SU_A_06

[i] Good afternoon [name] .

[r] Good afternoon!

[i] I will interview you today for the Red Star Line Museum. Could you tell me a little about yourself, please? How old are you? What country are you from?

[r] Yes. I am 21 years old. I am from Syria, Aleppo. I am now studying industrial science at the University of Antwerp, in the direction of ICT. And… I live in Lier. And yes.

[i] And what have you done in Syria? Did you also study there?

[r] Yes, I studied civil engineering…studied civil engineering for 1 year, but unfortunately I had to stop because of the war.

[i] And how was school? Was it difficult or easy for you?

[r] School, do you mean university or high school?

[i] Yes, high school too.

[r] In University it wasn’t really difficult because it was in my native language. And I came straight out of high school so I was prepared to go on studying. High school first year was great. Two-thirds years then…or in my country that’s high school. Second and third year high school was really awful and super difficult because we have some kind of test called “The Bakaloria” and that determines your future. So good points – good direction, bad points – bad direction. And elementary and high school were ca va were ok because yes I was a child, teenager with no responsibilities. And without worrying about anything. I do what I want and yes…that’s just games, soccer, sports, going out with the friends, eating outside, walking…so don’t really study because yes…just succeed.

[i] And what kind of child have you been?

[r] A child I was a good child. A teenager, I was a strong teenager. Really. I was a real boss when I was in high school and high school. I was a real boss. Everyone…everyone respected me and everyone actually knew me. [name] . So the boss of the school or of the class I don’t know much and I was a very active athlete and I was a professional soccer player in Syria. But on a school level not really on a national…And…and so on. And school level was really a professional athlete…professional soccer player but…not anymore. So…I was really but really true…I was a really tough teenager. Always fighting always makes trouble and I want this and I want that and…yes I don’t care. But the principle of [name] is good. I have a good…a good core.

Did you have many friends?

[r] A lot. A lot! All my neighbourhood knew me. Completely. All children all men all teenagers in my neighbourhood, in my school knew me. You say: “[name] ” – ah yeah, I know that.

And can you tell me a little about your family? Do you have brothers and sisters?

[r] Yes, I have 1 brother and 2 sisters. My bigger sister is going to graduate this year from…graduating actually…graduating…from architecture. My younger sister studies psychology and my brother is 11 years old so he is still in primary school. Last year primary school.

[i] And do they still live in Syria?

[r] Still yes.

And your parents?

My parents?

[i] Do they still live in Syria?

[r] Yes, the whole family still lives in Syria.

[i] And do you have good contact with each other?

[r] Once in a while. I try my best to be able to talk to them every day in order to be able to communicate with them. But it is difficult because they don’t have electricity every day and so on. Sometimes they have Internet and electricity at 2am. But at 2 a.m. I’m asleep because I have University every day at 8 a.m. so sometimes that’s not possible and sometimes it’s possible so… I do my best to be able to communicate with them.

Yes, and what means do you use?

[r] Internet, Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp, I don’t know. Skype.

[i] And can you describe your life in Syria before the war? What did you like to do? What did you do with your parents?

It was quiet, safe… um… had a lot of fun… um in my old life in Syria. Um…before the war and yes, talking to my parents every day, going out with my friends, walking in the evening or…yes…doing something fun. I had all the possibilities I wanted. But after the war it was no longer possible because it is no longer safe to walk, no longer safe to go out, no longer safe to do something because you walk and suddenly a bomb or a rocket comes and bum! Gone! You are dead. Voila! Congratulations!

[i] And before the war it was always safe in Syria?

[r] Always safe! Always! Always! And that’s how I experienced it in Syria. At 4 o’clock in the morning… Because Syria is really active in the evening. Not like Belgium dead at night. So if you want to do something in the evening…you want to do it is possible. 8 o’clock in the evening 10 o’clock in the evening 12 o’clock in the morning 2 o’clock in the morning there is still life. People on the street people are doing something and at 4 o’clock a man wanted to pray in the mosque and he has a stand on the beach and he hasn’t closed it. So just leave it like that and he goes to pray… he went to pray. So Syria was so safe. Nobody is going to steal anything, nobody is going to do anything wrong with you. Nobody is going to ask you “Ah but yes give me your money!” or steal or…there is no such thing! That doesn’t really exist! It was really super safe! But unfortunately no more.

And what did you do to relax?

[r] Relaxing? I was usually outside my home. Was just every day after school playing soccer going out with my friends to do something fun and especially in the evening walking with my friends or just going to erm… What do you call it? A “coffee shop”? To play with a country network. With other computers so just a shop of multiple computers to play together. The idea does not exist in Belgium…

[i] Like an Internet café?

[r] Yes Internet cafe! We actually call it a coffee shop. Something like that. So yes. But so it was actually great…but what I loved when I was a teenager was walking in the evening…is incredibly beautiful. I lived in a kind of mountain in Aleppo. Aleppo is a high place and…a high steed…or mountainous…and the “view” of my street was great. There were many activities and especially in the evening so ….indescribable! Really!

And what did your parents do?

[r] My father was a doctor. And my mother is a housewife.

And did you do a lot…a lot of things together?

Yeah, sure. And especially with my father. I’ve been through a lot with him. But yes, he’s not here anymore…so.

[i] Yes…and what was your favorite spot in Aleppo?

[r] Places? Ah yes… there is a kind of place in Aleppo called Al Jamilia. That’s a place where all electronic…electronic shops are busy. Like MediaMarkt, Van Den Borre I know a lot and so on. So…and I’m a big fan of computers, games, mobile phones, technology and all those things so it was really a great place. That was in the center. Center of my city. And there you will find a lot of Internet…Internet shops…or what was it? Internet shops yes?

[i] Internet café.

[r] Internet café yes. The Internet café. And it was just a place to do something cozy… to do something cozy in that place. And it was great place…and cheap place!

And did you go there with your friends or?

[r] Always! I was never alone like here in Belgium. I was never alone. I had many friends. So if I want to do something, I do it with my friends.

[i] And do you remember what was the political situation in your city before the war?

[r] Stable. Calm down. It was safe. So yes.

And was your family politically active?

[r] Ah no. No. My father was a doctor, not a politician.

So you didn’t have much information about…

[r] What kind of information do you mean?

[i] About the political situation.

[r] There was no political situation…it was just…it was safe. So yes…so securely stable. We had no racism, no problems with each other. And yes…it wasn’t really a political situation as in the case of Belgium for example. All parties fight against each other. And yes I want the power and I want the power and so on. That does not exist in Syria. So we don’t really fight in power.

[i] And why did the war happen?

[r] I don’t know the reason. I am a citizen of Syria. From my city. And I still don’t know the reason. That’s just unknown. Why? Yes. They want to destroy Syria.

Who?

[r] I don’t know. Who exactly… I don’t know. But yes. They wanted to destroy Syria…not make more racism between the people. To destroy security and yes…they want to fight us with each other. But who? I don’t know. Nobody knows. What is the reason? Nobody knows.

But there is a lot of information on the Internet.

[r] I don’t believe the information. I come…I come from that place and I know the truth. And the truth has nothing to do with what is on the Internet. For example, it is like that. My idea about Europe was great. Europe is a place where there are no disadvantages. And the land of possibilities…and I know a lot. But every place has advantages and disadvantages. But on TV you will only see advantages. That was the situation in Syria. What you see on TV is only disadvantages. The disadvantages problems…and most of the information was just a lie…wrong was fake were fake. So…

[i] You mean on local TV?

[r] On local TV…local TV actually doesn’t talk much about the war. He talks about other things because…I think that’s logical because yes you’re depressed and you want to watch something. You open the television you have 2 hours of electricity a day and you open the television and you want to watch something fun and bum it is new! Everything new! All channels speak about Syria. But the local TV is not always about the war…but more…so rare about the war, let’s say. The local TV but just the programs to get fun hear. And that is the purpose of the TV. To just…yes…to have fun.

[i] And was it a difference between the information you can see on local TV and on international TV?

[r] Yes, everyone shows what you find interesting. So…local TV is a party. And other TVs also have a party. So I broadcast what I find interesting. And the others are going to do the same. And you don’t really know who to believe. So yes…because they’re all lying. So anyway. So actually the situation in Syria is really complicated. I…I personally don’t know the reason behind the war. But…but why? Everything was okay! Every country…every country…but look! You have to understand that. Every country has advantages and disadvantages. Belgium is not 100% correct. Also Syria. Russia. Also America. There is no that…perfect place on earth! That doesn’t exist. People are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. So…yes!

What do your parents…your mother think about the war?

My parents…my mother…thinks the war is stupid. There is no reason. There is no reason for the war.

Yes, but I mean, what does she think about the reasons why that happened?

[r] Reasons? I don’t know. I don’t know. We don’t speak…we actually depressed wine…we were depressed in Aleppo. And we didn’t really want to talk about the war for the reasons. Because we we…we didn’t really know the reasons. Because yes…from my perspective everything was perfect. But from another person’s perspective it wasn’t perfect. But from my perspective something was wrong. When I see a child of 12 years old and I’m going to talk a lot about politics as a politician then there’s something wrong…I think. Because yes you are a teenager what mind do you have…or I was a teenager as well. What sense did I have in politics? Right?

[i] Yes certainly.

[r] So yes…and I’m a student so politics doesn’t matter that much to me.

And how did the situation in Syria and in Aleppo change after the war?

[r] After the war? Before the war was a great situation. Safe. Everything was okay. After the war…it was terrible…literally terrible. Was it super bad. There was no more electricity, no more water, no Internet. Not safe anymore that’s number 1 in life. Safety. No more money. No more work. No more life…That was the situation in my city after the war. No more life. So…yes.

[i] Yes…Maybe we can talk a bit about your flight?

Sure!

[i] Have you fled alone or with the friends?

[r] Yes…No, I fled alone. Sure, with other people, but I didn’t know them. So…yes alone.

And why didn’t your parents or sisters run away?

[r] For er…the flight is too expensive plus too dangerous. And we actually didn’t have enough money to make everyone flee together. And I was in real danger. My situation was either fighting and dying and killing someone else or running away. So I decided with my mother to flee. So…just unknown happened on the way to Europe but was still better to try than just to die or kill someone else and I know a lot.

Because you were 18 and…?

[r] Above 18 the…the boys have to fight the military.

And you turned 18?

Yes, I was 18. Yes sad but that’s life, you know.

[i] And do you remember the day when you made the decision to flee?

That was almost 1 day. That was August 1, if I’m not mistaken.

And how did you make the decision?

[r] So. It is no longer safe for me to stay there. And yes my mother has said to me: “[name] there maybe go get a future but here no more future. And here I don’t want to hurt anyone…nobody, so to speak. Because…I don’t dare do that. To harm someone else. Or something wrong happens to me for no reason. So I said, “No. I’m going to… I’m going to try. Maybe I’m going to have a future. Or maybe…yes…I’m dying on the road.” But it doesn’t really matter that much…because I tried in the end.

And where did you get information about the possibilities to flee?

[r] What do you mean “possibilities to flee”?

[i] Yes that it is possible to flee to other countries…to Belgium.

[r] Yes [cough] sorry. I have seen that on TV that refugees to Hungary refugees to Germany. Refugees everywhere and the journey goes from Syria – Turkey, Turkey – Greece, Greece – I know a lot…and then to Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and all European countries. So yes, the idea exists, but it is dangerous.

So that was the open information on local TV?

[r] Yes on local TV on the news…sure. Everyone saw that. Not just me.

Yes and what was your image of Europe of Belgium when you lived in Syria?

[r] Full of benefits. But that was not the reality. I just said that what you see on TV is just the benefits. If, for example, I… and that’s what I’m going to do! For example, if I’m going to make a programme…Amsterdam, let’s say…I’m just going to show the good side of Amsterdam. I’m not going to talk about…yes, the bad side of…Amsterdam, so to speak. So yes, but reality always has…in reality we always have advantages and disadvantages. Bad points, good points and so on. So not like I expected…but…

What exactly was your image about Europe?

[r] Image about Europe? The TV picture.

[i] And what is the TV picture?

[r] Like Dubai. Yes. Like Dubai. Dubai has a TV picture that is Dubai Uh…wow! And the “skyscrappers” and…and the modern city but actually Dubai has not only advantages but many other disadvantages. But we don’t hear the disadvantages, do we? If you watch something a program a series or I know a lot about Dubai then you never hear the disadvantages of Dubai for example. And like Europe. Like everywhere else. So yes. But Europe is a good place.

[i] And do you remember how you said goodbye to your country and your family?

[r] Yes…I talked to my mother a little about everything. What I’m going to do…What I’m going to try…And yes…it’s hard to…all of a sudden…within a day your family leaves your country with your friends…to go to an unknown place. So yes, that was difficult. But I had to be a bit strong for my mother because she was really very sad. And I just wanted to be a little strong…to say: “Yes, it’s about Mom. That’s going to be okay.”

And with your sisters? How was the farewell with your sisters and your brother?

[r] It was less difficult than with my mother. But it was still hard.

[i] And what was the most special moment during the farewell?

[r] Farewell? Writing a message…for my little sister because I love my little sister very much. And I actually wanted to write something special for her. So…that was special.

And what did you write in the message?

[r] Just that she should pay more attention to her studies…because studying is the most important thing. And that she should be a little careful…not be a child anymore. She really needs to become an adult. And help her mother. And she really needs to pay attention to everything. Because she is a bit indifferent. So…I just wanted to give advice and describe how much I love her. And that I’m going to miss her and so on.

And with whom have you fled?

With whom?

Yes, I mean the people…when did you first see the people? Or was it just with “random” people?

Yes with random people. Yes.

Yes and why did you choose Europe and Belgium? Especially Antwerp?

[r] Especially Antwerp? But first Europe, then Belgium, then Antwerp. Europe…because Europe is the only place where it is possible to flee. Because let’s say Dubai…if I want to go to Dubai that’s not possible…absolutely not possible! They have no rights for us there. So…that’s why Europe. Belgium…because Belgium is used to foreigners. Because yes look at Brussels for example… most of the inhabitants of Brussels are from Italy from Spain from France, Russia… many Turkish people… many Moroccan people. So that’s why I thought I wouldn’t feel strange. Not a real foreigner. I’m just going to be a person and a citizen in Belgium. In Antwerp…because Antwerp is the city and the rest is parking! [Laughs]

Could you tell us a little bit about preparing for your flight?

[r] Preparation? There was no preparation. That happened within 1 day so…I really couldn’t prepare that much and anyway…I’m not allowed to take that much with me anyway. That is just a dangerous road so not really a suitcase … “Ah yes I’m going on a trip! Chao!” So no…just the base I brought with me.

Do you remember what exactly you brought with you?

[r] Yes, underpants for example… [laughs] for example… a pair of T-shirts. A pair of trousers and extra trousers for example, socks and so on. And money, of course.

[i] And eat too?

[r] Food? No, I didn’t bring any food. That wasn’t actually from, um… yes I didn’t think of the food as it is now. That wasn’t important actually. My safety was number 1. So eating…doesn’t matter.

And what means of transport did you use to flee?

[r] All kinds of things. Plane busses trains on foot mostly…and…a boat from Greece to…from Turkey to Greece. And yes it was. Is there more? Means of transport then this? [Laughs]

And can you tell us a bit about the route from Syria to Belgium? Every step.

[r] Ah yes…first…first I had to take a bus from my city to Lebanon…from Lebanon, um…

And how long did this journey take?

Much. I think 20 hours…Normally that takes 5 to 6 hours. But because of the borders and because of…problems because of the war I know a lot…it took 20 to 21 hours. Something like that.

So from Aleppo to…

[r] To Beirut. And then from Lebanon of Beirut I took a plane to Turkey. To Istanbul. In Istanbul there I took a boat with many other people…we were 55 people on the emergency boat. This rubber boat…with 50 people. We were 55 people on that boat! And we had to drive it! There was no one with us. Go ahead.

[i] And who was the person who was driving it?

One of us. He said, “Yes, I’m going to control that!” Yes!

[i] And did he have experience or?

Yes, apparently he had experience, so… that was good for us. It was happy! So yes…

Yeah, and after that?

Then to Greece and there I had to wait 2 or 3 days in the island…until I get a…what do you call this? Um…ah yes “khartiah”…we call it that. A paper from Greece that I…that I…may enter. My name and date of birth and origin. And then I can come in for 30 days or so. Ah yes…I waited I guess 2 or 3 days…I got a paper and then…immediately to Athens. And from there I tried to fly…because that was the quickest and safest way to Europe. To the real Europe I mean Belgium Germany Netherlands I know a lot…and it didn’t work out. I tried 3-4 times but it didn’t work out. The last time I went to prison. And then to the court with the real judge of Greece. She listened to my story. And yes… she felt sorry for me and she said, “Look, you’re young 18 years old. I understand your situation. I’m not going to do anything actually…do anything actually against…for you. But you have to promise me that you won’t try to take a plane with the fake passport anymore. Because second time…one more time you really go to prison. And I said: “I don’t want that. Okay. Thank you! Thank you for the chance.” And then I decided to continue on foot. And that was the case. I took a bus in Greece… um… 30-40 minutes before the borders of…of Macedonia. Then we walked to…the borders of Macedonia. There I waited…I think 1 or 2 days at the borders before I could cross…the border. And in Macedonia I have a bus also 30-40 minutes for the borders of Serbia. And then I had to walk to a city…in Serbia. There was actually…there were no borders. Actually nobody at the borders. I just had to go directly…directly to…the kind of city. And I also had to ask for a paper like a “khartiah”. Like a proof that I yes…I came here to the authority of Serbia. And they know my name. And I am registered. And I can stay for certain days…for the certain period. And then I went to the capital of Serbia Belgrad. And Belgrad made me fix a smuggler because Hungary was really dangerous…and the treatment of the police and the people in Hungary was very bad. So if the police found me in Hungary then my future would be destroyed. Then I would have no future.

Why?

[r] Because yes…they’re going to say: “Yes you can’t go any more…no more to Europe to…to Belgium to the Netherlands France and so on. And you have to stay here. And there you get no help. And there are the people and the government is really super racist against us. So…and that’s not the intention. That’s not really a good life to start with. So that’s why I had to fix a smuggler. Me and a group of people there. We found a smuggler. And then… Um… took a bus to the borders of Hungary. And then I had to walk in the trees of Hungary for 3 to 4 days. And we had many children… babies of 3-4 months.

And how many people were there?

[r] There were 16 of us. But it has to be that way. So not really small…but it shouldn’t be really big…That’s easier to move. And to walk and so on. So yes…Hungary Austria to… Um… what is the name? Germany. Germany to Antwerp.

[i] And how long did the whole flight last in total?

Oops. Half a month. From Syria to Belgium.

[i] And what was…where was the longest step? The longest stop?

[r] Greece because I tried to fly 4 times. So that was the longest stop.

[i] And there was a problem with your passport?

[r] Not with my own passport. But with the fake passport. So [laughs] so yes.

[i] And was the flight exactly as you had planned it? Or as you expected?

[r] Yes, it was difficult to expect anything. But I knew in advance that it won’t be easy. I know that.

How did you know that?

[r] I saw that on the Internet. Yes…everyone is going to say that because yes, but yes, you are going to Europe on foot. That’s unbelievable…So yes. Yes, I knew it…I knew it would be difficult, but making it up is not the same as experiencing it. So one step more difficult but I was always optimistic. I didn’t lose hope. And I didn’t give up so I could reach Belgium. And to reach the Union of Belgium and learn the language of Belgium or of Flanders…and so on. So yes!

[i] And I know that you speak English very well. Did that help you during your trip?

[r] Sure, sure! I was actually very good at communicating with the people of the borders and actually because of my English I could cross the borders a bit faster. I was able to progress a little faster. Because I’m going to say: “Yes yes yes yes I’m going to translate for someone and I’m going to say something.” So I’m going to help the people there so they can help us. So…yes, it helped me. Helped a lot.

[i] By people, you mean the immigration service employees?

[r] Immigration? That was the military at the borders. Yes. Because most people there don’t speak a single word of English. Except for “thank you, hello” and I know a lot so…yes. That really helped me.

[i] And how were the procedures from one country to another country to go with border crossing?

What do you mean?

[i] Yes, the procedures when you have to cross one country to another…

 

[r] That was always…always the same procedure. You always have to give your passport to the people there and they will check it. For example, if you’re not a yes…criminal and…and you’ve done nothing wrong. And you really are a citizen who has fled this country. So that was actually the story. They always go to every stop and just check if you’re an ok or not… if you’re not a criminal and so on. So that was actually. In all the stops. It was actually like that. Just check if you are a real person, a real refugee who comes from Syria or another country. Point.

[i] And how long did it normally take to check your passport?

[r] Normally 1 or 2 days but sometimes there was some kind of miscommunication between the people and the authorities there. That’s why it took a long time.

[i] For example, what miscommunication?

[r] People do not speak English. And the authority there has a few questions to ask. But they can’t actually communicate with each other. So…and that’s why I said that my English helped me. Because if they have questions about my group, for example, about the people I met on the bus to Greece to…to Macedonia and so on.

[i] And for example, what questions did they ask your group of people?

Just to check that… if that passport is yours. Or which bus did you come by? What time did you leave Greece? How much money did you pay from Greece? And so on. Something like that. And what are you going to do? Where do you go from here? Questions like that.

[i] You said that the whole flight lasted a month and a half [intended half month] but what was the most difficult moment of the whole journey?

Er…most difficult moment.

Or something you can really remember.

[r] I can remember everything. But the most annoying stop was Lebanon to be honest. It was the first and most difficult and disrespectful stop for me. It was real, really hard. I had to wait sort of 20 hours…or no not 20…that’s an exaggeration…I had to, um…8 to 9 hours at the borders to enter Lebanon…so…

And why was it so long?

[r] I don’t know. I don’t know. And the treatment there of the soldier was really bad… was really worse than the people in Europe. In Europe it was real respect. I have seen respect from the people… of the military … because everyone had some kind of sense or a tendency to help us, so to speak. But there it was actually the first step … but why do you do this? For example it wasn’t bad for me personally but there were a lot of old people of 60 and 70 years old and there were chairs and we can’t sit on the chairs. Not me. I don’t care. I am young. I am 18 years old. I can stand for 20, 30, 40 hours…without sleeping and without food, it doesn’t matter. But we have… we have old people. From 60, 70, 80 years old. Why can’t they sit down? “Yes yes, you have to stand”. But why? I don’t understand. Why do I have to wait 9 hours? Everything is legal and I have a kind of visa…paid to come in…to enter and yes…you have to wait. So yes…that was the most difficult stop for me.

And what was the fastest stop…that went really fast?

[r] The fastest stop? Maybe the fastest stop…I’m going to say Turkey. But Turkey was actually the same case as Lebanon. I was legal in Turkey. I applied for visa…visa and paid for the visa at the airport so…it was easy. I didn’t have to wait 10 hours or so…So that was just the usual procedure. So normally the case also has to be in Lebanon but hm…I don’t know why it was like that…ca va. In the end I just left from there so…no problem.

And what was…it…not funny what can be funny about the flight but maybe nothing but…

[r] Yes well yes! There is something funny! If you can reach from country to country that’s super fun! Yes because you look: “1 step further! Damn! Let’s go! To the next one!” That was fun! You should always look at the full part of the glass not the empty one. Because there is what is full. “Now I am in Turkey! No more Lebanon no more Syria. Now I am in Greece. No more Turkey. Macedonia – no more Greece. Austria – don’t worry anymore”. Because from Austria you can do anything. So…

[i] So every time you get more and more motivation to continue.

Yes. Indeed. That was my case.

And did you make friends on your journey?

[r] I made one friend actually…he was a person from Iraq. But I haven’t heard from him. I tried to get in touch with him, but I didn’t succeed. So…I don’t know what happens for him. He has gone to the Netherlands. I spoke with him 2 years ago I think…2 years ago. In March April…but then away…

[i] And from which countries did you meet people?

[r] I met him on the bus to Greece to Hungary…to Macedonia.

[i] I mean, from which countries did you see other refugees?

[r] I was the only Syrian on the bus.

Really?

Yes. Actually, there weren’t that many Syrian people. But on TV when you’ve watched…what on the news are going to say: “Syrian refugees everywhere…in Macedonia and I know a lot and there and here. But that’s not true. I’ve been through that! But that’s not true! We were the minority. Not the majority. I was… I swear. I was the only Syrian in my group. From the bus. The whole bus. I was the only Syrian. So yes. So that’s why I don’t believe in television anymore. It was just fake information you see on the television.

Yes, and from which countries were the other people?

[r] Different countries. From Iraq from, um… from Somalia from Afghanistan. Some people from Africa. Yes some people from… um… of what is the country of Libya I think. And so on. So.

And in which country was all that bus with a lot of different people?

What do you mean?

[i] I mean, at which step of your flight did you meet these people?

[r] Um…from Turkey. Yes. I have seen many people there. From different nationalities. So yes.

And no Syrian people?

[r] Yes, yes, but few. Not as much as that vision contains. So yes I thought that during the trip I will only see Syrian people…see Syrian people everywhere…on the street Syrian people. But…that wasn’t really the case. And from my group I already said that and I say it now that I was the only Syrian of the whole group.

But when you left Syria there were a lot of people who left with you? Didn’t they?

[r] From Syria? Yes, we’re on a full bus. But not all the people who left, they went on to Europe. That’s just a bus to Lebanon. So yes.

[i] Are there many who stayed in Lebanon?

[r] Yes, that was just a trip for them. “Yes, I’m going with my husband my brother my”…I don’t know much. That was summer… August. “So I’m just going on a trip. And I’m going to do something fun in Lebanon”. So yes.

[i] Ok. Let’s talk about your arrival in Belgium.

Yes. Antwerp.

[i] What was the first impression of Belgium and Antwerp? First from Belgium.

[r] Belgium…I came to Antwerp, so the Central Station…

[i] But first in Brussels I think?

[r] No no. No Brussels first. For my first stop…because I came by train…first stop was Antwerp. And…

What was the impression?

[r] I was super happy…because at that moment I knew I wasn’t going to walk anymore. Voila! That’s it. Finally. At half a month I have reached Belgium. Finally. Yes!

[i] How many kilometres did you walk during the trip?

[r] A lot. I didn’t count that, so…

[i] But about?

[r] I have no idea. I have no idea. I have no idea. What is the area of Macedonia? [Laughs] I don’t know. So yes…I don’t know. But a lot.

[i] So the first place in Antwerp you’ve seen from Central Station?

[r] Was the Central Station yes. And then from Central Station…I have to wait until next day and then I went to Brussels to ask for asylum. That’s what happens there. And from Brussels I went … with other refugees to the asylum centre … in Namur. It was in Namur. And I had to stay there for a month or a month and a half. But it was super awful. I became incredibly depressed. I was super tired. I was crying all day. I didn’t want to stay there anymore. I wanted to go back to Syria. Really. I asked that.

[i] And why was it so terrible?

[r] It was super terrible! It was super bad. We sleep on the street in the tents. And the food was really terrible. I’m grateful to hear that I got something but…But…but yes. I I expected…much better and much more.

Did you have to sleep in the street?

[r] Yes, it was just a military spot. Military place. So every day I hear the people fighting or practicing the military. And the planes of the F-16 and I know a lot and…oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. So yes…And I asked to go to another centre…another asylum centre. And I went to a psychologist actually…because it was incredibly difficult for me there. It was really even more difficult than in Syria. That’s even harder than in Syria.

[i] And you were 18 years old then?

Yes, I was 18. It was… everything happened when I was 18.

And the people in the asylum centre? How old were they?

[r] I think I was the youngest. I was the youngest. 18 years old. It was the adults…adult centre. With just men. So I was the youngest. And…but the people there…the employees there were really nice to us. Were really friendly. But what we got was…was…yes…like “eat…” bread of 3 days “eat”. You have to eat the same thing every day for a month and a half. And you have to…There were no activities. Nothing to do. I was really busy. Yes “I want to learn French!” I was in Wallonia. “I want to learn the language. I want to move forward with my life. I have wasted a lot. I lost a lot of time. Halo! I want to do something!” The people there the employees tried to help us but they had no power…no budget to do so. But I have by dermatologist… on the advice of the dermatologist… not dermatologist! God damn it!

Psychologist?

[r] Psychologist! Yes! For I am busy with my eczema. And always dermatologist dermatologist dermatologist! With the psychologist! On the advice of dermato…of…ts!

[i] [Laughs]

[r] Again! Again! Psychologist! Psychologist!

[i] Psychologist!

I know that! That it’s psychologist…but…just…

But you think of dermatologist.

Yes. I think of psychologist but I say dermatologist. So psychologist. On the advice of the psychologist, I was able to change the asylum centre. Because that was not possible… to change the place. And then I went…kind of 5 or 6 days to Leuk. And from Fun I went to Brussels. To Uccle. That’s a rich place in…in Brussels. It was…it was pretty good. I’m going to say…that was not a perfect place. But to start with, it was a great place. I sleep on the bed. There is a place…yes because in Namur…can you believe that? I have to walk 15 minutes to drink a water. 15 minutes walk to go to a toilet. So…that was incredibly bad. So yes. But still I was grateful. “No problem. Thank you very much.” But my mental situation was destroyed. I came to Uccle and the people there were also kind: “Welcome. Go ahead and get some leftovers. Do you want to eat? Would you like a drink?” And…it was pretty good I’m going to say. I was happy.

And how long were you to stay there?

[r] A month and a half and then I had to go to the other one in Brussels. Also in Brussels but in the centre of Brussels. It was good. I was responsible for myself in Brussels. But I had a bad social assistant because normally refugees and foreigners get a social assistant who will accompany them, so to speak. Is going to say: “Yes, you have a problem with something. Then you have to do this.” I want to go to the arch. “Then you have to do that. And so on. I am not from this country. So I don’t know anything. I have to go to the church and so on and so on. But I had a very bad social assistant. So my experience in Brussels was not ideal because there was always something…something wrong.

[i] For example?

[r] Yes, I had no guidance. I want to go to a school but I don’t know the way. What should I do now? Just ask someone on the street? “Halo! Please! I want to go to the school. Where is the school? How do I register?” And they say, “Oh, my God! You’re crazy!” Or just walk or call the police…I don’t know. Do you understand?

And didn’t you ask your assistant or?

He wasn’t there. He wasn’t there…In Brussels there’s actually chaos. Go ahead. Everything above all. Not really well organised. But that’s Brussels. That’s the capital. I understand that. But… That wasn’t an ideal place to start. But…the Flemish people. The Flemish people in Brussels helped me a lot. Because I met a person…a Flemish one. And and… met a Flemish person. And he said: “Yes, there is a Dutch house in Brussels. And there they are going to help you.” And I went there and it was great. I learned first…first 2 level Dutch in Brussels and I also did the integration and it was great…great experience. Really. I learned a lot. And the atmosphere was really great. So…I’m still grateful for those people there. For the Flemish people in Brussels. Because they really gave me… a kind of hope. But that wasn’t the end of the story, because I also got a lot more help in Antwerp. Linguapolis. Because, for example, Mrs Engelen Christine. I am grateful for her for my life. Because what she has given to me is…is wow! She gives me a chance to start in my life. It was really…the first real serious opportunity. “Look [name] ! That’s your chance. Just grab it and go ahead!” So…

Could you tell us a little about Linguapolis? How…

[r] Linguapolis!

[i] Yes…how did you know it was possible to study there?

[r] It was the most beautiful experience in Belgium because I met great people there. The teachers were…incredibly beautiful. They were our mothers. Go ahead. Not really a teacher. The teachers there Machteld, Lieve…the names of the teachers…so that was unbelievable. They really take care of you. Yes, I have a problem. And I was really a kind of difficult student. I ask a lot of questions. And all my friends know that. And I had…I’ve never had a problem with the teachers saying, “Yes [name] . You ask a lot of questions. I’m not going to answer.” No, always “You have a question. I’m going to answer it. Point.

[i] But how did you know you could study at Linguapolis?

[r] That was actually an accident. My social worker in Lier said to me…or I said to her because yes in the beginning your social worker is going to make some kind of interview with you to ask what your goals are. What are you going to do now? And I said: “Yes, I’m a student and I’d rather continue my studies”. And she said, “Yes, okay. That’s good. That’s good.” And yes after a week or two she called me and said: “[name] , there is a kind of…a kind of scholarship from Lin…from the University of Antwerp to learn Dutch. I enrolled you…I enrolled you. And you have to make an interview.” That was with Sabine. Mrs. Sabine who works there in Linguapolis. And I said: “Ah yes. Okay. Great!” I didn’t really expect that much. But yes. Okay. And I went to Mrs. Sabine. And…she was really super friendly. A kind of interview… “What did you do in Brussels? How well do you speak Dutch? Why do you want to get this scholarship?” And so on. And yes after 2 months I think…two months…she called me and said: “Congratulations! You’re one of the students awarded!” And approved, so to speak, to get the scholarship. And voila! So everything has started from that moment.

[i] And were you able to speak Dutch well? Or how did the interview go?

[r] Ah yes what do you expect? Dutch from Brussels…no. That was just me knowing the basics.

What could you say?

[r] Good afternoon! Of course. But that was actually one of my favorite becoming: “Of course!” That sounds really good. But now I don’t say “of course” anymore.

[i] But the interview was in English with Sabine?

[r] Kind of mix. Because I said that I passed the first 2 levels of Brussels. And she said: “Yes! Allez! Let’s speak Dutch!” And yes it wasn’t bad actually. I could: “Who…like who are you? What is your name? Where do you live? Where do you come from?” And so on. I could answer questions like that.

And can you tell a little more about Linguapolis? I see that you are really enthusiastic about Linguapolis.

[r] Yes, yes…but we don’t really have enough time to talk about Linguapolis. Because if I want to start Linguapolis…I need days to tell you how great my experience with Linguapolis was. I met my best friend there, for example. She is from Russia. I met her there. And I also met some very good people there. From Brazil of Lebanon of Belgium…Language sizes. Everything was good. Everything was great.

And the teachers?

[r] I said that. They were like mothers before us. Not just a teacher. They were mothers. So I have 1 mother in Syria but in Linguapolis I had 5 mothers.

Who was your favorite teacher?

[r] Machteld. Sure. Sure.

And why?

[r] Yes…I want to say “that’s why”. But…Machteld is just…charming…just enthusiastic…ah yes I remember in the level 3 oral exam…4 I think. I don’t really remember very well. 4 I think…And I had to read something and then tell Machteld and in the beginning I was a bit…a bit scared, so to speak. And I couldn’t really speak…and Machteld said: “Allez [name] ! You can do it!” And from that moment on… “Allez! Machteld said that! I’m going to do that!” And yes…and I had a very high point of verbal…I think that was at 10. And I’ve gotten 9 out of 10 on verbally…at that moment. So that was great! So yes…she’s just friendly and eager to teach. And yes…

[i] And did you do any other activities in Linguapolis or just study grammar?

[r] Um… Yes, we had the TaalMaat…I think we had Dutch Studies. The Dutch…Dutch Studies. Something like that…we also had phonetics to…be able to say correct statements. And…occasionally we had a kind of trip with other students.

[i] Excursion?

[r] Trips. Yes. Trips to Ghent. A trip to a museum. A trip to a theatre…and so on. So it was a really beautiful experience. So not only learning Dutch, but also integrating in Antwerp and in the language. And also with the people of Antwerp. This is a project of TaalMaat. You learn… you learn… You learn…people from…allez what is the name?

[i] Belgium?

[r] Not Belgium. But…you’re going to get to know people from University…real students. By TaalMaat. Doing activities together and that’s what I like…that’s what I really like.

[i] And did it also help you to improve your Dutch?

[r] Yes…yes…just practice more, so to speak.

[i] What was the most important thing to improve your Dutch? To learn Dutch?

[r] Study at home [laughs] Because yes…what you get from Linguapolis is more than enough. If you can just follow a little and study at home then that’s it. That’s what you should do actually.

[i] And was it enough for you to study at the University with your Dutch?

[r] The Dutch I learned from Linguapolis?

[i] Yes.

[r] Yes…was reasonable enough. Because what you learn from Linguapolis is the basis. Not the basis…is just you learn Dutch to the level that you can learn everything. Because Dutch is a kind of sea…And you are going to learn part of it. You’re going to learn the core…the core of learning Dutch and the rest you’re going to learn yourself because in Linguapolis they’re not going to…they’re not going to teach you the words of mathematics for example. But…now you know…now you can…you are in level that lets you learn the other words. Go ahead. That was the case. So the first semester of the University was not easy. But I had the opportunity to understand things. How can I approach this problem in Dutch? And so on. That’s what I learned from… from Linguapolis. And that’s what I think…that’s what’s most important to me.

[i] And now you understand everything you hear from seminars and lectures?

[r] Almost. Almost. Because once in a while…now and then…there’s a kind of accent from the teacher, a kind of…yes, strange pronunciation. That’s for me, for example. And my teacher says: “Soit!” Every time: “Soit! Soit! Soit!” …but apparently “soit” is “no matter” and that comes from French. So that kind of thing. Do you understand? Now I know what “soit” is. I use that too. Soit. Whatever! Bon! So yes.

And do the teachers sometimes speak with dialects?

[r] Yes, they speak Dutch and each person has his own kind of accent, so to speak. So…but Dutch at the University is kind of clear. Not always but clearly.

[i] So are you satisfied with your knowledge of Dutch? The level of your Dutch?

[r] From Dutch. I don’t care about my Dutch anymore. I don’t worry about my Dutch. That’s…that’s over. Now I do worry about my subjects. [laughs] How am I going to study them and pass them? So yes.

[i] And did you pass your exams from the previous semester?

[r] Yes, I passed 4 out of 7 of my courses.

Good result!

[r] Not bad. I can…I can do much better, but economics, for example, was a very difficult subject of 700 pages that I have to remember. And the language itself was really super difficult. So I had no idea what to do. Yes…either succeed in economics or succeed in mathematics and chemistry. And mathematics and chemistry are much more important than economics. I think so.

And how is studying here in Belgium different or different from studying in Syria?

[r] In which aspect?

[i] In all aspects. Is it all the same or can you see something else?

[r] Yes…no. It is completely different because in Belgium, studying at university is self-study. 80% self-study and 20% to the students [means to the teachers] . In Syria it’s kind of half. Half self-study and 50% to the teachers. And the lectures we get, for example…with simple words…in the Unief I get 1 and the teachers expect me to learn 2 and 3 by myself. Do you understand? But in Syria I get 1, 2, 3 and you have to be able to make and remember the exercises about 1,2,3. That’s the difference. And plus in Belgium I study in Dutch. That’s not my mother tongue, so that’s a nuisance. That’s why it’s much easier in Syria than here.

[i] And which system do you think is better? In Syria or here in Belgium?

[r] Every system has advantages and disadvantages. In Syria we have the Bakaloria…so only good students…students who are good enough to start in that direction. In Belgium…I understand why the teachers…why the professionals…do this. Because in Belgium everyone can study whatever he or she wants. Yes, I’m studying something technical and then I’m going to study medicine. That’s allowed in Belgium. In Syria that’s not allowed. If you don’t really have an ISO diploma with a very high content… percentage then you can’t… You can’t study medicine. So it’s just something else. But yes.

[i] And what do you do except study? Do you have hobbies here in Belgium?

[r] Hobbies? I wish it but I don’t have time for hobbies. So yes I try to go out with my friends every now and then to play a little…Internet on the Internet server or to talk to my mother or yes…because it’s too busy. My life is too busy. Unief is too busy and I am responsible for myself. So now and then I have to go to the PCSW to arrange a few things. Occasionally I have to go to the city to arrange a few things. Occasionally I have to go to health insurance…to the arch and…so many things. I actually have…I want to have hobbies but…I don’t have time. For hobbies…

[i] And in general you are satisfied with your life here in Belgium?

[r] Yes…yes yes. Sometimes it is difficult but in general I am satisfied. But I feel that it could be better. I always feel that I can do better.

[i] You mean with your studying?

With everything. With everything. With my personal life. With my studying. With everything I can do better. But sometimes I just…have the…necessary or enough motivation…you know? So that’s why I occasionally have some kind of depression in my life. Occasionally I get depressed because yes I am alone here. And I live alone and the routine of living here is a bit irritating…and yes and I’m quite alone in the evening. But in the evening there is no life in Belgium. So yes…

[i] Is there nothing to do here in Lier at night?

[r] In the evening? Except for going to a cafe and not drinking a beer. [Laughs] Everywhere.

Do you drink pints?

[r] I don’t like that. But…gin does.

[i] But alcohol is?

[r] Alcohol? I don’t like that in general. I have tried but beer is…Duvel is what ca va. Duvel is what ca va. But beer in general is…um…not…and especially wine wine is terrible. Especially red wine. Cava is delicious too. So my favorite alcoholic beverage is gin. Gin…is really good. Cactus or apple. So yes.

And can you do everything you wanted to do here? Here in Belgium?

[r] For example?

[i] Yes for example as I’ve already said the hobbies or something…or personal development.

[r] Not everything because I have many responsibilities. So…sometimes I am obliged to do this. But I don’t feel like doing this. But you have to do that anyway. Sometimes I want to go out but…either I don’t have enough money to do this, or I don’t have enough time to do this because I have other responsibilities that are more important than this. So…

Studying?

[r] Studying. Cooking. Doing the dishes. Brushing. And so on. So. Yes. But in general I do what I want but not always.

[i] And can you describe your surroundings in your neighbourhood? I know you’ve moved.

Yes.

And why did you move and?

[r] Because my previous home was declared uninhabitable. And I had to move, so that’s why I got this place. And yes… that was a very difficult time. That was this month. And yes within 5 days I had to move. Getting everything. So I didn’t go to the University so I’m a lot behind in my studies. So yes. That’s not pleasant but.

[i] How long have you lived there?

[r] A year and a half. A year and a half.

Did you enjoy living there?

[r] There? It was a dump, you know. But that was the only possibility for me. So…yes all the same. That was the only possibility because renting an apartment is really difficult. Is really difficult. So yes. And yes I’m on…I get money…a benefit from PCSW. When I call someone and say yes I want to rent an apartment and they say: “Yes, do you work?” And I’m going to say: “No, I’m a student and I get a benefit”. And they’re going to say: “No, thank you very much” and then they’re going to depend. So that’s a bit hard to find an apartment. Without a contract. Without work. So yes… but now I have a good… a beautiful house. So…don’t worry.

And which house do you like better?

[r] This…there is no comparison. Sure. This is 10 out of 10. The previous…the previous one was 0 out of 10. So…I said that was a dump. So yes.

And now you have two rooms?

Yes now I have an apartment. I used to have a studio. Now I have a real apartment. Now I have a bedroom, a living room, kitchen and bathroom. So…everything is separate. Nothing is included.

And the location? Where is it better here or there?

[r] Comes the same way. Because I’m by bike and winch is small so it doesn’t really matter that much.

[i] And how much time do you have to cycle?

[r] To the station? 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there. So…that’s why I said it’s the same thing.

And then you take the tram or the train?

[r] Train…train…train to Antwerp and then I take bus to…my campus Groeneborgerlaan.

[i] So…how many… How long does your entire journey take?

[r] 1 hour.

[i] 1 hour?

[r] Every day 1 hour there and 1 hour back.

[i] And do you have to travel to university every day?

[r] Yes, every day. I have lessons every day.

[i] 5 days a week?

[r] 5 days a week yes.

Do you find it difficult?

Sure. Sure. Because when I’m home I still have to study, I have to shower, I have to prepare food, I have to do the dishes and yes…I’m not like the other students. They don’t worry about eating over dressing over the dishes or just washing … washing the clothes and so on. So just study and have fun. But much more for me…so yes.

And are you used to Belgium yet?

[r] Yes…can say “yes”.

And when was the moment that you realized that you are used to it?

[r] There is not a moment. That comes little by little. So…first Linguapolis integrate more with the…with the community…and integrate more with society with the people there…with the culture with the language. So step by step I get used to it.

[i] And do you think you are already integrated? Already integrated in Belgium?

[r] Sorry?

[i] Do you think you are already integrated?

[r] Yes, I think so. Yes, I think so.

And what was the hardest part for you? To adapt in Belgium?

[r] To adapt?

[i] Or yes…something that was really hard to understand?

Difficult? Why do the shops close at 6am? That was difficult to understand. I don’t understand that yet. Still not. Allez. Life starts at 6 pm. Why? Why does everything end at 6 o’clock?! So I’m not used to this yet!

Yes, people should rest too.

Yes, I know that. Instead of working 8 hours there is another for example student or person who likes to work up to 9 hours. Not all shops have to stay open until 9 o’clock. But the essential ones are. Lidl…Aldi…Delhaize. And yes…at least 7 o’clock. Because yes…I’m done…all the people are done at 6 o’clock with work…university and so on. And if I want to buy something that happens on the weekend. Only in the weekend…So yes. I don’t know.

You may need to plan your life a little.

Yes yes yes. Yeah…I’m used to it, but…I just don’t like this. So yes…

[i] And is there something else? That’s completely different than in Syria.

[r] Different than in Syria? Yes…I don’t know. I like to travel between cities here…because Belgium is small and Syria is big. So yes…I live in a city. Studying in another city. I [unclearly] in another city and I go to the sea…that all happens within one day. So that’s a real joke. In Syria if I want to go to the sea…that takes…that takes…5 to 6 hours…to be able to go to the sea. So yes.

[i] And are you good with Belgians?

[r] Yeah, sure. We are all people. I speak their language and I have no strange habit [= habit] So yes. I’m good with everyone. Not only with the Belgians.

And do you think it’s because of your character? By your personality? Or just Belgian people are really friendly and they are friendly with everyone?

[r] Yes…it’s a bit by my personal…and by the fact that the Belgians are friendly. They’re not real…they’re not racists…and start saying, “Ooh, Syria.” But actually…to be honest, nobody says that to me anymore. That I am a foreigner or…or before 1 year ago or 2 years ago…that’s because of an accent or by…or I don’t know much. But now…not really…there are people at the University who don’t know that I’m a foreigner. So yes. So yes.

[i] And have you ever had difficult situations with Belgian people?

[r] Belgian people? But what does “difficult situations” mean?

[i] Yes…something you didn’t like.

[r] Actually…not yet. No. No. No. No. Not bad things…because I’m a refugee you can’t do this for example. No. Not yet. And hopefully never before. So yes.

But in general what is your image of Belgian people?

[r] Not the image of “Netherlands Studies” [a box in Linguapolis where it was explained that Belgian people are closed] that they are closed and sleep at 10 o’clock and I know a lot…But yes…They are just people hear. There are the racist people…the friendly people the open people the closed people…the friendly people the sweet people…the mean people and the polite and the rude people…so that’s just a society that has all kinds of people hear. So yes. But my experience…with mostly experience in Belgium is good. Not always good. But the mostly experience is good. So yes.

[i] And do you have many contacts with Syrian people in Belgium?

[r] Not really. Not really. Because I’m actually really focused on my goal of graduating and integrating into the country. Because if I could be busy with the Syrian people who live here, I will never learn the language. Because I am constantly occupied with Arabic…I am constantly occupied with the culture of Syria…I am constantly occupied with the habits of the Syrian people. So I will never integrate. So…and I don’t want to. I know a few Syrian people but that is not my goal here to get to know Syrian people. My goal is to study integrating the language can speak well and so on. That is my goal actually. I want to become a Belgian and a citizen. I wanted to throw away that title “the foreigner”, I don’t know much. So.

[i] And is there a difference between Syrian people you met here in Belgium and Syrian people in Syria?

[r] In what aspect?

[i] Yes in the aspect of behaviour.

[r] Behaving? I have…I have…in Syria I have people…I lived with people from my own city…my own habits…my own culture…the culture of the city. But here in Belgium I met different people. From Damascus from Idlib I know a lot…somewhere in Syria. So of course I have met different people here. So yes that is everywhere. Every city has a kind of society a kind of culture a kind of habit and so on. So of course here I’m going to meet different people.

[i] And has the image of Belgium of Europe changed for you now?

[r] Of course changed to a realistic image.

What is your image now?

[r] Image? I now have a general picture, so to speak. Every place has advantages and disadvantages. But it is our goal to determine what is interesting advantages for us and the interesting disadvantages for us. So therefore each person chooses a country a place to live and so on.

And what are the advantages and disadvantages for you in Belgium?

[r] Disadvantages? They are not really disadvantages…but…but…yes yes I don’t know. Disadvantages…I don’t know about which aspect of disadvantages do you want…

Yes about everything that is important to you.

[r] Because yes there are many possibilities there are many advantages here…and there are many opportunities to move forward. Disadvantages? Disadvantages…I can’t really say anything about disadvantages because there are no disadvantages. [Laughs]

You just said that in every country there are disadvantages and advantages.

[r] Sure, of course…but I’ve never…yes, I had some kind of drawbacks in Brussels, for example. But here…

And what was it like in Brussels?

[r] Yes, for example, there is a drawback of renting…finding an apartment. That’s really very difficult here and that sometimes takes 2 3 4 months to find an apartment. Sometimes for a dump. So I find that a kind of disadvantage here…to find an apartment so super difficult.

And in Syria it is different?

[r] In Syria? As long as you have money you can rent an apartment. That’s it. But here they really look where you work what you do and in details and “Yes I’m going to compare you with the other ones and compare 15 clients together and yes I think you’re handsome I don’t think you’re handsome…” And in Brussels, for example, they really look at nationality. They say…one woman said to me in Brussels…I called and every time they ask me: “Where are you from?” But is that important? From the… I come from Mozambique. Does that make a difference? No. As long as I speak the language, as long as I’m polite, as long as I don’t do anything weird or wrong and… then what is the problem? We are all human beings. But in Brussels one woman asked me: “Ah yes where are you from?” and I said: “Yes I’m from Syria” and she said: “Um…”. I see I see…you know? I rent… I rent… my apartment to the Moroccan, to the Turkish, the Spanish and not to… not to you!” And I said, “Okay. Okay, thank you very much. Thank you very much.”

Didn’t you ask why?

[r] That’s why. Sometimes there is no “why”. Therefore. “I don’t want to rent my apartment to you”. Point.

And why do you think that happens?

[r] Through the television. Because yes, the television broadcasts what it wants. There is no standard for television. So, for example, if I go and watch now, or if I go and emphasise the disadvantages of the refugees, for example. So they are constantly broadcasting disadvantages about refugees. And they are going to ignore all the advantages of the refugees. So that they don’t exist…those advantages. And that’s actually what’s bad about television. So yes…there are people who can convince them by television. Really. I watch television…I don’t have a problem with Russian people for example. I watch television or YouTube for example and I see three drunk men and each other shocking each other with the electricity and I say: “Ooh! Russian people are crazy! I hate Russian people!” For example, when I see a Russian girl, I’m going to say, “Oh, you guys are crazy! Amai!” But then again… That’s just because of stupid people actually. So…

Do you think it’s possible to change that?

[r] Sure, sure, sure. There’s always to say that television doesn’t tell the truth. What you see on television is not the truth. That’s it. Some people need to realize that. But…just not. Yes…Pat I know a lot…a person he is a presenter and I believe him. When he says, “Smoking is healthy.” Smoking is healthy. I’m going to smoke. Really. There are people who believe everything on television. I’ve read that on the Internet… that really is true for people… and I’ve been there. That people believe what they see on television. But all television is not a live broadcast or something. There are…they’re working 24 hours on Photoshop and video editing and so on. So. That’s not the truth. But yes.

[i] And how can people get information about what is happening in the world?

[r] I don’t know. I don’t know.

[i] You can’t go to every country to check everything.

Yeah, sure. Sure. We just need more realistic television, so to speak. But all television is made to make some kind of profit. So yes. I’m going to say: “I’m a journalist. And I’m going to sell it to the television channel and yes they’re going to choose what’s interesting…what they find interesting. And they’re just going to throw away what they don’t find interesting. But maybe the content lies with the not interesting…content lies. You know what I mean? Maybe it’s not interesting to see or not pleasant to see … but yes the story is there. Right? So yes.

[i] Ok. And what do you think is the impact of migration on your life?

[r] Migration? I am becoming an adult very sooner. So I see my friends at the University. 18 years old. They are children. I swear. Really. Chin-de-ren. Children. Just: “Yes, let’s dance, let’s eat, let’s know, I don’t know…” And don’t worry about taxes. Don’t worry about what to eat today. Don’t worry about money…today or tomorrow I’m going to have money. So just study and have fun. Point. That’s what children do. So yes.

But it’s different for you.

[r] Completely different. I am 21 years old but I have the situation of people of 28 29 years old. And yes. I am no longer a child. So. I don’t know if that’s good or not but… sometimes I really want to be a child. But unfortunately… it is too late.

[i] And do you have any trauma from the escape from war?

[r] Trauma?

And how can you cope with the trauma?

[r] Anyway, when I think about the trip to the flight, I lie down…then I just laugh. Because yes, it’s actually funny. What I’ve been through…and I’m still conscious…and I can still think well and so on. That’s just ridiculous what I’ve been through. So.

[i] Now it’s ridiculous.

[r] Now it’s funny, actually. But yes. I said that to me 3 years ago: “[name] then you just start laughing when you think about this…when you think about this. Then you start laughing”. And I actually laugh. So yes…that’s better than crying. [Laughs]

Yeah, I know you’re really young, but maybe you’re already thinking about… your future?

[r] Always. Constantly to the future. I don’t think much about the…about the skin [means present time] about the…

[i] Past?

[r] No no, not about the past. About the “present” about now. So I’m constantly talking about the future. What am I going to do? How am I going to improve myself? And how can I achieve that?

What are your goals?

[r] Graduating. Getting a good diploma. Finding a good job. Having a family here in Belgium. Getting married. Children. And so on. So not really much, but… that’s just the essential one. And only then do I start thinking about a business…about a…or about something and yes.

And how will you raise your children? With Syrian stories and values or also with Belgian values?

[r] Mix. Because I’m a mix now. So. I’m going to… I’m going to give my best to my children. And they’re just going to mix with reality with…what they…with their experience. And they’re going to make their experience…you know? So I can’t fully give my experience to my children. I’m going to give the best I have to my children. And through time through society…through what they are going to experience, they are going to make their own experience. So yes.

[i] And do you find it important to give Syrian stories and values to your children?

[r] I’m going to take the best of all…the best of what I’ve found…the best in Belgium and the best I’ve found in Syria…take and learn from my children and when they become adults and at that moment when they’re adults, they’re going to decide whether that’s right for them or not. So I’m going to do my best. But in the end that is their decision. That’s not my decision.

Yes, but you have to start from 1 or 2 years old…

Sure. Sure. Yes, yes. I said that. I’m going to take the best of Syria and take the best of Belgium and take the best of my experience also and teach to my children.

And do you want to marry a Syrian girl or a Belgian one? Or that doesn’t matter.

[r] Whatever. As long as that girl or woman respects me and appreciates me and likes to see me. Doesn’t matter at all. Syria Belgium The Netherlands Germany does not matter. Russia. Doesn’t matter.

[i] And who is your ideal partner?

[r] Ideal partner? [Laughs] In what aspect?

[i] In all aspects.

[r] Yes I think…what is important she must respect me. She must appreciate me because sometimes…yes I don’t know. She needs to see [name] . And who [name] was. And not who [name] is now. Do you understand? Because yes for example now. Now I’m not super rich…I don’t have a great diploma. But within 5 years you don’t know. So I want a person who won’t look at my diploma. And yes look [name] is engineer. Damn! That’s the man I want. No. I want a woman who appreciates [name] . Appreciates the character of [name] . Who likes [name] . Do you know what I mean? And I’m going to do the same. 10 times more than her. Because I value women very much. I have enormous respect for women. Unbelievable respect for women. So if she keeps me for example 10% I’m going to keep 100%. Do you understand? So yes. And I want to share life with her. Because life is very difficult. I am alone. I am alone. And I live alone and I realize that. I know that. That life is difficult. That’s why you have to share it. And I would really like…if I’m going to share it with love. What else do I want? Right? So yes. We shall see!

And yes if in the future you get a chance to go back to Syria, would you do that or not?

[r] Ah go back permanently?

Yes.

[r] Um… I don’t think so. For I have already lost a life. So I don’t want to lose my life here. For I have gone to a lot of trouble. I made a lot of effort to get things to graduate to find a job to find an apartment. I’m not going to throw that away completely to go back to Syria. Do you understand? So. I don’t want to make a third life. So…but who knows. Maybe. After thirty years I have enough money in my family and Syria is stable and I want to live there again. That’s possible. But now I don’t intend to.

[i] And do you think about bringing your mother and your sisters here?

That’s my plan. That is my plan. But it’s too early to do this. I don’t have the ability to do this. So. Because it takes a lot of money to do this. I need certainty to be able to do this and I don’t have it. So yes.

[i] But I know you’re going on vacation now. For Easter holidays. And that maybe you and your mother are going to see each other.

[r] Yes indeed. Yes indeed. After 3 years. Finally I can see her.

And where are you going to meet?

Um…the only country where that is allowed. In Malaysia.

And how will it happen? Why is it the best place?

[r] That’s the only place…that’s the only place where I don’t need a visa and my mother doesn’t need a visa to fly to Malaysia. That’s why. As simple as that.

[i] And how long are you going to stay there?

[r] 1 week. 10 days. Something like that. Because yes Malaysia is expensive and I am poor. My mother isn’t very rich either…is not very rich either. Kind of poor. So yes. But the intention is to see her. That’s the meaning of the whole trip. So yes.

It’s a nice moment.

Sure. Sure. Sure.

And I know that you have a precious object with you. Could you tell me a little about this object, please?

Yes…da scarf. That’s what my mother screwed herself. With her own hands. For me. That was 4…5 years ago I think. And yes…that’s something from my mother. When I go to sleep I sleep with that…with this scarf. To yes…to get sweet…to get some kind of love, so to speak.

When you were 16 years old?

[r] 17…16…17 I think. I don’t really remember very well but…something like that…16 15 17 something like that…

[i] And is it actually so cold in Syria to wear a scarf like this?

[r] Yes in Syria we have winter spring… But the seasons in Syria are stable. Not like in Belgium. So it will never rain in the summer. Summer is a summer in Syria. Spring is a spring in Syria. Winter is a winter in Syria. Not like in Belgium a mix. Then all seasons for example in Belgium I can see all seasons within 1 day. Snow in the morning sunbathing in the afternoon raining in the evening and cold at night for example. So yes we have winter sure. And it is cold there. Because in Syria I also had nothing to warm up. So I had no heating in Syria. So of course that was… that was really necessary to sleep like that. And with 3 coats. And are you going to sleep and oei oei oei.

And are you still wearing it here in Belgium?

[r] Yes. Once in a while. If I want to sleep. Especially when I want to sleep.

But outside too, isn’t it?

[r] Outside? I don’t dare do that. Because I fear that something will go wrong…will happen before it does. And no…so no. I’m going to keep that here…stay here…keep it here.

And that always makes you think of your mother?

[r] I always think of my mother. With and without a scarf. So in the end she is my mother. And without her I could not achieve anything. Because she really helped me. So yes.

[i] Ok. Okay [name] . Thank you so much for this interview.

You’re welcome. You’re welcome.

[i] It was very nice and very interesting.

Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much.