[i] Remember what you were saying? So you arrived in Brussels and there were a lot of white refugees.

[r] Yes, a lot… In the centre, when I was in the centre. There were many refugees there who lived with us. There was one room for four people. The bed was like… two beds in one [bunk bed], two beds in one. Someone was sleeping downstairs, someone else was sleeping upstairs. So when I was in the center with my friend from Eritrea… and two boys. One was from Afghanistan, the other from Syria. And we ran into them. [interruption]

[r] I was talking about the white refugees at the center. They told us that they stayed there, there, for two years so, without people. They always waited for food, for a little money. During the week they give us seven euros and they always prepared food. So you were always waiting for someone. So it’s not good for your mind. When we heard that: “Two years here? Without papers?” “Yes.” “And are they going to give it to you, or not?” “Maybe they’ll give me a negative rating.” “What, two years here and you don’t get any… Oooh.” How long does it take for yourself? “I’ve been here two weeks, three weeks…” That’s how you think all the time. That’s what you say. But for us, for Eritreans, you know, they know everything. So it doesn’t take that long. Maybe six months. But for me it took about four months and two weeks. And then I got a positive assessment. Since I got the positive rating, I still don’t have anything. Only hope for the future.

[i] Were you happy when you…

[r] When I got the positive papers? I was happy. Yes, everything was open. So I’m working. It’s a bit good.

[i] Did you start working in Brussels?

[r] No.

[i] Did you come to Antwerp first?

[r] Yes, to Broechem, do you know Broechem?

[i] Broechem?

[r] Yes, it’s about thirty minutes from Berchem. When you go to Lier, it is… in the middle.

[i] Were you working there?

[r] Yes, when you were in the camp, you had to clean the toilets, replace the garbage bags, clean the restaurant, wash the dishes. Yes, we did. But it wasn’t a lot of money. For one hour it was like one euro. One euro and twenty cents. But for you, with those seven euros, you can have a coffee, sometimes you can go to Antwerp. Because you can go outside but we can’t sleep outside. We have to sleep there, but you can go outside. When you go outside, you have to give them the badge, so they know you’re outside. When you get back, they will give you back the badge, because it can provide you with food. Yes, it is organized. Belgian people always have order. Time,… It’s good, for life.

[i] Do you like that?

[r] Yes, I like it. It’s hard for me, because I’m from Africa but… It’s hard but I have to do it, yes, because I’m here. So that’s what we have to learn.

[i] Is it different in…

[r] Yes, in our country if I want to meet you, I’ll call you today, “Do you want to meet?” “Yes.” “Okay, in the afternoon.” No time, in the afternoon. It’s noon, it’s one or two o’clock, three o’clock… you don’t know. You just wait for him because you know he will come. [laughs]. You don’t know the time. So yes, we have… Because if we don’t… Now… Everything. Here’s the big problem for us is that you don’t know the language, so when someone talks to us… you know a little bit… So when he talks, we don’t understand. But “Okay,” you say, but you didn’t understand, but you say, “Okay, okay.” But you didn’t understand what he was saying. [laughs]. Always with Bert, when he helps the people, the people who come to his house, and he told them, “You do this and this, then you do this and this.” They say, “Okay.” Then he left and when he came back, they hadn’t done anything. And he said, “Why did you say it was okay to do this?” “You didn’t tell me that,” he said. [laughs]. “I told you and you said okay.” “Okay!” He says “Okay.” [laughs]. They only know “Okay, okay.” [laughs].

[i] So why don’t you say, “I can’t hear it?”

[r] That’s the problem. It’s more polite in our country… In our country, when you’re younger than me, I have to respect you, even if you’re wrong.

[i] If you are younger?

[r] Yes, then you should…

If you’re younger?

[r] If I am younger than a person, he is a child. So he must always respect me. If I succeed him, he says, “Okay, sorry.” He hasn’t… he hasn’t done anything wrong, just because I want to do it.

[i] Because you’re older.

[r] Yes, and then I do. And he says, “Sorry, please.” He’s… He didn’t say, “Why,” he didn’t ask. So when I’m young and there’s someone older than me, I have to respect them. It’s bad, it’s not good. But then again, we grew up like this. We come here, you even see it on the streets of Europe, you can go wherever you want, even if the people are older, you can go like this [passing by]. When an old man goes like this and you come from the other side, here… in our country, when he is here and you are here… you want to pass… no, you have to wait, because he is older, he has to go first. But here, yes… But in our country you have to wait: “Hello,” you say something, respect this way, and he says, “Thank you my son, [rub your head] thank you.” [laughs]. That’s our country.

[i] Do you like this tradition?

[r] Yes, we like it because it gives you more love and… For the situation in the country, for the contact between the people, it’s good, you know. But for life, if you look at it, it is not good. Yes, because you miss many things, for time, for many things. You want to do something but you have to respect him so you can’t do it. That’s a lot of problems. But well… That’s the older generation, but well… they’ve all changed a bit. So we come a little bit…

[i] Are there other differences between Belgium and your country?

[r] Many big differences. [laughs]. Even at school. How I grew up. Even with the government, with freedom. In terms of food, even water. There are many differences, big differences. For example at school, yes we were at school and you thought, “I’m going to be a soldier.” In the school… And they said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the teacher asked you. You say, “I don’t know.” [laughs]. “Why not?” “Because I become a soldier when I’m fifteen. I know that.” They know the propaganda of politics and they say, “Don’t say that like that.” “If you have …, just say that.” But they… In Belgium, when you’re studying… the points to [go furthe[r], are noted, so you have to have that point to succeed. But in our country, they don’t put persons… but they say: “Tomorrow is number one Medrek, number two is…” You’ve got 50 students in the classroom. But they only mention three people. Good, good, good. So there are fifty of us, they need three. So there will be forty-seven soldiers. [laughs]. In your head… “So, how can I be one of the three out of fifty?” Hey, that’s hard, so you think, stress, you don’t like school, you don’t like things. But here you can see that they support you, a lot of support to gain knowledge, to know something. So yes, you grow up and you think a lot. So yes… For… It’s hard to live there. But many people there believe that, it’s good and they live there. Because they don’t know any better. If you know “Ai”, but if you don’t know anything: “Yes, it’s good,” that’s what they say. Because that’s the only thing they know. So yes… it’s a big difference.

[i] Do you like being here in Belgium? How does it feel to be here?

[r] Yes, in Belgium, I like it because I… I like Belgium because yes, if you work, if your life is good, if you have freedom, that’s what people need, yes. Yes, something else is building your mind. What you want, what you want to do, that’s for your mind. Yes. Also… God has given me a second chance to live, in a free country. So I have to… I have to really like it. Yes, I like it.

[i] And now you live and work in Antwerp?

[r] Yes.

[i] What kind of work do you do?

[r] I work for [GCA], road works.

[i] And how long do you work there?

[r] I’m as good as new, two weeks something like that. I’ve just started. Because I took Dutch lessons. I’m not perfect in Dutch, but I’m starting to talk it over a bit. So with the work my language gets better. Yes, and also for the future I think it will be good. Yes. When I was in Italy, I thought: “If I go to (Italy) England, it’s good for me because in England it’s English. It’s not difficult for me. So I can realize my… I can realize my hope faster.” But in another country I first have to spend my time learning a new language. Then yes… But yes, I started it and then… I hope I will succeed.

[i] Do you think it’s a difficult language, Flemish?

[r] In the beginning I liked it, but when I went to school and I did other things like connecting with Dutch-speaking people, I gave football training to children. So when I taught them, and I spoke English, but when they talked Dutch, I listened to them and then I understood what they wanted to say. So yes, I learned with the children… a little bit, no more. For one month, I think, I gave training. And I went from one point to one point to two. So when I was one point two, they gave me something like… a discussion group, with refugees. They are in a school and they try to speak a bit and yes, the assistants help us, yes with necessary things like for example how to pay the electricity and the gas by e-mail or by post. But they speak Dutch, so you have to understand. [laughs]. There you go. Now I’m two points one…

[i] That’s good.

[r] Yes, I am following that and I am also taking an integration course to learn about Belgium, an integration programme. Yes, so this is what I have. [laughs]. It’s not enough, but step by step.

[i] Are you glad that you… Or how do you feel now that you are here in Belgium and when you look back at the long journey, because it took you almost two years to come to Belgium, how do you feel? Do you think it was worth it?

[r] Not completely, but yes… I’m good now in Belgium. But when I was in Ethiopia, I thought that in Europe you could achieve anything you wanted. But it’s not like that. [laughs]. You have to, yes… think about… It’s a little different, yes, but it’s not bad, it’s good.

[i] Do you think you’d do it again?

[r] The trip? Aaah! [laughs].

[i] Now that you know that if you would leave Ethiopia and come to Belgium, but now you know that you are

[r] will be two years away. Would you do it again? Never say never. [laughs]. Never. I don’t even think anyone else should do this. Never. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do this, not even for my… If someone is bad for me, even for him, there’s no need to do that draught. It is difficult. Because you are in the world, but you hate it. “Fuck, why am I here? Why was I born here?”, that’s what you said then. So now you know everything. I can’t… I can’t think about that.

[i] We can still talk about everything, but I think… Is there anything else you want to say?

[r] Maybe if you want to ask me something else. I don’t know. But yes, I’ve told you everything.

[i] Yes. Something you want to say about Belgium or what it’s like to live here? Is it easy or


[r] In Belgium it’s difficult, I know it’s difficult. When I say it’s good, that’s how it is for me now, but I can only decide for myself. I know many Eritreans who live here, in Antwerp. So I have contact with them, so yes, I know that it is very, very difficult for them. Very difficult. Yes, I have friends… For the girls it is very, very difficult, because some girls have a child but they don’t have a husband, single mothers. They have no knowledge, they never went to school before. They don’t know anything, even the language. They don’t want… they don’t want to hear the language. When you talk to them in Dutch, “Hey, what do you say?”, that’s what they say. So they don’t know the system, how to get into the system. They always need help here. But who helps them? When I was at school, I helped a girl. She is from Eritrea, she has a child. I think she is twenty-two and she has a child. And she is yes… She doesn’t have a… a good mind, you know. She was not prepared for a child. And yes, she wasn’t happy to have a child. So she was under a lot of stress. She had a lot of appointments, but she missed them. She didn’t know what to do. And she always said, “Yes, my life in Europe is so bad.” But I told her every day: “No, you have to think, first you have to learn the language, and you have to connect with people. After that, it’s easier. But if you’re always thinking, stressing, yes, that’s not good.” Yes, the difficult things don’t have to do with problems in Belgium, but with the person. But yes, they need help. But who helps them? Yes, the Belgians help them with many things, but they don’t know… If I want to help someone, I need to know what your problem is. But I don’t know your problem, I want to help you. But actually I’m not helping you, I think I’m helping you but I didn’t help you… The difficult part is the moment in Antwerp. There are many… Even the boys… There are boys here… It’s all about the language. Because they are… They think they can’t do it. “Do you speak Dutch?” “No, I can’t… I don’t want to speak it. Let me.” They learn this language when they’re drunk, I think. [laughs]. “No, mate, because you don’t know the language, that’s why.” If you don’t know the language, yes, it’s hard. But if you know the language, yes… If you know the language for one year… then it’s hard, after one year… yes, it’s okay… it’s okay, because you hear something several times, you know. In the beginning it’s difficult, but yes. It’s not like Libya. [laughs]. It’s not like that, but yes, the situation here… I’m in Europe, but I have nothing. Even now I’m waiting for someone or something, I haven’t done anything myself yet. So yes. You think, you feel like you’re not strong. You do nothing. Now you need help too. “How can I be myself?”, you think. So you feel bad.

[i] Where did you learn English?

[r] English, not by… by studying. But when I was listening to music. I watched movies. I like American movies and American music, rap, reggae. Yes, when I was a child, I loved movies a lot. When I was a child, I saw a lot of movies. It wasn’t like a cassette or a CD. You had to wait one week for one film. In one week you see one film. On Saturday after the news, in Ethiopia, they showed one American film. We waited for that. Every week, when I was a child. My father said: “Sleep, why are you awake?” He’s not my father. He is my mother’s husband now. So I was a child then and he told me that, but I didn’t care. I loved it, you know. And I said to my father, because yes, I was a child. He’s not my father, but I had to say that: “Oh daddy, I don’t want to go to sleep. This film is good. You don’t know anything about American movies,” I told him. [laughs]. Because when you see life in the movie, with our life there, oooh. And I saw films… when I was a child, I saw children’s films like, if you remember, Kevin. Do you know Kevin, a few movies? He is a boy and he lives with his father and mother. But they go on vacation and he plays on the computer…

Yes, Home Alone.

[r] Home Alone, yes! [laughs]. When I was a kid, I saw that movie and I loved it. You know, his mind is nice, so that’s why. I do… We don’t have that in our country. But when I saw that, yes, he’s like me, he’s human. I was a child, I appreciated his spirit. So is had to hear what he said. It is my… my will. So when I saw a lot of movies, I understood the language. And I knew a few words. And it grew. Even now, I still love American movies.

[i] And now here, you can watch more movies.

[r] Yes here, sometimes I go with Bert to the cinema here, I don’t know the street, near the beach, by the river, the harbour of Antwerp. It’s a big cinema…


[r] Kinepolis yes. There I sometimes see films with Bert. He invites me to go there sometimes.

That’s friendly.

[r] That’s how I know English, not from school. That’s why I can talk sometimes… When I speak English, sometimes some words are missing. [laughs]. I add some sign language. [laughs].

[i] But your English is good. It’s good.

[r] Really? Thank you.

[i] I need to study a little.

[r] How do you imagine your future?

[i] I have many hobbies. I think I should do my hobbies, follow them, how to get them.

[r] So right now it’s hard, because I have nothing. I have to work. I need money, because for my hobbies I need material. Because I love music and I’m a DJ, not in the past, so I want to study a little DJ here. Because in Ethiopia I worked with a laptop and [virtual DJ]. Here you need the big DJ-mixers. So that’s what you have to learn. But now it’s difficult because I don’t have a good installation, because you need money. Here in Europe, the necessary for everything is money. “So now, how do I get money?” If you look, you have to work. So I started working. Yes, after one or two years, I don’t know, if God says so, I can get my hobbies. Then I can sing, then I can do… DJs. But my big dream is to have a studio. [laughs]. Yes.

[i] A music studio?

[r] Yes. If I had that, my life would be yes… I’d have everything I want.

[i] Do you want to record music?

[r] Yes.

[i] For yourself? Or for…

[r] For me, if someone…

[i] Do you sing too?

[r] Never before, but I have it in me, that’s a feeling. That’s a feeling.

[i] What kind of music do you like?

[r] I like rap music because it has no laws. Yes… rap music has no law. You can sing whatever you want, the lyrics and the beats, you can mix anything you want. So what I want to sing, you know, just of course, in words… It’s not politics but it’s what’s in people’s hearts. What’s wrong… I don’t know much when I feel something inside, so I can do a lot, I guess. Music changes the world. Through art. If you see something, you can change something. Nobody sees that, but you see it, you feel it. If you have everything you want to do, I can say that. Yes, I hope so. With my mind, the situation, life. Yes, it’s about being good, not bad things. But to be a good person. In life, your life may not be necessary for you, you have no future or anything, but you can live for someone else. At that moment you can feel happy. Sometimes people make money, but the money doesn’t give them happiness. Yes, but if you give it to people who need help, and you do it for him, and he is happy, then not only he is happy, but also you, then you are happy for him. Because… Because he feels happy thanks to you. So that gives me the feeling… Oooh, so…

[i] That’s beautiful. Are you happy now?

[r] Yes, very happy. I want to be happy, because yes, oooh. Happiness is your life. We’re dead tomorrow, so if you’re stressed today, stressed tomorrow, stressed every day, then we do nothing for ourselves, for someone else. Then we are gone. So what is the important thing you do on earth, in life? Nothing, not even for yourself. You are not happy in your life. You haven’t even made anyone happy. When they see you, you are always angry. So… When you smile, they smile too. So, something beautiful happens. Even if you have nothing. That’s how I feel.

[i] Yes, that’s true. Thank you.

[r] You’re welcome.