[I] Okay, we’re on.

[r] Yes.

[i] Hello [name].

[r] Hello [name].

[i] Can you introduce yourself?

[r] Yes, um. I am [name]. I am from Iraq. I am 24 years old. And I am an actor. I have a big family. I have six brothers and two sisters. We lived together in the same house, in Iraq. I lived in the middle of Iraq.

[i] What city?

[r] Al-Qādisiyyah or Al-Diwaniyah. And I studied at the art-humaniora in Iraq. I started in 2010 until 2015. After that I came to Belgium. I had problems. I will tell you about the problems I had. I’ve done a lot of performances. But my performances were a bit weird for my country. Because I was talking about my god, about the people. Why do people die? I know that God, … He helps the people, right? But at that moment I saw that many people were dying in Iraq. Then I had a performance. After this performance, actually. I said to the audience. Why is God doing this? Exactly to the people of Iraq. Why? We do nothing. We have a good life. There was someone who thought I didn’t believe. But actually I did believe in God.

[i] Were you a believer?

[r] Yes, it used to be. But now I find that a little difficult. I will tell you. I said to that person. I believe in God. But you’re acting a little weird. Why do you say this to me? That’s something between me and God. Then he thought I was no good. That I had to die. Or in prison.

[i] May I ask about your childhood? Can you tell me something about your childhood? When you were young. What was it like to grow up in your city, in Iraq?

[r] Yes, that was good, actually. When Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq. We had a good life. I was a child. I didn’t understand the meaning of life. My father told us that we had a beautiful life. Iraq was a beautiful country. Okay, we don’t have much money. But the government does. We have a good passport. We have good schools. Everything was good. I was born in 1993. I started school in 1999, I think.

[i] You were 6 years old?

[r] Yes. From my first year at school, my teacher always told us to love Saddam Hussein. I was a child. I didn’t understand that. Okay, I love Saddam Hussein. I love all people. After three years, my teacher talks a lot about Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was like a grandfather to us. I love Saddam Hussein. We had a really good life there. After six years I started high school. In the first year my new teacher said. If you make mistakes in school, you go to ‘army’. I don’t know how you say this in Dutch.

[i] Army, to the army?

[r] Yes, when I make a lot of mistakes at school.

[i] If you don’t score well at school?

[r] Yes. I say: no, I’m good. I love my school. He always talked negatively about us. I wondered why he did this. I said to my father, … My father actually worked in the army. My father told me to listen to my teacher. But father, … he’s always negative. And I want a good time to study. Ever since I was little, I’ve been thinking about becoming an actor. My father said no. You have to go to school and then you come to work with me. I mean with Saddam Hussein. I didn’t understand that, actually.

[i] Did your father work in Saddam Hussein’s army?

[r] Yes, he worked there for 35 years.

[i] And what was his function?

[r] Um, I don’t know exactly what he was doing. But he phoned for Saddam Hussein to other people. He had a high position. He worked in Baghdad. Do you understand?

[i] A high function?

[r] Yes. My father said to me. I want you to come and work for me, like your brothers. Okay, Father. But at that point, I made a mistake at school. I had bad points for English.

[i] You didn’t have any good points for English?

[r] Yes. And the teacher said: you have to go to the army. But my father said: if he has bad points too. Then he can start as well. But my father told me it’s hard work there. Difficult. I didn’t want that. Okay. After that, I started to study well. And I got my diploma: first baccalaureate of Iraq. And my father said to me … At that moment Saddam Hussein is gone and there is war. That was a really bad time. Everything went down. Then my father said: you can choose what you want to study. Do you want to become a doctor? Or … Actor … You can choose. My dream was to become an actor. I started the art-humaniora.

[i] And why did you want to be an actor?

[r] In my family we have different things. My father was in the army. My older brother was like my father in the army. I don’t know exactly how you say that. When there’s a bomb, he does the technique…

[i] Dismantling?

[r] Yes. Another brother studied to become a ‘help doctor’. We have such an education at the university.

[i] Half?

[r] Helpdocker.

[i] Ah helper.

[r] Then he also went to the army. Now he is a great captain. In the army in Iraq. Another brother is a sports teacher. Another brother is still a student. Another brother is also a student. My little brother is studying for a doctor in Egypt.

[i] What age are your brothers?

[r] My eldest brother is seven or eight years old.

[i] Older than you?

[r] Yes and after that… 6 years… another brother 5 years. And I also have two older sisters. Then another brother. Then I come. And then there are two brothers.

[i] There are nine of you?

[r] Yes, there are nine.

[i] Two sisters and seven boys?

[r] Yes. I have seen in my family… Ah because I used to say to my young brother: what do you want to study later? He said: I want to be a doctor? Another brother also wanted to be a doctor. I have several professions in my family. A teacher. A great captain. A brother works for the police. And my dream was to become an actor. Because I have a good family. Different professions, different things. You know what I mean? I start my school. The first year …

[i] But can I ask a question about … I wanted to ask a question about … [i] But can I ask a question about … Where did you live when you were a child? Al-Diwaniyah?

[r] Yes, Al-Diwaniyah. Same house.

[i] And what kind of house did you live in?

[r] In the time of Sadam Hussein we did not work. The people of Egypt came to us in search of work. They built the house. How can I say that …

[i] I don’t understand very well. What are you saying? Or tell it in English.

[r] Long ago, when Saddam Hussein was in power, we couldn’t work. Because Saddam Hussein thought we were rich. He said to people from Egypt: If you want to work, you can come and work here in Iraq. People from Egypt built my family’s house. But we really have a big family. We lived in a big house, like a villa. Maybe we can talk about a villa. We really have a big family.

[i] A village?

[r] Yes, villa no village.

[i] What do you mean by villa?

[r] Like a big house.

[i] Ah villa.

[r] Yes. Nine rooms. It was really big. Yes, we lived there.

[i] In the center of Al-Diwaniyah?

[r] Yes, in the center. Now back to Dutch or further in English?

[i] What you prefer [name]. If you feel more comfortable in English …

[r] I find Dutch a bit difficult. I’ll tell you more in English.

[i] And, uh, how did your parents raise you? How did your parents raise you: were they strict?

[r] I don’t understand.

[i] How did your parents raise you? How did your father and mother treat you?

[r] Um, I don’t know. But I will tell you the story of my mother and my father. My father worked… Ah… My father is Shiite and my mother is Sunni. Okay, my mother is from Babylon. My father is from Al-Diwaniyah. My father worked in Baghdad. My mother worked in Babylon. One day my father visits Babylon and sees my mother. And they fall in love with each other.

[i] What was your mother’s profession? Because your father was in the army.

[r] Yes, my mother worked… um… in an office. Like… um… I don’t know the word of the profession. I don’t know, but she had…

[i] Was she a secretary?

[r] No, she had an office. When you buy a house, you pay… or to sell? Yes.

[i] A real estate agent?

[r] Yes, that’s it. A year after they fell in love, they got married.

[i] Do you know what year this was?

[r] I think they got married in… One. Nine. Five. Zero. I think so. I’m not sure. One, nine… Yes, five, zero…

[i] Five, zero?

[r] or six, zero… Yes, in those ten years.

[i] How old are your parents now?

[r] My mother is 63. My father died ten years ago. Um, I don’t really know how old my father was. But he… But I think he was six, four.

[i] Sorry?

[r] 46.

[i] Your father was 46? He was born in 1946.

[r] Yes. I think so. I’m not sure. I don’t remember so well.

[i] Okay, but they fell in love?

[r] Yes and they got married. And then, um… My father said, “We have to live with the whole family, because he has a big family too. He had three brothers and six sisters. And they all lived together in one house. And my uncle has seven children. Another uncle has seven too. And my aunt has two. Yes, we have a really crazy family. 35 people in the same house. It was really big.

[i] You lived with 35 people in the same house?

[r] Not me, my father did. And my father said, “We really have a crazy family. Really big. It’s not normal. And then… He said, brother, I’ll help you. To build a new house to live there. He helped them and they had a new house. And they no longer lived in the family home. My grandfather and my grandmother died. My father was left alone in the house. And he said: now we start with children. I think after three or five years. And then they started. [name]. [name]. [name]. [name]. [name]. [Name]. [Name]. [Name]. [Name]. Yes … and we had a really nice life. When my father was still alive. We had a nice car. We had a nice house. We had money. We had a good life., Yes… and, uh, everyone went to school. They graduated and had a diploma.

[i] How did your father die?

[r] Yes, actually he was sick. Yes… he had worked hard in the army. And during the war with America, we had really bad weather. From the bombs, from everything. Very bad. He had problems with his …

[i] Kidneys?

[r] Yes. After that, he remained [alive?] for three years after he became ill. Every week he changed his blood. And the doctor said: he has three years to live.

[i] You were 12, 13 years old?

[r] No. He died in 2009. Ten years ago. Nine or ten years ago.

[i] You were 16?

[r] Yes. Yes.

[i] How many people did you live with in the house? Only your family or also your uncle …

[r] No no no, I told you that my father built a house for them. He built a house for everyone. Only we lived in the house. It was only for the [name] family. Yes. And my big brother got married. It was not possible to stay with us. Because we are a big family and he already had two children. And my father said: you have to move. And my father gave him as a present … How should I put it in English? I don’t know.

[i] A gift?

[r] Yes. He gave him a house behind our house. And now he lives there. Yes.

[i] Were you raised religiously?

[r] Me or my family?

[i] Your family, was your father… Were you religious?

[r] Um, I don’t know myself, but my family did. Sometimes I believe and sometimes I don’t, because I see…

[i] And did you have a strong bond with your family?

[r] Do you mean now or in the past?

[i] Well, when you…

[r] In the past, before I studied theatre, I had a good relationship with them. Because I was still a child. When I started theatre school, I understood more about life. I read many books about life. I had a difficult question about God. Something about … which means that … why are you doing this? My father knew everything and he noticed my difficult question. And then he started: …okay [name] don’t ask that. We don’t know the answer to this.

[i] You asked questions about god and religion?

[r] Yes, and he thought I didn’t believe.

[i] Can you give an example of a question you asked?

[r] A simple question I asked: Who is the father of God? No one knew the answer. From that moment on he thought I didn’t believe. But it is normal: everyone asks this question. But at that moment the situation in Iraq was difficult. So he said: you have to focus. How can you say what you say? I said: okay, Father, it’s just a question. He still thought I was an atheist, that I didn’t believe. [name] has gone mad. We need to focus. We need to… If he asks, we can’t answer. It was bad communication. It was hard for me. I was 18. No, not 18, I was 12. When I started asking questions about this.

[i] Did you have the same conversations with your mother?

[r] No. He had a good relationship with my mother.

[i] No, but I mean you and your mother: did you have the same…

[r] No, of course she loves me. She understood what I said. We had a good relationship. I’m just talking about my father. My father was very strong. No one said no, no one said no, I don’t want to do that. No. You have to do it. Yes. And then… my father told my brothers what questions I had asked. My big brother said: please [name] keep these questions to yourself. Don’t think about it. We want to enjoy. We have a good life. Okay, I’m just asking questions. That’s normal. Yes, at that time I had a lot of problems with my family. It was not possible to live alone. Really. That’s not possible. We have a different culture. It is a different situation. It is really not possible.

[i] To live alone?

[r] You can only live when you are married. That is the situation in Iraq, in my culture. So I had to listen to my father. Because I had no options to do anything. If I asked him again about God, he would get nervous or… You know. I said: okay. But I still thought, why does my father react like that when I ask him these things? Something’s wrong here. I still thought a lot about this: why, why, why… The first book I read was from … Camus…? Camus

[i] Camus, Albert Camus?

[r] Yes. It drove me crazy. I had more questions for my father.

[i] What book did you read?

[r] Really I don’t have such a good memory for names. It was about theatre. But I don’t know… But I don’t remember the name. It was a long time ago. I asked my father three questions. Questions that Albert Camus also asked. My father went crazy because of me. Away with that book. It’s a bad book. It’s not good. You know nothing about life. Wait. You have time. It gave me strength to look further. Because my father… I know him… he’s really smart. He has read many books. Behind his back … when he went to work… I read certain books that gave me answers to my questions. Questions about God for example. And then …

[i] Wait, I didn’t understand you so well.

[r] I mean, when he went to work… … then I had time to look at the book he had read, for example, a week ago. And I got an answer to one of my questions. For example: Who is the father of God? The book said: nobody knows. Be quiet, don’t ask these questions anymore.

[i] Was it your father’s book?

[r] Yes, it was my father’s book. The book explained why you shouldn’t ask these questions. And then yes … then I was afraid. If I told my father that I had read the book. Then he would be angry or sad.

[i] Was it your father’s book or did he write it?

[r] No, he had read it, not written it. And then I said to him, “Father, I want to start a theatre education. He actually knew everything about theatre training.

[i] Why?

[r] He was smart. He looked everything up. If he had time… Okay, I read this book about theatre. This book about Allah, okay I read it. Yes. He said: good but be careful. All right, but be careful. At the school where I was, I was actually going to get a teacher’s diploma. For children.

[i] Theatre teacher?

[r] Yes. I went to school for one year. And my father died. So… there was no one left to answer my questions. And we were in a bad situation at the time. So I started the school. I had questions. I had to look for … for the answers to these questions. It was not possible in one, two days. I had to read a lot of books to answer my questions myself. I started reading and each book made me think differently.

[i] What books did you read?

[r] Yes … There are many Iraqi writers. About god, theatre, life… about everything. I didn’t know which book to read. So, I saw a book and I read it. I wanted to know what was in it. After two years…

[i] And you were 16, 17 years old?

[r] No, I started at school, during my theatre training.

[i] How old were you then?

[r] I started in 2010. With the theatre training. A year before that, my father had died. One year after my father died. He died in 2009. I started in …

[i] You were 17 years old?

[r] Yes. Something like that, yes. And then … Okay, I had questions from the past that no one answered. I saw that we were in a bad situation. I watched people die every day. Yes, when we heard on the news that 200 people had died… Okay, then we were happy. Not too much. Yes, really. That’s how it was.

[i] Was it people you knew who were killed? People close to you?

[r] A lot. I don’t have any friends there anymore. All my friends are dead. You could go to school and suddenly a bomb exploded. Or you’re walking and suddenly there’s shooting, but you don’t know where from. Or you tell something ‘wrong’ to the government and you don’t know who is killing you … That’s how it was. Yes, I got more ideas because I had read the books. And I started with theatre. My teacher said: [name], theatre gives you a beautiful life. And you’re going to see people differently. You’re not going to see people as bad anymore. But you’re going to look at the people and say: you’re a flower, you’re beautiful, I like you. That’s from the inside. But he [other people?] see you as a bad person.

[i] What was your teacher’s name?

[r] Rahim Majid. I love him, but he is also dead.

[i] Why is that?

[r] Oh he was sick. We worked really hard together. One week … He was in pain and went to the doctor. The doctor said: you have nothing you just need to rest. He rested for one day and died. Nobody knew what had happened. We just heard it. That person is dead. Why? Nobody knew. Okay. I was very sad about his death for three months. Because he really made me look at life in a different way. He always talked to us… Okay father: look at life. We are in a bad situation. But if we start working on ourselves, we can change that. People can’t think because: … War. Bad situation. Sick. Crazy. Dead. No money, no food, nothing good, no school, no… We have to change that. How can we change that? You have to believe in yourself. You have to like yourself. You don’t have to think about shooting right away. Maybe he wants to give you a kiss or a flower. He just wants us to think what he means. It’s a really good way… Yes, and then, … I started playing theatre. After two years I had really good ideas. I had a lot of knowledge about theatre. I had to start. One time I played theatre. I was really scared. I saw a lot of people in the auditorium.

[i] In which theatre did you play?

[r] Theatre, um… What was the name, …? The theatre of my city. Theatre Al-Diwaniyah. Theatre Al-Qādisiyyah. Yes, that’s what it was called.

[i] And was there a lot of people?

[r] 1000. It was double. Really 1000 [people]. There was a festival with actors from Baghdad. Actors from Lubnan in Beirut. From Algeria, from Tunisia. Really a lot of people, a lot of actors. It was a big festival.

[i] That was in 2010?

[r] No, 2013. Yes. I think in May, … no in March 2013. Yes. I made one mistake. Something went wrong during the performance, because… I was reciting my text and suddenly someone from the audience said: I know him, I know him. Yes, he knew me from the street or something. I didn’t know. I looked at him and lost all my focus. I forgot my text. I looked at him and thought about what I would do. I just said: ah, I know you too. Thank you. You’re also an actor. But he wasn’t… I forgot my lines. I said this because my friend [co-acto[r] would get scared too. If they got scared, they would also forget their lyrics. I said: I know you, you’re my friend, you’re also an actor, you can come on stage.

[i] Did you know him?

[r] No, absolutely not. But I had to say that, because if I stopped, the other actors would do the same. When I said that, my friend [didn’t understand]. Another teacher said: [name] you’re an actor, you’re really good. If I was in your shoe and someone from the audience spoke to me? I’d forget my lines. I would lose my focus. You are good. It gave me energy to work on another project. I worked…

[i] Why did the guy say, “Hey, I know you”?

[r] Yes, he had no idea why he came to the show.

[i] And it was your first performance?

[r] The first time.

[i] And were you alone on stage or in a group?

[r] No, in group. But in the beginning, I was alone on stage. And I recited my lyrics.

[i] What was the performance about?

[r] Sindibad. Do you know Sindibad?

[i] Sinbad?

Yes Sindibad.

[i] Tell me.

[r] Yes, it’s a long story. Everyone knows it, don’t they? We told who Sindibad was, why he came to Baghdad, what he did, … Yes, and after the performance… But I was lucky at the time. All the other actors asked me what I had done. Nobody knew that I had made a mistake, that my lyrics were not correct. No one knew, just the director and one actor. No one else knew. They said: you’re good. This gave me energy for a new project. Another text. I wrote a text myself. Because yes, … Yes, I love to play theatre, but I didn’t know how to write a text myself. What I had to say. A three-year study, that’s not so long. I wrote a text in which I said: we must speak to God so that He can help us. This was a relevant subject for theatre in Iraq. Because there was war. When there is war, it is not easy to talk about love or life. Of course you’re going to talk about the war. I said: we have to love God. And we have to love each other. We have to love each other. Yes. But the public, … did not listen to what I said. Nobody listened and everyone was talking. There is a war. It’s a difficult time and he’s talking about love? About this bad life? He is crazy.

[i] That was your second project. About love, …

[r] Yes.

[i] And people didn’t understand?

[r] No, no, nobody understood what I was saying. That was… I really lost everything. I had to make a new project and write a good text. But on my own, it was really hard. My teacher said: [name], there is a festival in Baghdad. 2014. In May. I had five months. I had to choose a text, good words, good actors. But it didn’t work out. Because [not understood] It was difficult to convey my ideas to others. And if I involved my friends, they might get into trouble too. I said to my teacher, … By the way, I have a picture of him. I’ll show you. I told him I couldn’t make a new piece. You have to make it and I will cooperate. He said: well, I’ll do it. He wrote a text himself.

[i] Was it the teacher you were talking about?

[r] Yes, Salah. No. Rahimi was dead. It was Salah. I have a picture of Salah. I hope to find him. Salah said: we are going to bring this performance. And I’m sure we’re going to win the first prize. Oh, where is Salah? This is Salah.

[i] Can you show him to the camera?

[r] This person.

[i] With the beautiful costume.

[r] Yes.

[i] Show it again. And these are all the students?

[r] Yes. This is my teacher. This is my teacher. This is my teacher. And this one and this one and this one.

[i] And where are you?

[r] I am here.

[i] With the red wig?

[r] Yes.

[i] And who is the older man with the beard?

[r] That is the father of Salah. He is also a well-known actor in Iraq. Everyone knows him. Salah (father) [not understood] and Salah (son) [not understood]. Said Al Dabi is also a director and writer. He really is a fantastic person. He made a series about … Said Al Dabi is really a great actor. And he wrote many TV series for Beirut television … For the Iraqi Television. I also think for the Qatari television. He is really known. This is also a friend. He also writes. So this is the group I made the performance with. After I had brought this performance with Salah… Salah spoke (in the performance?) about the government – not about God – that we led a good life. Not good, but not bad either. In between. We can consider it good.

[i] Salah asked you to write a performance?

[r] No no, just to play with. Writing was difficult for me. He also asked the group to play with him. We talked to each other to see what to do. Salah said: if we talk about God, we will die. If we talk about the government, we will lose our job. So we had to make up for something. What then? We had a big theatre in Iraq. The Al Rachid theatre in Baghdad. When the Americans came, they bombed it. It was like the Toneelhuis, but even bigger. It was really big. He said: we are making a performance about the theatre. How? We take something big … I don’t know what it’s actually called. Like this…

[i] Show it to the camera.

[r] I don’t know if you can see it on camera. And then we had to sit in this thing. When the show started, we came upstairs and played the violin. We said: we have to rebuild the theatre like we used to. Who could do that? Nobody. Only the government, because they have a lot of money.

[i] Was the theatre bombed?

[r] Yes.

[i] It no longer existed?

[r] Yes and we talked about this theatre. It was a really good performance. It was beautiful.

[i] And where did you play?

[r] In Baghdad. In another place, but it looked like … Like the Arthumaniora of Baghdad, the theater school.

[i] And you copied the great theatre that had been bombed?

[r] Yes, with small references we built the theatre of Rachid. The audience said: wow, an hour and a half wow, fantastic. No one spoke. As an actor, I could hear the people breathing in the room. It was really fantastic. Important people from the government came to see us. We really had a lot of energy. It was a wonderful performance.

[i] What was the name of the performance?

[r] Um, I know in Dutch, not in English: “Born in.”

[i] “Born in.”

[r] Yes, in Arabic: ولد في Yes, “Born in”. It’s like born in … I don’t know. The government also thought it was a beautiful performance. You are good. Not just me, but the whole group. It was a wonderful performance. After the performance I got into trouble. I had already talked about God and now I asked the government to rebuild the theatre. And it was not possible to rebuild the theatre. I talked about this on stage. There was television, there were cameras. People also thought: when will the government rebuild the theatre? I returned to my city. People said: [name], your performance was fantastic, perfect. You have to finish this year. We started in 2015. Everything was fine, but I had problems. Nobody knew about the problems I had. I told my brother. He said [name]: I’m going to help you. Because he was a captain and he had security and police connections to help. We had cameras. We had everything at home. We had everything at home. I was safe. I stayed with my brother. Nobody could talk to me.

[i] People contacted you after you played the show?

[r] Yes.

[i] And what did they say?

[r] They said: you are not a good person. Sometimes you talk about God. Sometimes you talk about the government. Not understood] You can’t just tell what you want. I said, every day I give to my country, my love, my hard, my work.

[i] You said you were talking about the government.

[r] Yes.

[i] But you talked about God? Was that in another performance?

[r] In 2013 I talked about God. I told you that. This was about the government. When I talked about God…

[i] Was it when the man pointed at you?

[r] Yes.

[i] Then you spoke of God?

[r] I need to explain this further.

[r] Yes, please.

[r] [Not understood] After Sindibad I had to talk. Sindibad was a good man and came with a message of love and for life. But Sindibad left. He did not stay in Baghdad. And I complained after Sindibad. Okay, we have God. He is going to help us. But God never looked at Iraq. God is upstairs, but he doesn’t look at what’s happening downstairs.

[i] It was during the same performance?

[r] Yes. And then … Um… Like every day, I went home after school, to my family.

[i] It was in Al-Diwaniyah?

[r] Yes. He came to me, after the performance. “Be careful.

[i] Who?

[r] A man.

[i] Do you know who it was?

[r] No, not at all. I thought, “Maybe he’s saying this because I said something wrong during the performance. Or maybe he’s an actor or he’s from another city. Maybe he’s saying this to give me the energy to make another performance. That’s what I thought.

[i] What did the man look like?

[r] He just said, be careful. And then he was gone.

[i] It was after the performance?

[r] Yes. In the street.

[i] In the street?

[r] Yes. Okay, I didn’t think much about it and said, “Thank you. He told me to be careful. One day I went to school. After three months… One day I went to school. Everything was okay. After three months … I remembered that the car was a Toyota pickup. With four people. They told my teacher: we are looking for [name], do you know [name]?

[i] There was a car that came to your school?

[r] Yes. After three months.

[i] After the performance?

[r] Yes. My teacher said, “Yes.

[i] Was it [name]?

[r] No, it was another teacher. [name] was also a teacher at my school, but then we didn’t work together. He said, yes, he’s here, what happened? They said, we are guarding his brother and we want to tell him something. Okay, my teacher knew my brother and knew that he was a captain and has security. Okay, I went to them. They gave me a letter. They said: give this to your brother. We’ll talk later. And then they left. I doubted: should I open the letter? I called my brother. He said: don’t open it. I come to you. We opened the envelope. There was nothing in it but a bullet. He said: okay [name], you have to be careful. The next day my brother, …

[i] Did you know who these people were?

[r] I thought: this is not for me. It’s for my brother, because he works for the government, for the police.

[i] And how did you feel when you received that letter?

[r] I was afraid, of course. I didn’t know what to do. My brother also thought the letter was for him and not for me.

[i] Why would the letter be for your brother?

[r] Because my brother was a captain and worked for the police, for the government.

[i] May I ask you this [name]: in Al-Diwaniyah there weren’t many problems with IS?

[r] No, no, no, no. IS wasn’t there? No, we don’t have IS. But we do have mafia. It is mafia … How do I say that … for faith.

[i] What do you mean by “for faith”?

[r] Okay, I’m Shiite. There is a great mafia who helps me. I am Shiite and I have these people. When I tell you, you have to do this. Then you have to do that. Otherwise they will kill you. I don’t kill, but they do. Sunnis have the same thing.

[i] You told me that your mother is not Sunni.

[r] Yes.

[i] And your father Shiite?

[r] Yes.

[i] Wasn’t that a problem?

[r] During Saddam Hussein I didn’t know if he was Shiite or Sunnite meant. No one knew. But now it’s different. Okay, Shiite, … Soenniet, ooh ooh ooh. That’s right. I hope it will be like it used to be, like it was during Saddam Hussein. Yes. My brother said: [name], we are moving to another house. Only for you and me. I only had to go to school for three months and then I would graduate and get my diploma. I said: good, no problem. I think my brother knew what was going on at the time. Why they sent the letter to me and not to him. My brother came to pick me up from school every day and took me home. We stayed in different houses, in different cities. And then … One day, it was the weekend, … We were at the back of the house. We were at the BBQ with family. And we talked until 5 in the morning. And suddenly we heard ‘boom’. It was Saturday, because on Sunday we have to go to school in Iraq. I asked my brother: what happened? He said: I don’t know. He called the police. The police said: something is wrong. What’s not right, we’re going to explain it to you. A friend called me. He said: within an hour I will pick you up by car to go to the University of Babel. We have to go there. I said: I’m here. I have everything here. And then at 6 a.m. or 5.40 a.m. he called me again. Name], [name] I see something wrong here. I don’t know what it is. I said, huh, don’t touch it. He also said: don’t open the door. Something is not right. And he entered the house from the back. I said, don’t touch it. I’m going to look through this camera. I told my brother what my friend had told me. And my brother looked through the camera and said: okay. He said to my family: go to my other brother’s house. Because something is not right here. He said: it’s a bomb. I’ll show you the bomb. I said: ah why? It’s really crazy. And he called the police and the police came to our house. And dismantled the bomb. And they told my brother: the bomb was not for you. We know that you have good work and that you are quiet. Tell [name] that he should be careful and that he should quit theatre education. I had only three months left to go to school before graduating.

[i] Who told you this?

[r] Someone called my brother.

[i] When you were home?

[r] Yes, and then they sent a letter to my brother. This is the bomb. Look. [shows picture of bomb]

[i] Can you describe it? It looks like an old bomb, doesn’t it?

[r] Yes.

[i] It’s an old bomb and what is it white?

[r] The phone. And this… I don’t know what it’s called. And this is C4…

[i] C4

[r] Yeah, this one here.

[i] How big is it?

[r] I have no idea. This picture is for them to open it. It looked like this. And this one too. And here is the time. 7u20. The moment the government has come.

[i] Your friend who comes to your house, sees something. And then you see it with the camera from your house?

[r] Yes, yes. And my brother called the police. The police came to dismantle the bomb. And this is also a close-up picture. This one and this one.

[i] How did you feel when, …

[r] What do you think? Of course we were very scared and … My smaller brothers and my sisters were crying and…

[i] Because you lived there with your whole family?

[r] Yes yes, it was really very frightening. I really don’t want to remember that. It was very difficult. After this happened, my brother said: okay, we have to put a lot of security people here. And [name] you have to move. You have to leave Iraq. I said: not possible, only 3 months left and then I graduated. I don’t want to give up school because of these stupid people.

[i] And did you know who?

[r] Yes, when I arrived in Belgium, my brother knew who had done it. I finished my studies like crazy. Every day, I moved to a different city. I stayed in Babylon, Baghdad, Al Najaf, Karbala, Samawa … Cities close to my city so that I could still go to school. I was afraid to go home after school. I had to take my exams.

[i] Who were you staying with in all these cities?

[r] My brother had many friends there. And he called them to ask if they wanted to help me. And in Baghdad he gave me a studio. Actually an apartment. We don’t have any studios. Two or four times. I don’t remember very well. Also in Al Najaf. In Samawa I stayed with a friend. A small village near my city called Asidir. Yes, I stayed in many places.

[i] How many places: 10?

[r] For three months I moved every day or every five days or every week. Because I didn’t want them to know where I lived. After this happened, everything was okay, my family was good, … I graduated. Everything went well. I asked my brother: what should I do? I couldn’t stay in my city. I couldn’t go to Baghdad either. I am Shiite and they are Sunni. That is very difficult. If I stayed in my city, my problem would remain. What should I do? He said: go to Turkey or Iran for one month.

[i] Wait, I want to understand you. You studied as an actor. You couldn’t go to Baghdad because Sunnis live there.

[r] Yes, half Sunni and half Shiite. But they are afraid. When I tell a Shiite, I say that I come from this city and that I am also Shiite. They wouldn’t believe me. Sometimes they get along well and sometimes they fight each other. They have [not understood] each other.

[i] You are half, half?

[r] Yes. When I say to a Sunni, my mother is Sunni, but I am Shiite, oh that’s hard.

[i] And you wanted to go to Baghdad to work as an actor?

[r] Yes. I never thought about leaving Iraq. Never. I had my life there, my school, my friends, my family, my brothers, … My brother said: go to Turkey, …

[i] And you couldn’t stay in Al-Diwaniyah because of the problems you had with the people there?

[r] Yes, but I loved my family. I spent much of my life there. Wow, 20 years, 22 years. It’s very difficult to leave all that behind by stupid people.

[i] Are you going to tell me who made the bomb, or later? You can tell me later, but I’m curious.

[r] I told you, …

[i] You can tell me later, …

[r] Yes later, because it’s really hard to tell this with the camera, … And my brother said: go to Turkey. I went to Turkey and I saw a lot of people who went from there to Europe.

[i] How did you go from Al-Diwaniyah to Turkey?

[r] I went from Al-Diwaniyah to Baghdad by car. From Baghdad to Turkey by plane.

[i] And how did you say goodbye to your family?

[r] Well, actually only my mother, my sister and my grandmother, … and my big brother knew it. The rest of my family didn’t know.

[i] Are you together for the last time or did you come together to say goodbye?

[r] It was not possible to tell them because… My brother told me not to tell the rest. Someone could talk their mouths out of it. They would know where I am. That is dangerous. Just my mother, one sister and my grandmother and my brother. Four people in my family knew.

[i] Did you see them before you left?

[r] Yes, it was night. I talked to them. And in the morning I left.

[i] You said goodbye at your family’s house?

[r] Yes, yes.

[i] And had you made a quick decision to leave?

[r] Quickly, quickly I hadn’t thought long about it. Two days after I graduated, my brother said: tomorrow you must leave. That was really hard.

[i] And what were you doing in your suitcase?

[r] Nothing, just my passport, I still have it with me. Yes, my identity card.

And money, that was all. Yes, really nothing. And then from Turkey, …

[i] And your brother took you to, …

[r] No, no, I took a taxi from Al-Diwaniyah to Baghdad. It was 8:00 in the morning. At 8 am there is no one in the city. Everyone is at school, at work, … At that moment nobody goes to Baghdad. Why do you go to Baghdad at 8 o’clock? You are not on time for work, for your appointment. If you want to go to Baghdad, you have to go at 3 or 5 in the morning. Work starts at 7 o’clock. At 8 o’clock the doors are open. Nobody thought that I would go to Baghdad at 8 o’clock. That was in 2015. Well, yes …

[i] What was it like to say goodbye to your family?

[r] I opened the door. I saw my mother, my sister and my grandmother and I said goodbye. I didn’t think about leaving Iraq and never seeing them again. I said goodbye. I may be back in a week or a month.

[i] You thought you were saying goodbye for a short time?

[r] Yes. When I arrived in Turkey, my brother sent money. He said to me: [name], leave Turkey.

[i] And where were you staying in Turkey?

[r] First in Ankara. And then in Samsun and then in Izmir. And then in Marmiris.

[i] How long did you stay in Turkey?

[r] Twenty days or so. Something like that, … twenty days …

[i] Who did you stay with?

[r] Mustafa also came to Turkey a week later. He is my best friend.

[i] He’s the guy in the picture? Show him again.

[r] Mustafa, this is Mustafa. We came together. After a week he also came to Turkey.

[i] For the same reason?

[r] No, he didn’t have the same problems as me. He had problems with his family. We shouldn’t be talking about his problem. He was in love with a girl. Her family didn’t need to know about him because he’s an actor. He got nervous because they didn’t like him for being an actor. And they ended up shooting at each other.

[i] He came to Turkey after one week?

[r] Yes. When we were in Turkey, we thought about going to America. We didn’t know how. My brother sent me money and said: [name], you have to leave Turkey. Where should I go?

[i] Why did your brother tell you this?

[r] I don’t know? I couldn’t ask why. I just had to say yes. He only had one minute to talk to me on the phone.

[i] It was your eldest brother who always took care of you?

[r] Yes, yes, yes. And then… I couldn’t choose where I wanted to go. With my passport I couldn’t go to America or Europe. That’s really hard. And I didn’t want to go to Iran either. It’s a good country, but it’s hard for me. If I went to Iran and then to Iraq. Because there are many Iraqis in Iran. He said: you have to go to a place where there are no Iraqis. I didn’t know why. I knew I had a problem. But I never thought I would end up in such a situation. Okay, I heard someone say: today I’m going to Greece.

[i] You met someone who…?

[r] I heard it in Izmir.

[i] Where did you hear it?

[r] Izmir.

[i] On the street in Izmir?

[r] Yes, I asked: how are you? Can I go with my passport? No, no, without a passport. You go by boat. From here to there. That is difficult. You pay 1000 dollars. If there are ten people, then we are gone.

[i] Was it also someone from Iraq or was it a Turkish man?

[r] No, he was a Kurd. But he spoke Arabic. Yes, he was a Kurd. I said: good. This is my money. This is my passport. But he was a liar.

[i] And you were with your friend Mustafa?

[r] Yes. The man was a liar. I didn’t know what was going to happen. He said: give me the money, don’t worry.

[i] How much did you pay?

[r] 1000 euros.

[i] And you gave your passport?

[r] No, he just asked for my money. I’m going to the hotel and I’ll be back’. He was gone.

[i] Where was he?

[r] I waited one, two, three hours, … So I had an idea how to go to Greece. I didn’t think about the money I had lost anymore. I didn’t have much time. I had to move on. I went looking. I asked many different people. They gave me a phone number. This allowed me to reach someone to meet up with. I said, well, we’ll meet. I gave him money. And we made an appointment. Tonight at 1 o’clock we leave.

[i] 1:00 a.m.? Do you remember the day?

[r] Um, Sunday. Yes, Sunday.

[i] 2016?

[r] 2015, in July.

[i] 2015, July?

[r] I have written it down here in my diary. 2015, … Yes, … 12/06….12/06

[i] At 1:00?

[r] Yes.

[i] At night?

[r] Yes.

[i] And how much did you pay the second time?

[r] He said: you have to go to that office. There is someone you can ask. You have to ask about Abu Amar.

[i] Abu Amar?

[r] Yes. If he says: yes, I am. Then give him the money. He will give you a card with a number on it. If you are safe in Greece, you have to call this number and say that you arrived well. If you don’t make it to Greece, you can come back and ask for your money back.

[i] And how much did you pay?

[r] Also a thousand. We went on a plastic boat. Not a real boat. One of plastic. yes, … it was really crazy.

[i] How big was the boat?

[r] Six meters. He said there were only ten of us. Okay, when I got there, I saw 61 people.

[i] 61 instead of ten?

[r] Yes. Children, girls, women, old people, … I was shocked: what should I do? If you say: I don’t want to go anymore, they’ll kill you. Yes, it is really mafia. It’s crazy mafia.

[i] And the guy you met the second time, was it also a Kurd?

[r] Yes, a Kurd.

[i] Many people who do that, are Kurds?

[r] Yes. Okay, I went outside, we left, … No, first we went by car. And then we stopped somewhere in nature. Then we had to walk for one hour. Then we had to wait three hours. And then he said: we go to the boat at 12 o’clock. 12 o’clock in the afternoon.

[i] 12 o’clock in the afternoon?

[r] Yes. Okay, but… At 1 o’clock in the morning we left by car. After one or two hours, …

[i] How many people were you in the car with?

[r] Ooh. We were in a box, a van, … But really, … I’m never going to forget that… There was only one small ventilation hole in the roof. And I think there were 50 people in it, very close together. It was really a small camion. I remember two people couldn’t breathe. And, …

[i] They fainted?

[r] Yes, I think so… or they died. I don’t know. After one hour… he stopped and opened the door. He said: police, police, police, … And we didn’t have our passports. It was not normal. I don’t know how to say it.

[i] Illegal?

[r] Yes. So, when you hear the police, … then you have to flee. If you don’t, you will be killed or arrested. At a moment the 50 people in the van flew back. Everyone flew back.

[i] The driver braked hard?

[r] He opened the door and said: police, police, … go, go, go, go, … I walked away and didn’t see anyone in the street anymore. Where was I supposed to go? There was no light. I couldn’t see anything. I heard the water splashing, … I had to go there. I didn’t care about anyone. I was all alone.

[i] Were there any police?

[r] No. He said that because he wanted us to walk away. How can I explain that? Yes. I stepped into the water. I was afraid. I was tired.

[i] Was Mustafa with you?

[r] I had lost Mustafa. I had lost everyone. One by one everyone came to the water. Suddenly we were all together. Someone arrived with a boat. He said: stay here. Tomorrow at 12 o’clock we leave. I don’t want the police to be able to find you. Hide in nature. Then he left. We hid and at noon he came back. Okay now we leave for Greece. Are you sure? Yes. We got in the boat. How long? He said: three o’clock. But that was not true.

[i] Who said three o’clock?

[r] The person who…

[i] sailed with the boat?

[r] Yes.

[i] Was he also a Kurd?

[r] No. He spoke Turkish. Not Kurdish, but Turkish. Someone from our group translated. Yes, because he spoke in Turkish, … ? I didn’t really know what language he was speaking in. Yes, and then we left. We were happy. Really. But we were afraid. We saw Greece. No one here, no one there. Just us. It was the first time I was on the water.

[i] How many people?

[r] 50 or so.

[i] And were you with Mustafa?

[r] Yes. Yes, we all came back together. Yes. After five minutes we saw a boat coming from Greece. A Turkish police boat. They came to us. And picked us up. They locked us up for one week, without a phone, without anything. So, …

[i] There was Turkish police?

[r] Yes.

[i] And they came to your boat?

[r] Yes.

[i] And they brought you back to Turkey?

[r] Yes.

[i] And were you put in prison or where were you staying?

[r] Yes, in prison.

[i] In Izmir?

[r] Yes, Izmir. Yes, jandarma … That was the name of the police. Jandarma is not a good police.

[i] And what was your reaction when you were arrested?

[r] Okay, … either we die in the water or we go with them. Otherwise we would die. We had no choice. We had to go with them.

[i] And also the children and the women?

[r] Everyone, everyone.

[i] And what was it like to be in prison? Were you all together?

[r] Oh, it was really awful. There were many people from ISIS. And we were locked up with them. When you say: I am Shiite. Then they kill you. If you speak Arabic, you will have problems. But if you don’t speak to them, you get problems. It was really hard, really hard. After a week we were released. We went back to the same person. He said: sorry. I had you stopped, because I still had 12 boats coming after you. The police would have found them too. Now they have been able to sail through it. What do you want to do now?

[i] And did you have contact with your family?

[r] No, I had lost my money, my phone, … When I went from our boat to the police boat, everything fell into the water. But it was okay. I could contact my family. Mustafa still had money. He said: tonight we leave again. And this time you don’t have to pay. I’ll give it to you as a present.

[i] Present, gift?

[r] Yes. We left. He said there would be 20 of us, but it was really crazy. There were three boats. And in each boat 60 people. He didn’t think about how many people could use it. He just thought about the money. We start at two, …

[i] What time did you leave? At night?

[r] We left by boat at 1 am. Then we went into the water, to Greece. It was really scary. We had no light. There was something wrong inside the boat. We heard ‘boom’. Like this. We told the captain: we have a problem, we have to go back. For the plastic of the boat is damaged. He said, no, don’t worry. After 20 minutes there was no more boat. We were lying in the sea. Everywhere you looked, there was water. There were two children there: a family from Iraq. Man, wife and two children. Two couples. A family from Syria. And men. I can’t swim. There were two people from Iraq I met. Mohamed and Haider, they were really good.

[i] Did you know them from in Iraq?

[r] No, I met them in the boat. I asked Mohamed: can you swim? Yes, I am a good swimmer. I swim to the boat and see if the engine still works. And then we look for something to help. Maybe the police or something, … Everyone lost his phone and his money. We lost everything. We lost two men from Syria and the family with children.

[i] How did that happen?

[r] Because the water was very fierce. [is doing waves with arms.]

[i] And they fell out of the boat?

[r] Yes.

[i] And they were gone?

[r] We had lost them. At that moment I had to save myself.

[i] And the sea was furious?

[r] Yes. Haider had a laser. Do you know a laser? And he looked around with it. Oh I see something with my laser, he said. Really something big in the water. I didn’t know what it was. Haider said: we have to go there. And Haider had something… [makes hand gestures] A rope? Yes. For the boat, … And there was a large piece of dust in the sea.

[i] Dust?

[r] Not dust, but …

[i] uhu, …

[r] I don’t know how you say that…

[i] It lay in the sea?

[r] Yes.

[i] Wood, was it wood?

[r] Yes, it was. We crawled on it. We helped each other. But we lost two men from Syria and the family from Iraq. We had no light. Just the laser. But with the laser we saw nothing.

[i] How big was the piece of wood?

[r] It was 20 meters by 20 meters, I think.

[i] And the boat was gone?

[r] Yes, gone. At 5 o’clock we saw the sun rise. We had a little light. We saw a huge boat in the sea. Really big. We shone with the laser. And Haider did this [for how he shone with the lase[r]. And the water did: “crook” [water sound]. The laser was suddenly gone. Ooooh. What should we do? It was the police of Turkey. Okay, we’ll go back to Turkey with them. But they have to look for the family and those guys who disappeared. They helped us. The family was lucky because there was something … Something for the fish … Really big for that boat. [not understood] To get fish out of the water. They sat there, … Yes, it was one man from Syria, but nobody knew where the other one was. The police drove around to find him. They found him far away. And then everyone, …

[i] Aah, so the family from Iraq survived?

[r] Yes.

[i] Because they could hold on to something to catch fish?

[r] Yes.

[i] And the guy from Syria?

[r] He was with them, but suddenly he was gone, … He didn’t know where. He couldn’t see anything. Not understood] We return with the police. They took us to the city and released us.

[i] Back to Izmir?

[r] Yes. We returned to our contact. He said, that’s all I could do. It’s not going to work through me anymore. Go, here’s your money. I bought a phone and I called my family. They didn’t know where I was. They thought something had happened to me. It was 10 days ago.

[i] Who did you call?

[r] I called my mother. [Don’t understand]. I talked to her. It was real, … Yes, and then…

[i] What did your mother say to you?

[r] She was scared, because she thought I was dead. I think something happened when I left. Because my brother told me to leave Turkey. He knew someone who knew I was in Turkey. And she thought I was dead. That someone had killed me. When I called her, I said that everything was fine, that I had only lost my phone. I never told her what happened to me. Because it’s hard to explain something like that. And then yes, …. Afterwards I met someone… Arabic. I told him what had happened. He said: I’m going to help you. We have to go to Maramaris. There is someone there with a yacht. To take you from Mararmaris to Greece. How much does it cost? He said: 3000 euros. I had never heard of this coin. What is euro? What is euro? I was going to ask. They said: these are euros and these are dollars. You have to exchange them. This is more than that. I exchanged my money and gave it to him. When do we leave? Tomorrow, tomorrow. By how much? He said, there are only 80 of you. 80? Yes 80. Wow well, with a yacht with five rooms. Chic yacht. He said: if you don’t have a place to sleep, you can sleep here.

[i] And Mustafa was with you?

[r] Yes. I said: wow, that’s great that we can sleep here. And then he said, … Yes, we stayed there for one week. And then he said: tomorrow we leave. First we had to drive for three, four hours. Then he stopped. Then we had to take a walk. And then we went in a small boat with which we sailed to the yacht.

[i] Were you already with 80 people?

[r] We had good communication with this person. We knew how many people were coming. But it wasn’t true. There were at least 150 people. It was really crazy. The captain was a Colombian with a boy and a girl.

[i] Captain from Colombia?

[r] Yes. And then one, … Two boys and one girl.

[i] Also to drive the boat?

[r] Yes. We left and I saw the cars in Greece. It was very close. For the first hour the sea was calm, normal. The second hour the sea became wild. We saw the water coming from above. Yes, it was really crazy. I didn’t know what to do. I had to go upstairs, in case something would happen. I just wanted to save myself. When I went upstairs, I saw a small room. With children from Syria, children from Iraq. They were playing, …. but it was really difficult. After five hours the captain said: I have to stop now. Someone called and warned that we were coming. If we move on, I will lose my yacht and my life. What were we supposed to do? Are we going back? Or are we moving on? If we go like this [points to the front] That also takes two or three hours. He said: no, just an hour. He saw the children. And he said: I may lose my yacht, but I’m not going back with the children. He was a really good person.

[i] The captain from Colombia?

[r] Yes. Yes. That was what he said. When we arrived in Greece, the police were waiting for us. They picked him up, took his yacht and his money. It was really difficult. He lost a lot of money. He went to prison, maybe 20 or 30 years? I don’t know. He lost everything for the children. And then I was in Greece and I went to Macedonia and Serbia, …

[i] Can you tell how?

[r] Yes I will tell you, … When I arrived in Griekeland, we stayed with the police for one week.

[i] Because the police were waiting for you?

[r] Yes. After one week, we went to Athens. From Athens we took a taxi to Macedonia.

[i] After a week the police let you go?

[r] Yes.

[i] And did you have to show anything of paperwork?

[r] No, nothing.

[i] They just let you go?

[r] Yes, at that moment Greece was out of money.

[i] Where in Greece did you get to?

[r] I know where. But the name is really difficult. It was a small island. Ka, … kosu, … I don’t know the name. It is really difficult. It is really difficult, … Then we went to Athens and took the taxi to a certain place.

[i] Mustafa was with you?

[r] Yes.

[i] And did you make other friends as well?

[r] Yes, of course. You have to make other friends. Only the journey is not possible. It’s really dangerous.

[i] Who did you meet?

[r] Arab people quickly make contact with each other. I mean, … I am an Iraqi. When I hear someone from Iraq. I say hello. Even if we don’t come from the same place, you will be my friend. We have one language and we are in the same situation. We will be friends. Yes, we took a taxi from Athens to a place near Macedonia. Then we started walking from this place to Macedonia.

[i] And how did you get food?

[r] In restaurants, hotels on the way. Everything was okay.

[i] You had money to…

[r] Yes, …

[i] To sleep?

[r] Yes, yes. It was difficult in Macedonia, because three or four thousand people were waiting for the train. But the train did not arrive. You had to take a taxi or walk to Serbia.

[i] You were also waiting for the train?

[r] I was lucky. At three or four o’clock in the morning I hear the horn of the train. Button, button, … I slept near the station.

[i] Were you sleeping in a hotel or a tent?

[r] Yes, in a hotel. I was fine. I had money. I had a hotel. We walked to the train. We went by train to Serbia. Not to Serbia, but close to Serbia. And then we walked to Serbia.

[i] You walked? How long?

[r] From Greece to Macedonia: one day. From Macedonia to Serbia: three days. It was really difficult. It was really difficult because the army of Serbia is crazy.

[i] Army?

[r] Yes, really crazy.

[i] Have you met them?

[r] Yes.

[i] Can you tell us anything about it?

[r] Um, what? Well, they were, uh… They said unfriendly things.

[i] Like?

[r] Words of abuse. We didn’t say anything back of course, because they had everything. They thought we came to make trouble. [Not understood]

[i] How many people were you with in total?

[r] Really a lot. Really a lot. Four or five thousand people were there. Yes, I think there were so many. You only saw people.

[i] And you walked together?

[r] Yes. You must walk in a large group. If you are with a smaller group of 200 or 300, the police or the army will kill you. And then we went to Serbia on a very difficult road. We entered Serbia. We took a taxi. Somewhere there is a commissioner’s office where you get papers.

[i] In Serbia?

[r] Yes, for three days. They also have a bus and a train to take you to another place. To get to …. Hungary. Yes.

[i] But in Serbia they have registered you?

[r] Yes.

[i] And they gave you a visa, …?

[r] No, no, a paper for three days. If the police pick you up after three days, you have problems. But the police of Serbia is not good. They take their money from the people.

[i] Did you have to pay them?

[r] Yes. I paid all the way through Serbia. I gave the Serbian police a thousand dollars.

[i] And they came to you?

[r] Yes, give me money and you can go on. If you don’t give any money, then you stay here.

[i] So people who had no money, … had to go with the police?

[r] [shakes yes] From Hungary I drove by car to Austria, to Vienna.

[i] And how?

[r] 3000 euro, 3000 euro for one person.

[i] And how did you meet the person you were taking with you?

[r] They ask you in the city. Who wants to go to Germany? Who wants to go to Vienna? That’s how it went.

[i] You met the person in Hungary?

[r] No, close to Hungary. I was in Serbia. A place close to Hungary. I met someone, … a Kurd. Yes, Kurdish and there were four of us. And each person has to pay him 3000 euros. But he had a large group.

[i] And Mustafa?

[r] Mustafa was with me.

[i] He is your best friend?

[r] Yes of course. He is real, … And then we went to Vienna. We stayed in Vienna for one week.

[i] And then what? And where did you stay in Vienna?

[r] In a hotel.

[i] And how did you find the hotels where you stayed?

[r] That actually happened on Facebook. People said: I have a place where you can spend the night.

[i] Other refugees?

[r] Yes. Yes. We didn’t have a phone. My phone was just a Nokia. But the people who were with us really helped us.

[i] What people helped you?

[r] From Syria, Iraq.

[i] Other refugees?

[r] Yes, people from the group. Yes, I stayed one week in Vienna. And then, … I heard someone speak my language. I knew him. When I spoke to him, I noticed that he might be from my city. I didn’t know. He said: I’m going to help you.

[i] Was he also a refugee?

[r] No, he was a national of a country in Europe.

[i] What was his name?

[r] Uh, no. He said: I’m going to help you, but it’s dangerous for me. It is really difficult. If you see police, you have to explain what happened. I know you are from my country, from my city. Of course I’m going to help you. But if you see the police, you have to talk. Okay, thanks. And he brought us from Vienna to here. To the commissariat. [means Immigration Department]

[i] Okay, and why did you choose Belgium? Was that your plan from the beginning?

[r] No, no, never. Never, ever… I didn’t really have a choice. I heard that there were a lot of people in Germany. I was afraid that the government would send me back to Iraq. That’s what I thought. I thought there were no Arabs in Belgium, because I had never heard of Belgium. When I was here, I saw a lot of people from my country, oooh.

[i] The man you met in Vienna decided to go to Belgium?

[r] Yes. Yes. He wasn’t from Belgium himself, but he knew that Belgium is good for people. Because a long time ago, twenty years or so, he was in Europe. Yes.

[i] And did you have contact with your family during your trip from Turkey to Belgium?

[r] Never. I was in contact with my family when I arrived at the centre, at the reception centre.

[i] Which centre?

[r] The reception centre. The camp. After one or two days I called my family. I told them that I was there and that everything was okay. Yes.

[i] And what was their reaction?

[r] For me it was actually very sad, very difficult. Because I had no idea what was going to happen to me. Why did I come here? What problem? Why, why did this happen to me? I had many questions. I saw a lot of people who were happy to be in Europe, in Belgium. No, I was not happy in Belgium, in Europe. Why? It is not my country. It was the first time. That’s how I thought. I loved my country, my work, my school, my friends. It was the first time I had lived like this, away from Iraq.

[i] And how long were you on the road in total?

[r] One month.

[i] From Greece,…?

[r] From Iraq to here.

[i] One month?

[r] Yes. I left Iraq on June 4, 2015. I was in Belgium on 17 July 2015. I’m not sure.

[i] One month and a half?

[r] Yes, something like that.

[i] May I ask you how much it cost you? All in all?

[r] Yes, $12,000. I paid for that. I know someone who came for $1000.

[i] And most of the time were you with Mustafa or with a larger group?

[r] No, no with a larger group. I didn’t speak English before, neither did Mustafa. So we had someone who spoke English for us. He saved us. Of course we were in a group.

[i] Did you have a close group of friends?

[r] No, no, no. And then, yes, … We lost them in Vienna. When I met that other person.

[i] How many people, … because you came from Hungary to Vienna? And in Vienna you lost how many people?

[r] We came from Hungary to Vienna with four people. In the car there was only room for four people. Another group came with another car. When I arrived in Belgium… At one point I was very happy. And then I started thinking. I’m in Brussels. What should I do? [not understood] something with Belgian nationality.

[i] And the man with the car, dropped you off in Brussels?

[r] Yes, and then he was gone. I went to the commissariat [means DVZ). They gave me a centre.

[i] Where was this?

[r] Antwerp, Left Bank, The Red Cross. Okay, thanks! I didn’t understand what they said, because they spoke English and French. I had a map and I went to the station. And I asked people where the centre was. Mustafa sent them to Charleroi by the way.

[i] How was it for you that Mustafa, …?

[r] I’ll tell you. When I… The person I met in Belgium was really good. I gave him all my papers. He said: don’t worry. I’m going to help you. Every stop on the train I asked him: is this Antwerp? He said no. By the way, he lives somewhere behind the centre. He helped me to the bus stop Halewijn [Left Bank] and then he was gone. I saw people from Syria and I spoke to them. They said: yes, we live there too. Come with us. And so I came to the shelter. I met a companion there, … I forgot his name … From Africa, …?

[i] Sidny?

[r] Yes, Sidny. He helped me. He gave me a room. And the second day I called Mustafa. He said: I am in Charleroi. I didn’t know where it was. I spoke to Sidny to make an appointment with the police station.

[i] How did you feel that Mustafa was in Charleroi?

[r] I felt bad. But that same evening I met Mansoor. You know Mansoor. Mansoor has been my friend since I was a child. We were at the same school. And then, … In high school I went to the theatre and Mansoor did something else. Mansoor went to Turkey. For 9 or 10 years I had no contact with him. When I arrived at the centre, I thought eh? [looks surprised] Mansoor? Yes. I was glad that I met my friend, someone from my city. I called Mustafa and told him what had happened. Mustafa said: there are also people from Iraq here and I’m okay. Do you think we can meet and our escorts talk to each other to arrange a change? He said: No [name]. If you’re okay then I’m okay too. I said: yes, of course. And then I had papers, … After five or six months. At Mustafa it took a year and a half.

[i] What was your first impression of Belgium?

[r] I don’t know. I really don’t know. Maybe I was happy? Or was I sad, or tired? Should I cry or laugh? I heard a foreign language. Who are these people? What is their culture? Where am I? I’m from Asia. I don’t know. I told you why.

[i] How was life for you at the shelter?

[r] I was lucky to be in the Red Cross Centre, really. For I heard, … I met a lot of people. They said, we are staying in one room with ten people. I had my own room, good food. I had a good companion there, really. I like them. Sometimes I go back to say hello.

[i] You were invited by the commissariat to tell your story? How was that?

[r] The first time, yes?

[i] Yes, tell me about the first time. When you arrived.

[r] In the commissariat or in the centre?

[i] In the commissariat. What was it like to tell your story there?

[r] Yes, that’s a good question. I didn’t know what to tell them. I thought I had to give my fingerprints and they would give me papers.

[i] If you did what?

[r] My fingerprints, … they would give me papers. That’s what I thought, because I didn’t know. Really! I told the person who interviewed me. He said: really? I explained it to him. It was the first time. I explained everything. He said okay. Cava, alright. See you next time.

[i] You told your whole story?

[r] Yes.

[i] How long did you talk?

[r] The first time: three hours. And then they invited me again. Five and a half hours. It was really hard to explain everything that had happened to me. The interpreter came from Morocco. He didn’t understand what I meant. My story, what I said, … Every time he said: what do you mean? It was difficult. But after 10 days I had my papers. I was happy.

[i] How did you feel? Can you describe that?

[r] After I had my papers, I hated this language [Dutch], really. Because I didn’t know how to express myself. After, …

[i] But how did you feel when they said you could stay here?

[r] I was happy. Really, I was happy at that moment. Yes, it was really perfect. And then, … I started my first Dutch course. I hear the sounds of the words … and wow I love it. The next lesson, … I really love it. Yes, I really loved it, because I wanted to talk like the people here. They have a beautiful accent. Wow. Step by step I really fell in love with this language. And now I speak Dutch, but not perfect. I’m still a student. Yes.

[i] You arrived on the 17th of July. When did you get papers?

[r] In February 2016, I think. In January or February. Because I had the second interview twice. Once and then a second time.

[i] And after the shelter, where did you go?

[r] Yes, I met someone very well. name] [laughs] He sent me to the KunstZ academy. For theatre. I worked with them. We worked hard. I had two projects. I did two projects. One in Poland and one at the University of Manchester. Yes, here too I did a lot of performances at KunstZ. Walking in your shoes. Dying for life. A project with other people. KunstZ also sent me to the Kunsthumaniora in Antwerp. I studied there for 3 or 4 months. It was difficult. I quit, because my Dutch was not good enough.

[i] Did you enjoy studying at the Kunsthumaniora?

[r] Yes, I really liked it. But it was difficult, because my Dutch was not good enough to really tell them what I wanted. So I quit this course. Back to KunstZ. I’m also working on a performance with them now.

[i] What performance are you working on now?

[r] Love the word. We will start at the end of June. Maybe another two months. I’m not sure. At the old house. At the Groenplaats.

[i] What does KunstZ mean to you?

[r] Well, …

[i] What does KunstZ mean to you?

[r] It is my family, my house. Yes, my family. They are really good people. That’s all I have to say: it’s my family. Sometimes I miss KunstZ, really. When we are together for one week, … And if I don’t next week, I’ll miss them, then I want to go there. I like to see Griet, Mulanga and other people there. Good people. I love them.

[i] Are there any other things you do, other than KunstZ? You’re studying Dutch?

[r] Yes, yes. I did two levels and started with the next level. I started yesterday.

[i] Do you experience discrimination or racism here in Belgium?

[r] I don’t understand.

[i] Yes, you are from Iraq. Does it happen that people are not so kind to you?

[r] Well, yes!

[i] Is that what you get from people who are unfriendly to you?

[r] Yes. Once I was at the station of Berchem and I met an old man. He was talking to someone from Senegal. He said: what are you doing here, you’re black, blah blah blah, … That really hurt me. I went to talk to that man. My English is not good, my Dutch is not good, … but I’m going to ask you. Who is your father? When you die and God asks you: who is your father? Adam, yes? He said: yes. Okay with him that’s also true. He is also a son of Adam. Don’t focus on the colour. The man understood and said: sorry, sorry, sorry. And next time it happened to me. What happened? I met someone who said: why are you here? You know we don’t like Muslims and Arabs coming here? I said: do you want me to explain it to you? If you want an explanation, you have to stay. He said: yes I will stay! I explained to him what had happened, why I came here. Who I am, what country I come from. Why Iraq? Why I lost my country. And then he started crying and he said: I’m sorry. And then he left. I see a lot of people who don’t think about why I came here. You have to know where I come from. Why I came. Who I am. What I think. And then you can judge, yes. I hope that many people hear this. Ask first: who are you? That’s what I want to say. I hope we live in peace.

[i] Who are your friends here?

[r] Ooh, I have many friends here: Iraqis, Syrians, Africans, Europeans, Mexicans, Cubans, Americans. Yes many nationalities. We have good communication. We send each other messages. Either we meet, or we go to a party. Yes, something like that.

[i] Do you have a girlfriend too?

[r] Yes, from Belgium.

[i] Can you tell us something about your girlfriend?

[r] Yes. Actually, … I am super shy to talk to girls. I don’t know why. I respect them. One day she said: I saw you in Antwerp. I said: I think I saw you too. I had seen her, but I didn’t remember very well. She said: I saw you in the centre or in the Summer Factory. I was there a lot. I said: maybe in the Summer Factory. And then I said: thank you, nice to meet you. And then she sent a message to meet me. We went to a party. It was with KunstZ, I think. I said: is it close by? Okay, let’s see each other. It was my first encounter with another culture. It was exciting, wow. It was a nice meeting and we fell in love. She likes me and I like her. And now I love her. I have a picture of her here.

[i] Ah you can show them, if you want.

[r] Yes. I love her. Gitte I love you. [Laughs]

How long have you been together?

[r] Um, 8 months. Yes.

[i] Where was the picture taken?

[r] Here, in this place.

[i] And now you live here on the south?

[r] Yes.

[i] Do you like it here?

[r] Yes, of course. I like it. Actually I like Antwerp.

[i] Do you like the neighborhood?

[r] Yes, really good people.

[i] And your apartment?

[r] Oh, I wasn’t lucky with the apartment. I’ve changed three times, but I didn’t find a good apartment. I hope to move to Borgerhout next time. I hope I find a good apartment. For this place it is really good. Yes. If you want to rest: good neighborhood. If you want to go crazy: also good neighborhood. But I’m looking for an apartment. I don’t like living in a studio like this.

[i] You told me that you like Antwerp. Why do you like Antwerp?

[r] I don’t really know. Sometimes I go to another city like Leuven. When I’m in Leuven, I miss Antwerp and I want to go back to Antwerp. To my house, … I don’t really know. Most people here are friendly. There are a lot of people here in the same situation as me. For example, if we go to Leuven, … No, not Leuven, but another city, … At 8 p.m. there is no one in the street. But there are people here until dawn. I like that personally.

[i] And… Do you still have contact with your family?

[r] Not much, but sometimes. Once a month, because it’s still dangerous. I can’t let them get into trouble again. With my brother in Egypt, every week. I ask him to say hello to the family and they ask me to say hello.

[i] And how is the contact with your mother now?

[r] It’s really hard. Sometimes my brother calls her and me. And then the three of us call. How are you? What are you doing? … those conversations.

[i] Last time you also told me that you might see your mother this summer?

[r] Yes, I hope so, … I thought I’d see her this summer, but there are still problems. I’m still waiting for work. I don’t know when to start or when to take a vacation. So I guess it’s not possible to see her this year.

[i] You told me you would see her in Iran, didn’t you?

[r] Yes. That’s what I thought. Because normally I could work at the Panos in April. But something went wrong. So I’m waiting for my article 60. If I have it, I’m waiting for my vacation. If I can go on holiday after one or two months, … Yes, I’m going to see her. If it’s not possible, I have to wait another year. Otherwise I have no idea, … I have nothing to do.

[i] Do you think you get enough opportunities in Belgium?

[r] Enough chances?

[i] Yes, for work for example. Does Belgium give you enough opportunities?

[r] No, well, … I haven’t been here long. Only two and a half years. So I have to be patient. If I’m still here in five years’ time, I can say that Belgium won’t give me any chances. But now it’s okay.

[i] You’ve been through a lot: the whole flight from Iraq to Belgium. How did that make you the person you are today?

[r] Of course, it made me strong. It makes me think. When I want to say something, … What does that mean? How can I say something, why do I say this? It made me stronger, smarter, … made me think a lot. It is not possible to, … Especially for Arabs. We have a different culture around family. It is not possible to live without your family. If you want to live alone, … than close to your family. But I am in Belgium, my family is in Iraq. We have a hard time communicating. That makes me strong. I don’t care about the situation. I’m okay. They are okay. It makes me a new person. That’s what I think.

[i] Is there a [name] before you came to Europe and a [name] after you came to Europe? Or is it the same person?

[r] I think the same person, but stronger, smarter, … I mean, … In Iraq I didn’t think about the little things, … home, life, the future. I didn’t think about it. Maybe because I was a child, … I don’t know. But now I do think about my future, my family, myself. Yes.

[i] Do you often think back to the journey you made from Iraq to Belgium?

[r] I don’t understand you.

[i] Do you often think about your flight from Iraq to Belgium?

[r] Do I think about the people who come here?

[i] No, do you often think about the road you have travelled, … the story you have told.

[r] Of course, … I’m never going to forget that, … Of course. Sometimes I type on my laptop what happened every day. Ah this I had forgotten, … Okay, I fill it up.

[i] You also told me that you have a diary, didn’t you?

[r] Yes.

[I] Is it this book?

[r] Wow, no not this. But sometimes I write in it too. Yes. It is not this. I have another one. I think it’s here. Do you want to see it?

[i] Yes of course.

[r] I’ve written a lot in it. Hopefully I’ll find it now. Yes, I have these. For the camera?

[i] uhu

[r] This is when I left. This too, … and this, …

[i] What is that? Those are words?

[r] Yes.

[i] English words?

[r] English. When I was in Serbia… Did I have to explain things: children, wood, … I knew nothing. When I came here, I wrote down English words in Arabic. This.

[i] What is this? Do it a little lower. Is this your route?

[r] When, how and what happened. And I wrote here. You understand. This is English, yes. I don’t know if I finished it. This is Dutch. Yes, it is. I have another book like this, but I don’t know where it is. Yes.

[i] What are your dreams for the future?

[r] My dreams? First, I want to finish my school, the university.

[i] As an actor?

[r] Yes, and I want to do my project.

[i] And the project is about your life?

[r] Yes. It will be really beautiful when I make it. It is my dream to make it.

[i] To tell your story?

[r] Yes.

[i] What is your project about?

[r] Yes, I mean, … When I speak English or Dutch well, I make a film about my story. Just for myself. Or I make a theatre play. I now know many actors who make a theatre performance or a project about refugees. But it’s usually about what he’s heard or seen. But what the person feels is something else. When I make my project, … I know how I felt, … because I have experienced it myself. Maybe it will be different. That’s what I want to tell people.

[i] And do you see your future here in Belgium?

[r] No. No, that is not possible.

[i] Are you going back to Iraq?

[r] Yes, if it’s okay in my country again.

[i] Or where do you see your future? Erm. In what place?

[r] In Canada or Iraq.

[i] Why Canada?

[r] Half of my family lives there.

[i] They have fled too?

[r] Yes, before Saddam Hussein was in power. When Saddam Hussein came to power, they got into trouble and left for Canada. A long time ago, … That’s what I think. Maybe I live in Canada or in Iraq. Or maybe here. I don’t know. [Laughs]

[i] It’s interesting that you’re telling me you want to do something with your story. Because also with the Red Star Line museum … As of 2019, we want to do something with the story that you have now told us. We want people to be able to read the stories you gave us, to see … Maybe there is a way we can work together.

[r] We will see. We will see. We have time. One year, two years. I don’t know, but we have time.

[i] I think I’ve asked most of my questions. Is there anything you want to tell, share?

[r] Yes, I just want to say, … We must live together in this world, without war. For our time here on earth is not infinite. We may have 10, 100, 1000 years and then we’re done. So I hope we like each other and live in peace. Without problems. I hope that people look beyond your nationality, your culture, … You are European, Arab, Chinese, … or you come from somewhere else. You have to look inside. And not to the outside: black hair, white, Muslim, Christian, … No, look at the inside of people. And maybe you see that it is a good person, a beautiful person? That’s what I hope people do. And thank you!

[i] That is a beautiful message [name], thanks.