. Why a song? After that people went forward and told about the life of the deceased woman. That would be in the circle of my Syrian friends and family very indecent: talking and disclosing information about a deceased woman. Afterwards, all those present could lay a flower on the coffin. Ahmed did not, he found it a scary idea that the woman was still not buried after seven days. “I’ll protect you,” I whispered in his ear. Then I just pulled him forward. A funeral in the Netherlands is very personal. That is beautiful. We are used to the rituals that come with a deceased person. The washing of the body with the imam, wrapping the body in white cloths and the standard Quran Texts to be read at the grave. Personally, it’s not, but know exactly where you stand, can also provide comfort.
I have a girlfriend. A Dutch one. It is a state where I am not yet very long time known. In Syria you are engaged or married, but a relationship that does not exist. I asked my girlfriend then quickly if we were to marry soon. “Oh no,” she said. “We need to know each other, I am still studying, that is not yet immediately necessary.” I understand, but I suppose that my family does not.
So my facebook status remains ‘bachelor’. The status they would not understand ‘in a relationship’. Recently took my family-in-law me on holiday to southern Germany. It was my first vacation, that she knew. I was for that reason the first to choose a room in our house. It continues to get used to it, that her father approves that I sleep with his daughter in one room.
The first time that I saw my father in law I remember very well. My girlfriend saw me coming and flew me around the neck. I was shocked, what is she doing now? Her father could see it after all. I looked at him, but he had a smile on his face. It can all apparently. How happy I am with my girlfriend, my first vacation and the beautiful autumn, the whole situation also hurts me. My life alienates itself more and more from that of my family. Especially when I could not get in touch with my parents and brother during my first holiday in Germany . They could not call or be on the Internet. Days later I learned that she terrified had endured because terrorist groups bombarded their district with chemical weapons.
My girlfriend asked me if she could take a picture of our first holiday on her Facebook. I said yes, but I was hoping very much that nobody would tag me in the photo. The contrast between the lives of my family and me has become so great that I have to be ashamed.
In the Netherlands is so much respect that even animals are treated like people. The supermarket is a special corner with animal stuff. There is a school for dogs and a political party for animals. I meet people who talk to dogs, cats and rabbits. “Sit, no, sit! Listen to me”, I heard someone say to his dog. I see it and think, you mean this seriously now? You ask your dog now a minute to listen? Dogs can not talk and hence do not listen, I think. I have a friend who lives with her husband and a dog. That dog is as big as a dinosaur, but they talk to it as if it were her son. If she wants the beast goes to her husband, she says, “go and see daddy”. They pay someone to care for their dog when they go to work. I do not understand why this is necessary. Can a dog is not just playing in the park as the owners are at work? I know that only children that you pay people to take care of them. Funny detail is that Dutch always say to me that they are very busy. “No time,” I get settled in reply. But for their dog, they have a lot of time. Hours they walk with their pet, if necessary, in the rain and the wind. So far, I can not imagine that I would ever live in a house with an animal. I keep them so often associate with danger. In Syria, almost no one has a pet. The animals, which are there, are often used as a means of defense. As with the police. During my flight from Aleppo to Netherlands I was often chased by police dogs. Swear words in Arabic too often about animals. “You’re an animal,” is really an insult. Here it might be a compliment.
Women’s rights in Syria, I wrote once before about there. It caused quite a commotion. Not under Dutch but among Syrians. According to them, I have shown it to be negative, because women in Syria have the same rights as in the Netherlands. Is also, according to the code anyway. Women are allowed to work, walking in bikini, become president, divorce, get married children, everything that exists in the Netherlands. So I had better not talk about women, but about women’s culture in Syria. Because there it goes wrong and that concerns me a lot. My mother may work for the government, but my father did not like that idea. He thinks it is not good if she comes into contact with other men. Moreover, he likes his job to care for her. My mother wants to work, but tells me that she is satisfied with her role as a mother and housewife. It’s like they ordered beer, but gets wine. Also tasty, but not what she had ordered. In Syria, the differences between people are much bigger than in the Netherlands. There are very rich people who live in villas like you do not even see in the Netherlands. But there are also people living in a tent. There are women in burqas who do not want to even see their bare hands, but also women in bikinis on the beach in Latakia. Syrians wanted me recently to make clear to me, that for that reason I can not write everything about Syria, all I asked: ‘Where is your mother, your sister and your niece at this time?” In most cases, the answer was not ‘At work’ or ‘In bikini on the beach.” Yes, there are liberated women in Syria that I know. But this group is not commensurate with the number of women sitting at home. If a woman is allowed by her husband to work, it’s usually as a nanny. Maybe I see this also black and white. But, at best, half the women chooses themselves what they are doing, it is equal to zero for me. For the other half, which should not be there.
Syria last week was playing football against Qatar. Ahmed my roommate and I were excited. We had pre-cleaned the house, drawn in red, white and black flags, put tea, we were ready. We lost 1-0. Of course, I would say, for all the star players of the team did not participate. Omar Al Soma, the Cristiano Ronaldo of the Arab world, was the most important missing players. There are pictures surfaced of him with flags that show that he is not a fan of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Play soccer in the national team of Syria is no longer an option, unless he publicly demonstrate remorse. Arab ‘FIFA’ has attempted to persuade him to do so, but it failed. As Soma is currently living the life of a king; he is very rich in Saudi Arabia. Since they do not take refugees from Syria, but footballers. Other good players such as Firas Al-Khatib, Sanharib Malki Sabah and Jehad Al Hussain did not count. They would then have to express their support for Assad on TV; that led them a step too far. The day after the game, I complained at my Dutch lesson that our team had lost. Fellow students from Syria responded irritated. “Why do you say ‘our team’? It is the team of Assad, since you do not want to hear that? ” Not only at the highest level policy has been overtaken everywhere, even just by themselves Syrians. Too bad that is. You have to follow suit, choose sides, even in the Netherlands. As a Kurd, I do not belong to the party of Assad, but I am nevertheless not hard to support our national football team. For me it remains a football team, not a political party.
A Dutchman who cooks, I think it’s a funny phenomenon. The young, old, men and women I saw cook here, sniffing out above the pans and sample excludes prepare the food. No, they see it almost as an administrative act. First, a book is packed, or a web page brought out. Being read, after which attributes appear on the kitchen counter as a scale, a measuring cup, a list of ingredients and of course, the book. Thereafter, steps completed. 100 grams of flour and 100 milliliters of water. Ah, here come the attributes handy. All ingredients are weighed precisely and added to the dish in the correct order. Even if I’m going to eat the same dish for the fifth time in a person, is the book open beaten on the counter. With this method of cooking may occur anyway little surprise because everyone cooks meals according to the demands of the book. I think Dutch people like it because it is something that gives structure. It seems to me that you do not really build name ‘administrative cook’ with. In my family and any old neighborhood each has its own specialty. Aunts and neighbors are known for their dishes, which they prepare in their own way. I always see myself ingredients with a lot of what and how I will make it again. Then you eat every day something different and the same recipe tastes different each time. Currently Ahmed’s food and mine are -in the context of integration- lots of potatoes, meat and vegetables. To keep a little bit of their own, we mix it with a lot of herbs.
Dutch Pot with a Syrian twist.
One of the advantages of living in the Netherlands is that I can live in the future with someone who is not Syrian. Girls from Syria are just like Dutch girls, beautiful, cute and smart. The problem is that you never have the girl alone. You get her entire family. You have to take care of her mother, father, brothers, cousins, uncles, well, basically everyone around her. Moreover, the courtship period is very short and you may only see one another (clean) with the parents there. I tried to see my girlfriend secretly in Syria, but I could not. The time we did that we were actually just nervous that someone would see us. A neighbor, an aunt, a distant acquaintance. They should immediately report it to our parents. In the Netherlands, everything is different. You can even have baptised a child in the church without that you’re married. Probably congratulates the official in you also. In Syria would you would be sent away, if an unmarried father or mother comes to report the birth of your child. It has many advantages, all the freedom in the Netherlands. You can try your relationship for years before you get married. Already one time together on holiday for example. Still, I think all these freedoms are also exciting. It means that a woman with whom I want to divorce is also for me the rest of my life. I can see myself sitting, as I much saw sitting in the Netherlands. For television, little zap, a dog beside me on the ground. My children who only come once a month. That picture makes me sad. Little choice as in Syria is not fine, but you know that you care for each other until the end. In the Netherlands, you can choose anything but certainty is lacking. What is better, I do not know.
Recently I know that it is possible to use organs from someone who is (almost) deceased. Never known. The idea appeals to me. You can save someone, while you can nothing more. I do wonder how that works. If I’m grieving for a family member seems to me no fun if the body is suddenly removed. we get it completely opened again? What I’m more concerned about making, is my funeral. If I’m going to die my funeral will be arranged through the municipality. I have no money and no family here. But could it be that they do not bury me, but cremated? I know that happens a lot in the Netherlands. I find it strange. People do not like fire, they are afraid of. Why suddenly or make your body into a fire when you’re dead? I thought she did such a thing only in India. I can not imagine that choice, because who wants to disappear? You are then no more. People who loved me could not speak to me in my grave. You can put a bottle with the ashes in your living roome. I see it all for me I’ve got a table in my living room with all bottles with my family in it. One for my mother, one for my father, one for my brother. If I can see it I laugh. That’s impossible. My family in a bottle. Maybe cremate people because it saves money. Because I know now that you have to pay to be in a grave. At least, your next of kin. And after ten years no one pays, you will be removed from the tomb. I would not at all. I love the idea that it is unlikely that I will die in the Netherlands. I prefer above a beautiful funeral in Syria.
Silence from outside
Whenever I call my mother in Aleppo, she’s home. Outside it is unsafe. When they speak, I have to use Syrian first say a few things. I’m glad I’m her son, that I will make her proud, and so on. This week I called her and just when I was working on all those greetings, I heard in the background outside noises. I asked what she was doing. “I sit with the neighbors in the park, in the sun,” she said. I almost fell off my chair in surprise. This was not possible in five years. The cease-fire in force in Syria, perhaps is already over again as this column in the newspaper, is a relief for everyone. If there is an advertising brochure in the bus with an offer. “One week of rest for the price of five years of war!” Even my brother, who dives into home, just went outside. Soldiers are just not as active with the detection of potential soldiers. It seems as if they are tired, tired of the war. My mother told me about the atmosphere. There’s suddenly time to talk with people on the street. It is equally no need to be in back home as soon as possible. Everyone looks around, the buildings are still there, which neighborhoods have been spared? Friends, neighbors and acquaintances are not all been the same. They have become thin from lack of food or have lost their zest for life. Some are very quiet as they used to be nice and busy. The pause is used by residents to assess the damage, to talk, but also to prepare for what is coming. Men climbing the roof to put walls around plates. If then bullets flying through the air, the dishes would not break up and remains in touch with the outside world. While residents catch his breath, his troops engaged in completely different things. I know my country. They use the time to collect ammo to get overview and strategise. So that they can significantly again against it.
A garden is only reserved for rich people in Syria Although Syria is still more than four times larger than the Netherlands, there is lack of space. Do not ask me why, but the streets are narrow, the houses are close together and in a building only the upper residents a dash sun on their balcony. They are therefore often social people, for those who live less like to be drinking tea on the top, sunny, balcony. In my new home in the Arnhem district Presikhaaf I feel like a king. Having a garden is only reserved in Syria for rich, important people. I am neither, but I now have a garden. If I walk out there sun and nature. Netherlands used its surface well. Achmed my roommate and I are busy painting. On the floor we put laminate. We are actually used to a tiled floor drainage. Our mothers clean with buckets of water to throw on the ground and then scrub. Syrians have almost all the same memories there. Gliding through the living room with the water that your mother had flushed out. I’ve been there twice with my broken nose. In the Arnhem refugee shelter Dome is a huge slick feed. A few months ago there was a small nocturnal revolt in which people threw food. The next day we had – of course – the floor in the middle of the Dome cleaning together. All Syrians in the shelter began to pick up buckets of water and throw it with big bows on the floor. Employees of the COA came running in panic, “What are you doing???”. We had no idea, we just did what we always do our mothers did. But yes, of course there is no drain in the floor.
I spent a week in Germany. I went to visit my Syrian friend Hadi. It was the first time I as “Dutchman” crossed the border. What a good feeling to wear a Dutch passport with you. If an agent asks for your papers, and he sees a Dutch logo, you get almost immediately back your passport. If he thinks: “Is he from the Netherlands? Then it’s good. ” Every time Hadi wanted to go outside, I looked out my passport and put it in my pocket. It felt like the logo of the Netherlands protected me from everything that could go wrong. I am a person with rights. I do not fleeing police dogs, afraid of being taken to a closed refugee camp. That happened during my first visit to Germany, when I was fleeing from Syria to Netherlands. Although I now confidently bus got off in Hanover, my arrival was different than expected. I wanted to get in immediately and returned to the Netherlands. Everyone spoke Arabic and begging everywhere Syrians on the street. Hadi took me to the place Salzgitter. I ended up in districts where no German was in sight. Although I was shocked first, I felt later suddenly good at seeing so many Syrians. It means that they are not in the war. The more I looked, the happier I became. They are all here and alive! I do not sound so nice German and Dutch. According to Hadi Dutch sounds exactly like German. Yes, we began to compare. In Germany the cars better, we thought. “But we have WiFi on the train,” I said proudly. He laughed. “Sir is also a year in the Netherlands, with your ‘we’.” On the way back on the bus, I looked out the window. Suddenly the landscape changed. The weather was beautiful, clean and green. Netherlands I recognized immediately as my own.
Because of the severe shortage of food in Aleppo is the available food is incredibly expensive. I want to send my parents money so they have to eat anyway, but that is not so easy. Syrians do not have a bank account. ATM’s do not exist there. On the first day of the month running Syrians with a pocket full of their work home. The salary is inside. A monthly wage means a large pile of banknotes, because the Syrian pound is worth little. It’s quite exciting to save money in your home. Hence, many women hang out there full of gold. The gold is not necessarily buy because they like it but because it is a way to save money on your body. I’m going to send my family money via a Syrian family in Germany. They have a business in Syria and can arrange that the money gets to my parents. In order to travel to Germany, I applied for a refugee passport. I had to make an appointment via the internet at the town hall in Arnhem. Once there knew an employee with a single click everything about me. I thought back to the time I applied for a passport in Syria, it took me a day. An employee of the government sent me to a room with thousands of books. “Find yourself but in one of these books, I’m not going to do for you,” he said. I enlisted help from a friend, who then looked at pictures of girls from the city and wrote down their phone numbers instead of to trace my name. In the Netherlands I have fairly long wait to get my passport in the end, but fortunately I do not have to search among 154,000 Arnhem people.
The choice of “what-would-you-be-later” I made long ago.
Lawyer. I studied law in Aleppo, got my diploma as a lawyer and was started. When the war in Syria started and everything went completely else. I have been living in the Netherlands, where my education completed hardly of any value. Now I’m 26 and I must again make the choice for my future. What do I want here? I have been told that law school is only possible if I can speak (and write) both Dutch and English at the highest level of management. I must then learn to speak Dutch, I like the King of the Netherlands. I’m not sure I really still want it. I speak now Kurdish, Arabic, English and Dutch together. My head is sometimes completely full. There is an other possibility.
Architect was always in second place, but it seems in the Netherlands a totally unnecessary appeal. All the houses are the same. You may perhaps only think of a different color roof. If I am called to ask where I am, I reply standard: “In the Netherlands”. Where in the Netherlands, I never know, because everything seems similar. That is probably the reason that everyone has a navigation system here. Friends say I should choose a profession with children. Children are happy with me, I like them. That’s true. In Syria it is a profession that men do not choose. The primary work is only for women. Does not matter to me, I think it is indeed what it is for me. When I later have children, I can tell you at least that their father, “the babysitter”, was a lawyer in an other life.
As a child I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to fight for rights and especially the rights of women. My father is a nice man, but I often had to cry like a child as he hit my mother. I thought it was unfair that men and women were not all. The mothers could not work around me. But they were always cleaning and cooking at home, even if they were very tired. When I went to college, my motivation was clear. I wanted to help not only women, but also children. The sadness that I myself had in my youth about the fate of my mother, I wanted to save other children. How different it is in the Netherlands. I see women as a bus driver, police officer or owner of a restaurant. When they come home, they are often there the boss. I met a Dutch family where the husband gave his wife money to go shopping. If you eat here with a woman, she pays her own part. I even married couples keep their finances separate. I understand nothing of it. You do share everything together when you are married? When I am waiting at the station, I always wonder the same thing: why is heard through the speaker ‘ladies and gentlemen’. Why not “men and women”? Women here are always number one. I’ve seen it, I have to use my training in the Netherlands to fight for the rights of the husband. Because of this equality is not so bad here. I will not rest until you are in the train and hear: ‘men and women’. Then we have guys at least that.
My vacation began last week actually to look a bit like a holiday. I was taken away by two Dutch friends to an outdoor swimming pool in Arnhem. I expected that we would go swimming there, chatting and people watching. I did eventually, but only. My friends had a book with him and sat reading all afternoon in the grass, like many other guests at the pool. In the beginning I thought that reading people are very busy, because they might soon have a key. It turns out that Dutch like to read just. I know people here who just before they visit the bookstore go on holiday to buy books and magazines for their holidays. A Dutch couple where I lived at home, even read in bed. In Syria, people watch only television. There are 24 hours in a day, but Syrians watch about 25 hours of TV per day. Dutch put the visitors come from the television. Syria would be an insult, if you want to go visit home. In the big city of Aleppo is perhaps one store where you can get some books. There is a library. The man who works there, it slaapverwekkendste job in the country. He probably heard all day cicadas, because there really is no one. Only if, for example receive a Minister to be in town, this is done in the library. That is good, lots of books and a large building. Then they talk there and they broadcast it on TV. And look Syrians then all together. they see the library once inside.
I had just started my integration course if I got vacation. I have weeks to tell now about my family in Aleppo. Now the city is surrounded by the Syrian army and food and drinking water are increasingly scarce, people do the craziest things. Men join to get rebel groups in the city because of the promise that they money or eat there. Widows with children offer their bodies at soldiers in exchange for food for their children. Shops are looted. My parents say that they still have supplies at home. I hope that’s true. My brother will be 27 in three months. That means, according to the new rules in Syria that, although he is studying, he should join the army. Soldiers now have just one week of training instead of one year. My brother is smart and sensitive, but not exactly Jackie Chan. If he goes in the army with one week experience he dies right away, I’m sure. He can not leave the country, because Turkey does not take refugees anymore. When connecting a group such as Free Army of the Kurds is useless, because he will have to fight immediately. Hiding in the house until the war is over is possible, but that is the worst option. We have several times to flee from our home for military groups marched through the neighborhood. Then our house was destroyed and we had to look for another house. If it happens again then my brother is still visible in public and taken. I would like him want to come across. He is a man, his life is worth as much as that of any other. In one of the nights I lay awake, I thought that I would say that I’m gay and that my friend (my brother) is still in Syria. A stupid idea that I’m going to run, but nights can now once last very long.
Youth in Syria
Now I know what freedom is in the Netherlands, I also know that I have never have known it in Syria. As a child I did not understand. I took everything as it came, as children do. My parents made me only speak Kurdish at home, nowhere else. I was not thinking about the reason, I just listened. Thanks for children who have property. It made my childhood quite well. You can not compare the youth of Dutch children with mine. My brother and I had no toys. I worked since I was eight. I helped with cleaning in a flower shop, later in a barber shop and then in a restaurant. My father often complimented me on my jobs. He said that we had a home thanks to me to live in. I do not know if that is really so, I think he said it mostly to make me proud. I thought it was fine, because I was very much out of the house. We lived in a very dark street with no sunlight and had to be all one bedroom. Street play was too dangerous, so a job offered required (safe) distraction. Only at the university I realized for the first time that the system in which I lived was called at least remarkable . I wanted to sign up for the party of Bashar al-Assad. Not because I wanted to, but because it is the only way into Syria to join. If you are applying, after the question of how hot and when you were born, whether you are in the ruling party. If not, you can forget about that job. I have repeatedly tried to register, but could not. I seemed to have a distant uncle who was a Kurdish party. A mortal sin, which spills over to the whole family. Freedom, it is a great thing.
To do tests, of which I do not know all kinds of answers, it feels strange. I had exams this week to take Dutch at level 2.
The first question: “You work in a factory and would like to ask your boss if you have to work on weekends. What did you say?’
I started thinking about the word ‘factory’. What would that be? Suddenly I heard a buzzer, the fourteen seconds I had to answer the question were over. At the university where I studied law in Syria I always knew everything. Classmates who understood not so well, were cheating on me. I put my school card on the table and put my gum right in response to a top left to answer b, and lower right of reply c. It worked, but not for long. I was pulled out of class at my ears and the teacher demanded an explanation. Why is everyone looking in the classroom to your gum? I got a lot of hits in school. My hands are still swollen ruler of all strokes. But here I have a very kind teacher. When I did not answer one question because I was thinking, she asked to look at me kindly better.
The next question. “Your girlfriend is next Friday visiting you. You have made a plan for her visit and talks about it on the phone to your girlfriend. What do you say? “
I thought it was a complicated question. An Arab would never make an appointment a week in advance, let alone expand a detailed plan for the visit which is to come. I wanted to give that answer to the computer, maybe I should get plus points for a joke. I looked back, I saw the teacher friendly nod. My hands they probably will not work with a ruler, but after my school in Syria, I dare not joking in a test.
Bzzzt. Again fourteen seconds passed.
Hurray! The holiday season has arrived again. I remember well, last year, when I went for the first time in my life went on vacation. We went cozy with the boat. A plastic boat in the middle of the night. The trip costed us about the same as a Dutchman who goes on vacation: € 2.050. Unfortunately we had no guarantee that we would arrive alive. Leaving with four people means in some cases: arriving with only two. Dutch people can choose for a surprise trip, you will hear at the airport where you are going. You can specify preferences. “If it is warm,” for example. Such a condition we had. “If it’s just nice and safe.” Just as the Dutch we walked and had been running during the holidays. Occasionally with a couple of dogs after us, or what wailing sirens. For a first holiday I found the somewhat disappointing. But seriously, I have a lot to think about. A year ago. What it seems nice to ever really go on vacation. To make pictures that not only aim to show that I am still alive. To walk down fruit trees in Greece without me fighting with other refugees to the fruit from the trees. I proudly against the people on my vacation can say that I am from the Netherlands. That people at borders kindly look at me when they see my passport, which I do not have to beg or they let me pass. Most importantly, I can return home. I fantasize sometimes already on a holiday to Turkey. My family, the border can not, but just feel like I’m close to them seems fine to me. It will still take a long time time before I can go on vacation. But that’s okay, because I’m still recovering from my last.
Oh how I love this country anyway. I saw this week a bus with an automatic ramp, so that a wheelchair could be in the bus. Genius. I did volunteer work in Syria with disabelt people, I therefore look everywhere how to care for these people. Syria must help all passengers as someone to get on the bus. It is difficult, but because of the lack of facilities may be disabled as free travel. Now I’m a little settled in the Netherlands, I have my volunteer work resumed. I started in a nursing home ‘in Arnhem. I had never been in a big building full of elderly people, because Syrians take their mother and father in their home. About people who send their parents to have some older building is bad talk. Now I have one visited there, I see the beautiful side of it. They are pawns in the center and among the other Arnhem. The rooms are very nice and there are flowers. I also saw that music was made for them. A new resident was received with flowers. Great that older people still count in the Netherlands and received so warmly. The nursing home is a good place for me to be. It is the only place in Arnhem, where I can track all calls. The residents and staff speak slowly and loud Dutch. Personally, I can be of any use. There lives an Iraqi woman in a wheelchair. She can talk to anyone. I imagined in Arabic and instantly there appeared a big smile on her face. Another resident jumped on. “Hey, where are you from? Syria? Where is it? In Africa? And how long have you been here?” The wife has Alzheimer so a minute later follows the same questions again. And a few minutes later once again. Now when I see her and start moving her lips, but I put right from shore. I come from Syria, which is close to Egypt and I’ve been here nine months. Then she looks happy. It’s all they want to know.
My mother calling. She’s been inside for days. Water and electricity are completely down. In Aleppo is everybody summoned especially, to stay inside: schools and businesses are closed. So fierce as now the violence was not previously. In the neighborhood where my parents live, allready two hundred people have been killed in recent days. I’m having breakfast with Ahmed. We drink milkshakes have sandwiches and coffee. We talk about Syria. A banquet hall in the city that we both know well. During Eid, there are fathers, mothers and children celebrating the end of Ramadan. During the party there is a bombing, dead and wounded lying everywhere. After ambulances and rescuers arrive, following a second bombing raid. It is a new tactic of the rebels. Attack, wait comes to help and then strike again. Slowly I get sick, I can not get a bite through my throat. I am richly eating breakfast here while my parents for three days seem staring ahead of their home. My mother crying on the phone. She says she’s glad I’m not with them. “I know my son. You would not go out, you would help the wounded, even though there are snipers lurking. You’ve been away so long, but still I think with every bombing raid, where is my son? “Then she realizes that I’m safe. During breakfast Ahmed and I decide that we can not continue so. We do not want to eat while our family is shot and without electricity, food and water. Tomorrow we do it in a day without it. No electricity, no wifi, no water and no food. We want to be close to our family and feel what they feel. We have five years as lived during the war, but after a year in the Netherlands that feeling fades further and further into the background. Tomorrow we get it back one day. we help someone with it? Only ourselves. But sometimes that is just as necessary.
Ask a Syrian man what he loves more his wife or football. Yeah really, they will all say ‘football’. Since the Netherlands does not join the European Championships have Achmed and I thought we for countries that support refugees. Germany we really encouraged example. The EC is a civilized affair for Arabs. Footballers apologize when they make violation. I also see here at amateur clubs. Kindness in the field.
Hits: If Arnhem and Nijmegen were Syrian cities, it was one of those two cities destroyed after a game NEC Vitesse. Dutch, who talk like they have a conflict. The Arabs where I grew up clapping along parts first and then talk. There is only peace to talk, as there have been some fists in the air. To be honest, I like it. This is, moreover, to be men together, a woman can not touch with a finger.
Soccer: The first month in the Netherlands, in the reception of refugees Dome in Arnhem, we played football a lot. We heard there was to be no fighting, otherwise there might be a problem with our residence. It was funny jars football. We narrowed our red fists in frustration and looked angrily round or did not happen to an unguarded moment was when we could deal a blow.
Talk: In the Netherlands, it is not so, I know. I therefore more distributed not hit until a month ago. Now I am under the supervision of the COA and I have a friend and roommate from Syria, ‘talk’ is not always the first thing that comes to us. While jobs Achmed and I have ever given each other a kick or blow. If I had asked him to come and sit down to talk out a problem, he would also think I’m no good at my head.
In Syria a garden is only reserved for rich people. Although Syria still more than four times larger than the Netherlands, there is lack of space. Do not ask me why, but the streets are narrow, the houses are close together and in a building only the upper residents get a dash of sun on their balcony. They are therefore often social people, for those who live less like to be drinking tea on the top, sunny, balcony. In my new home in the Arnhem district Presikhaaf I feel like a king. Having a garden is only reserved in Syria for rich, important people. I am neither, but I now have a garden. If I walk out there sun and nature. Netherlands used its surface well. Achmed my roommate and I are busy painting. On the floor we put laminate. We are actually used to a tiled floor drainage. Our mothers clean with buckets of water to throw on the ground and then scrub. Syrians have almost all the same memories there. Gliding through the liing room with the water that your mother had flushed out. I’ve been there twice with my broken nose. In the Arnhem refugee shelter Dome is a huge slick feed. A few months ago there was a small nocturnal revolt in which people threw food. The next day we had – of course – to clean the floor in the middle of the Dome together. All Syrians in the shelter began to pick up buckets of water and throw it with big bows on the floor. Employees of the coa came to me in panic: “What are you doing ???”. We had no idea, we just did what we always do our mothers did. But yes, of course there is no drain in the floor.
I have a house! I’m so happy. In two weeks I get the key to an apartment, which I will share with Achmed, a friend from refugee reception Dome. I’ve seen the house, located in Arnhem Presikhaaf. It is lovely. A soccer field nearby, a Turkish supermarket and we have no less than two gardens: a front yard and a back yard. Now we are fantasizing about the design. We are still not agree on anything, so the temporary solution is that we draw a line through the living room and arrange half my good, modern taste and the other half in Achmed’s old-fashioned style. Just kidding, we look or a middle. Achmed wants at least as much light as in Syrian living rooms. I am now accustomed to all those muted homes here. Initially I thought that I was constantly somewhere inconvenient. That the light was just subdued because there was something romantic happening. In Dutch living rooms I’m nodding throughout the evening around all those candles. I’m getting sleepy. During one of those visits to a Dutch household, I learned that this “no” really means “no.” “Want a drink Anwar?” I was asked. I said ‘no’, because that should be, in Syria. Only if someone insists, you say ‘yes’. But then I got really nothing. I sat there all night without drinking. Handy, because that I did not go to the bathroom. When someone else goes to the toilet, which is in fact also be used in accordance with our indecent. But I promise that everyone who comes to visit in my new house, goes straight to the toilet. Because I live here now.
My first fine
I started an intensive language training in Nijmegen. Three days a week I have to take the train from Arnhem to Nijmegen to learn Dutch. Getting used to that traveling with a chip. I saw dozens of students walking casually along that checkpoint. They did not look, they held their only their chipcard near the pole and ran after the beep again. I had earplugs in, sunglasses and walked as nonchalantly past the post. I was just like them, I thought. On the train there was a checker, he asked for my smart card. “You are not checked,” he said. I curled up, everyone looked at me. I felt frightened and ashamed. For a man in uniform you need to be scared in Syria. I tended to give him money, because that is the wayin Syria to get rid of a cop. A train inspector is admittedly not a cop, but I have no idea whether such a person the same control as an agent here, or maybe more. The man wrote a fine for me, 54 euros. I have explained that I had checked in, but it did not help. The worst thing is not the fine, but I am now in the Dutch system as someone who did not behave well. On my way back I walked more carefully along that pole. I said to the people behind me that they had to wait and have ten times again checked. That pole hit it wild. With a grin I was waiting would come to an inspector on the train, but none came. There was no one who saw that I had done well, so I tell it here. I checked in and it worked!
Three months ago I saw a Dutch girl in the street, and I fell in love instantly with her. I told everyone who would listen about her. I saw her only in passing by, but that was enough. If she marries me, I do everything in my life for her. Work, housework, whatever she wants. Last weekend I was asked with my landlady ‘Gerda to the anniversary of the neighbor. When I entered, I saw to my surprise the conscious girl there in the house. She is the daughter of my neighbor! Moments later her sisters entered. I kept my face straight, but inside I fainted. So much beauty. I whispered “Gerda take me to the hospital!” There were more guests, they gave gifts to the neighbor. Gifts, which opened the neighbor directly. I did not know what I saw. In Syria it is very rude, because you have to protect the donor. Perhaps the is the principal poor and he or she provides an inexpensive gift. That may not be visible in front of the others. One of the sisters asked me what I wanted to drink. Water! I needed water to continue normal behaviour. I also got a small piece of cake offered. There were no candles, there was no singing. All the guests had ordinary clothes on, no one danced. The tables full of food that I know were missing from Syria. I thought it was a strange place, some Dutch birthday. But hey, who cares. Three women look like angels dwell beside me. I did not want to go home, never again. After a while Gerda said we went home. I wanted ‘Nooooooo’ scream but I said, “Okay Gerda. Thank you all and see you soon.“
In Syria, it felt like I was in a test from God. Be a good Muslim, I find that difficult. Because how do you behave in a war? Go steal your food when you’re hungry? Defend your country and if so, who are the goodies and who is evil? In which army you need to connect? I changed in Syria monthly opinions. At first I wanted to fulfill my duty and defend our country. But then it quickly became one big bloodbath, I realized that that was not the right thing. It feels like God passed Syrians through a sieve and look who finally left in the sieve. Who makes the right choices, who continues to pray and believe in happy ending? I choosed to shift my focus. To no longer wanting to protect the country, but my family and friends. I wanted to make sure they were safe and had food. If you study, you do as a young man not the army. I studied, but was regularly approached by government officials. “This is not the time to study, but to serve your country,” they said. I felt about not guilty. The country was now totally in ruins. After my studies I fled. I had to join the Army for a not limited time. I did not want to be a killer. Here in the Netherlands feels it easier to make the right choices. The choices I make will certainly not concern life and death. If God is finished sieving, I hope I stick close call in that sieve.
Behaviour with a woman
I went last weekend with two friends from the Dome by Sonsbeekpark in Arnheim. We saw a group of sporting women, along with a man. “Would you agree?”, asked one of my friends. I knew what he meant. In Syria you would never send your wife with another man to the forest. But it looked pretty normal. Women good at running that guy was, I guess, a sort of coach. I had to get used to when I saw such scenes for the first time. But I now see that it is fine. My friends with whom I had walked with me.agreed too.
Work: “And your future wife to work, would you do that?” they asked. Also that. And they too. What can change in eight months time. When Dome eight months ago filled up with four hundred men, including myself, we sat there somewhat lost. We were convinced that no one in the Netherlands liked us and we found everything outside the building but exciting.
Invited: Somewhere in those first weeks, I was invited by a Dutch woman. I arrived at her for dinner, while her husband was not home. I was very nervous about it. I thought he would be furious if he would find me to her table. But when he came home, he looked pleased and he asked how I was doing. In Dome are many cells empty.
Outside World: Many refugees are out. At Dutch friends, visiting, or at work nearby. What we see in the outside world, sets us thinking. Those friends who had their own answers to me about questions asked in the park though, but it’s nice to confirm each other:. How Dutch life, which is actually not so bad.
Sometimes I have the impression that there are two versions of myself. If I go to sleep is the one Anwar, who can go to sleep because he likes his new life in the Netherlands. I fantasize about the study that I want to follow the work I can do. When I am almost asleep, is the other side up. I think of my life in Syria.
Snipers: How every time I had to run through a field full of snipers to get food in a different area. How do we in the middle of the night fled from our house because a group of soldiers with long beards passing through our street. They shouted that they would murder us all. The next day there was nothing left of our home. My mother heard recently only with one ear a little bit. She became deaf of all bombardments. My father can not move much a part of his body, he has a piece of shrapnel in his shoulder. The idea that she and my brother every day exposed to danger, gives me difficulty falling asleep.
Studying and working: The only thing I can do is study hard and work for them so that I can earn money and take care of them. Every time I do not want to study the Dutch language, I think of my family. I spring up and I dive back into the books. When people ask me for the first time asked if I would like to return later to Syria, I immediately said yes! Later, I began to doubt. Because of all those awful memories. Nevertheless, I share below 1 reminder that I’m still often wake up. Bringing food, while snipers shooting at us. For the people on the video is no bad memory, but still the daily reality in Aleppo.
Refugee instead of a man
The status of “refugee” is sometimes quite difficult. It is a status that ensures that you have less rights than another. I refer not only to legislation, but also on behavior expected of a refugee. We must always show to be grateful. Because: “If you do not like then you go away.” That kind of comments hurt me terribly.
Be killed or murdered: When I got the sense in Syria that I had the choice between being killed or become a murderer, I left. The moment I stepped across the border from Syria to Turkey, I changed from a man in a ‘refugee’. From that moment I could do nothing but accept everything that happened to me. I slept in the woods and on the street, boarded a packed plastic boat to Greece and left me smelly, exhausted and discouraged by Europe. Waiting at the border in Macedonia was perhaps the worst. I was beaten by border guards who wanted to keep the crowd at bay and froze in the night almost dead.
Germany: Arriving in Germany I expected it to life as a fugitive was over, we would be “people” again. In the camp where I ended up, they wanted to check everyone’s health. Against a man you say, “Anwar, go sit down May I look amongst your hair if you have fleas.?” At a refugee you say apparently nothing. We got a number and doctors adopted us as if we were cattle. I am also fled to the Netherlands. I like it here, I love the Netherlands. And I am certainly very grateful. But I am a human being. With rights and an opinion.
Mothers, are all over the world the same. Since this week I live in a house with lovely people Gerda (63) and Erik (56). They live near the refugee center Dome and asked me if I would stay with them for three months (longer stay at one address may not COA). Gerda is like my own mother. Therefore, it remains strange to call her by her first name. My mother would give me a slap if I could use her first name. Then I just sat in the Dome, Gerda took me into town and bought clothes for me. Now she takes care of me like her own children. It feels like home.
Pasta: As a welcome gift, a neighbour came and brought a jar cholocolate pasta for me. I knew her from the street. In the morning as they walk to school, I whistle out the window on my fingers, and then they shout “Good morning, Anwar!” Besides, I know now more people around than Gerda and Erik. It seems to be normal in the Netherlands that people do not know anyone from their own street. I think that’s crazy. I suspect that at the end of the sleepover the whole street knows each other, I’m going for sure.
Study: The first day I stayed at my Dutch ‘parents’, I made the first mistake. I remain a fugitive, so I went here along with my friends at The Dome. When I got home at midnight, Gerda was waiting for me at the kitchen table. She said, “Anwar, this is not the Dome eh! Dutch drink in the evening a cup of coffee, read a book and go to sleep. If you want to integrate, you have to study and sleep in time.” I apologized. Then she laughed again and asked: “Are you hungry? Do you want to eat something?’
Worried: That would immediately ask my mother. My parents in Aleppo have to eat less every month. If there is even a shop with stock, will strike the whole city, because no one knows how much worse it is going to be yet. Despite my mother is mainly concerned with me. She’s worried whether I was eating enough. She asks me every morning if I’ve had breakfast. “You look so thin on the photos, you’ll get enough to eat, Anwar?” They need not worry, because Gerda will have breakfast is important. She says she does lock the door as I want without breakfast the door. Yes, it feels like home.
Chosen the right country
The first week of our intensive Dutch course is over. The beginning was relatively simple. The alphabet is known to us, the eight participants in this training are all highly trained. I myself am a lawyer. Since September I stay at The Dome, (a former prison in Arnheim) waiting for a residence permit and a house. On the basis of the Dutch language I already started in the refugee shelter, so the first lessons are fairly familiar ground. Besides language, we also get citizenship lessons, so we will not only how to speak the language but also the country and know its use. I hear a lot of new things. I know now that the football club Vitesse of Arnheim, Ajax Amsterdam and Feyenoord Rotterdam. The Constitution is explained to us, the most important part: discrimination. No one may be disadvantaged here because he or she is gay, female, religious, or ethnic minorities. That does me good. I am a Syrian Kurd. In Syria I felt regular second person, because I am a Kurd. Fortunately, here in the law that one second should be treated. The various political parties are explained to us. The teacher said that people in the Netherlands may be against the policy of the king. I did not know that. When she said that, I stopped feeling upset. I had the realization that I have chosen to settle me the in the right country. Here is freedom that I need. From The Dome I greet all Dutch. Hey!