Interview #8: Ghadia Ramah, Legaa Alnajjar, Salam Soliman, Rama Akid:
The “Sunday School” Teachers
[Interviewer] I'd like to thank you for your time. As you said, it's almost like an International Women's Day. So, I'd like to have the possibility to listen to every voice, to see how you are living here in Germany. I'd like to ask each of you to tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get to Germany? Then afterwards, we'll continue. So, I'd just like to hear from each of you. Would you like to start?
[Legan] I am Legan, from Syria. I'm an engineer. I have been in Germany since 2016. I had workat the end of 2017 for five months. Now I am without work.
[Ghadia] My name is Ghadia and I come from Syria, an area that is north of Turkey. In Syria I worked for about 20 years as a teacher of mathematics and informatics. Here in Germany, I don't have a real job. I'm just volunteering at the Sunday school, but I hope and believe that I'm going to find a good job.
[Interviewer] What would you like to do?
[Ghadia] Oh, I would like to be a teacher. I love my work; I really love it. I'm quite sure that I'm going to find a job as a teacher or with children somehow or working as a social worker, something like that. I have five children ages 17, 13, 11, 7, and another who is one year and a few months—a very small baby. Living here is really great, living without war.
[Salam] I'm Salam, I come from Syria. I'm 31. I'm here to join my family—my husband, my
children and my mother-in-law. I came here in 2017, and all my family came here afterwards. I came here. The life is better here. We have no war in Germany. Now, I work as an integration... I don't know?
[Salam] Assistant. Refugees are welcome in Germany, and we support them. We help them and counsel them. For two years, I have worked here as a teacher of the Arabic language at the Arabic school. The children who are born in Germany need to learn Arabic. What I like about Germany is that we can live here as a family—all the Arabic people. When I came here, we had very few people from Syria. Now many have come here to have a good life.
[Interviewer] How was it when you first came here?
[Salam] First, I was very alone with only my children. Then my mother-in-law came and my sister and now it’s very nice.
[Interviewer] I believe that.
[Salam] I like my work. I don't work as a teacher.
[Interviewer] Do you have time together?
[Salam] We have time together. For the past two years, I have been successful. I learned German.
[Interviewer] Nice. Thank you.
[Rama] My name is Rama. I come from Damascus, the capital of Syria. I'm 22 years old. I came with my brother. He was 17. We asked for asylum. My brother had to wait for his resident papers until he's 18.
[Interviewer] So, how are you? What does this mean to you?
[Rama] I was a city girl. I'm the daughter of the family, and I really was like a princess. I was not responsible for almost anything. I was always with my family, with my father, with my brother. It was quite new for me to be responsible and very different from how I lived before. I had to make decisions. I had to think on my own, and I had to take care for myself and my younger brother. But now it works much better than before. In Syria, I was studying Arabic literature, and I left because of the war. We came to Germany. Unfortunately, here in Germany nobody cares about Arabic literature; and it's not important. Nobody needs it. So, I tried to find another profession, and it's difficult because they don't acknowledge my high school diploma. So, I have to take vocational training.
[Interviewer] So it's like starting from the beginning.
[Rama] Yeah. I was three years in high school, three years in university, and three years in Germany. So, I've kind of lost nine years.
[Interviewer] Nine years, gone.
[Rama] Now I'm looking for a place to take vocational training—something that really fits me. For instance, I speak English, German and Arabic. Maybe there is something I can do with these languages. I was thinking about working as an office clerk or something like that. I made 30 applications for jobs, and I only got one answer. It is very difficult for a foreigner. I had to know the name of the president of Germany, what are the tasks or the regions of Parliament, and stuff like that. I really don't know about that. In the beginning I had an idea, but not now, maybe later. So, I can speak the news in the Arabic language by translating it from German or do some translation for movies and things like that in Germany. This is one dream. So, I'm looking to be a speaker, but I don't know if it will work.
[Interviewer] I have a question from what I heard. You all came from Syria, and you've been here for a couple of years. How is it for you to live here?
[Rama] Ah, okay, I'll start. I see myself between the new life and the old life. My new life destroyed my old life, and we are starting from the scratch and rebuilding it all new. I am always standing in the middle, and I have enemies. I kind of lost all my old friends and all my family and all that from my past. I really started to integrate, and I learned the habits of the Germans. I think I cannot live in Syria anymore, but I still cannot live very well in Germany so I'm standing in between.
[Interviewer] So here's Rama and Rama. And there's like two hearts.
[Rama] Yes, every day I need something like five seconds to realize in the morning when I wake up to remember where I am, and how is life here, and I’m not at home any more. So, what I have to do now is to get up, and wash the dishes, and start cleaning up. Yeah.
[Legan] All Arabic people in Germany have the same dream. As an example, I have the dream that I go back to Syria—not still in Germany.
[Interviewer] So you go to sleep, and the dream is that I'm going home to my homeland.
[Interviewer] And then you wake up.
[Interviewer] And you're here.
[Salam] The question is why should I start from zero? I started English literature. I started a family. Why should I start from zero?
[Interviewer] And what do you say to that?
[Salam] I ask myself, should I do that? At the beginning I asked, why should I do that? But then I thought okay; I have to do it. And so, I want to do it. I do it very well. It's a game; it's like a game.
[Rama] If you don't like what you're doing, you can't really do it. So, it's easier if you like what you do.
[Interviewer] So there's a saying, if you can't change what you're doing, you have to change your mind. How is it for you?
[Ghadia] If I was a little bit younger, it would be better. For me and for my husband, too, it is not easy—so not easy really. In Syria, we had a big house. We had a big car. We had a garden. When I came to Germany, I was 40 years old. I knew a little German, and a little English. I was 40 years old. All my past seemed gone, and here I had to start from zero. This was not easy for me and my husband.
[Salam] But see, we did very well. We learned German. We made good progress; we learnedGerman.
[Ghadia] Yes, it's true, my little children are learning German very quick.
[Salam] For me, it's very good. We learned very, very well. I have a very good job, and for me it's very, very good—not for everybody, but for me and for me as a woman. For me everything was strange—the food, the people, and the atmosphere. And I'm also the mother for my sisters and brothers because they came here too.
[Interviewer] So you have the role of mother for your siblings?
[Salam] Yes, I had to work with all the documents they needed for their medical care, but now it's better. All my siblings learned German and now they have good jobs. We made it.
[Interviewer] So as I listen, what I notice is you come here at 40, 20, 23, and you need to start from the beginning. So that's the feeling and that's also the reality that you're living. Your house is gone; your work is gone. And at the same time, you've learned German, you have families. What else?
[Salam] The people, the people.
[Legan] In two years, many people can speak German, and we can live integrated. We can make integration.
[Interviewer] But what does integration mean? What does it mean?
[Rama] I don't know.
[Salam] For Germans integration is to be Deutsche, to be German.
[Interviewer] So integration means to be German?
[Legan] Yeah, yes. That's what I meant?
[Interviewer] Anything else?
[Legan] We’re not German people.
[Interviewer] So you learn German but are not seen to be German?
[Salam] Yes, the language. At the beginning, I answered in English when they asked me in German; and they said, no, you are in Germany now. Then I said okay, I have to integrate myself very well, so now I have to learn German.
[Interviewer] Is integration just learning German?
[Rama] It depends on your perspective. For myself, I thought integration was something from both sides. We have to accept them, and they have to accept us—which does not mean that I have to be like the Germans.
[Interviewer] So for this, it's mutuality?
[Rama] Yes, but theoretically. For instance, I have always difficulties with my scarf. Last month I tried to sign up for a gymnastic training center, and the boss denied me because she said that I'm not allowed to work with my scarf. She said it's because of security reason. So, I did some research on the internet and saw that it's not true, not necessarily. But she said I was in Germany, and it was her decision, and I had to accept that. She didn't want to have customers complaining about my scarf. It was very difficult for me. I always try to be strong. But at that moment, I really cried a lot. You know, in Syria, I usually went to a gym; and they’re not better here than in Syria. I know how to use all the machines, and I'm not coming from the desert. I'm an educated woman from the capital. I have studied. I'm not just a simple person. Unfortunately, I'm not able to accept that. You know, I didn't want to come to Germany, but I had to come. We were escaping the war.
[Salam] We were forced to come here. We all had to leave our homes. It's not easy to leave your home.
[Legan] Another side is that we have to build a good world for foreigners. For instance, I have a neighbor, a woman. She doesn't like foreigners; but when she talks to me, I invite her into my flat, and then she's very nice. Now she likes me and my brother; and she says, you're changing my thoughts about foreigners.
[Interviewer] So there is movement?
[Interviewer] Not everybody but with some?
[Legan] Yes, yes. If they come to meet us, then they change their mind. It’s in my work too, with my colleagues.
[Legan] My colleagues are very friendly to me. They always say, if I really want to work, they will help me. They say they have to support us. So, when you start to work and your colleagues are not friendly to you, then you don't like your work; and you probably think, I'm going to stay home instead of going to work tomorrow.
[Salam] I have a little fear.
[Legan] Little fear, yeah.
[Interviewer] Would you like to tell me a little bit about the fear? What does that mean, to have a little bit of fear?
[Salam] Fear, it's a good question. Maybe, sometimes I have this fear that I will say something wrong. We have our worship, our traditions. Now we have Ramadan, it's our holy month. And when I say I'm a little bit tired, maybe at work they don't accept it. It's a little thing but it's uh...I have fear about my children. They are learning the German tradition, and should I teach them the Arabic tradition? My children are confused being between Arabic and German cultures. It's important for me. Here in our Sunday school, we always talk Arabic. We sing and we talk about the cities and the towns in Syria, about what is happening there, about our grandparents.
[Interviewer] Just kind of throwing you in the pot. So, you're learning to speak Arabic here. You can just have some peace here.
[Salam] It's a little town. Here, we meet, and we have the feeling that we have three hours of sharing....
[Interviewer] What type of feelings do you get?
[Salam] We volunteer here. We do it voluntarily.
[Ghadia] For our Sunday school, we are not only from Syria, but also from different countries.
[Interviewer] So others come here and feel comfortable too?
[Salam] For three hours every Sunday, we have people here from Somalia, Ghana, Algeria, many countries.
[Interviewer] And that gives you strength?
[Rama] Very positive energy.
[Salam] Women come together here. People say that we have the warmth of few hearts, and I say in the school, they're all my family. My colleagues here are my sisters, and all the children are my children.
[Interviewer] All 150 of them.
[Rama] So my main fear is that I am never going to see my parents again. My second fear is about my future. I don't know what I'm going to learn or if I'm going to make it into a vocational training; and I'm coming with my scarf, and I'm working in an area with customers that don't accept my scarf. I worry that I will get into trouble. I like my tradition and my scarf. I don't want to take off my scarf just because I could have an easier life. I believe in my scarf. That's me. I would like to work as I am. There is a scarf, but there is also a head; there's my head. I'm able to think, I'm able to work. I can simply do everything.
[Salam] I had an Internship in a school, and the children asked me if I had ears and about my hair. I said okay, I have everything that a woman has. This is my decision. And they said okay, that's your decision. That's okay.
[Interviewer] And for you? How was this for integration, with fears, with something else?
[Ghadia] For me, integration means exchange. I’m learning from the Germans and the Germans are learning from me. The main thing is to keep my tradition. I really like to learn something new, but I still like to keep my tradition, my decisions, my life. There are some challenges or problems. This is a new life—especially for the women wearing scarves. It's difficult to get work. So, this is not a joke, but a funny story. I went to a store and was going to buy some shampoo to wash my hair, and they asked why I needed that—you are wearing a scarf. Take off your scarf, and then you can buy shampoo.
[Interviewer] This really happened?
[Ghadia] Yes, yes, of course, yes.
[Interviewer] Okay, it's real.
[Ghadia] And the German woman standing beside me said that wearing a scarf at home it not normal. But if I stay here, I have to wear it. Another woman said this is the same as if you wear a hat or a cap.
[Salam] Not everybody is like that. Some supported me and the school supported us.
[Interviewer] I want to go back for just a second, excuse me. What I understood is that this was like a joke, but it really wasn't funny.
[Salam?] When I look at it, it hurt. I felt pain.
[Salam] I laughed, but I feel futile. It's normal for children. They have these questions. They want to know. But it’s not for adults. She shouldn't have said that. I am human with the scarf, without the scarf, with short or long skirts. This is freedom.
[Rama] So what does freedom mean? Just eating, drinking and breathing? No, it means to have the same rights and to have the same possibilities.
[Ghadia] So we have small issues like a handshake. Many women don't like to shake hands with other people. Maybe this is a tradition or from a religious background, but others have difficulties accepting this. They think we are impolite, but we are not. So, they think we are impolite.
[Rama] So you see, everything is difficult.
[Interviewer] So as I hear it's one-sided. Things are judged, seen, and interpreted from one perspective. For example, if I'm not going to give my hand to a man to shake, that might be seen as impolite for one person, but not for another person. So, how do I do this?
[Salam] It's a conflict. Maybe it will be better with by time.
[Rama] There are some federal estates in Germany that are used to living with Turkish people for some years, and there it is different—not much, but there is a difference. They are used to women with scarves, and they accept that. When they go to find a proper job, the people are used to seeing women with scarves, and this is nothing new. I have been in a village close to Sarina where there is also Finnish women with a scarf there. They look at me like, I don't know. They are not used to it. It's new for them as well.
[Salam] But we shall be very strong women. For three months I have been working in the capital of Schwerin. At the beginning, I was fearful; but then I said that I'm a strong woman and I wear a scarf. I went there and everybody was very, very kind. It was new for me. I said everything is new for me, and they supported me very much in learning things. Of course, there are difficulties. There are nice people. Maybe I don't want to say, there are also bad people. There are international conflicts, but it's going to get better with time.
[Rama] You have to be patient.
[Salam] You have to have patience, patience, patience. It's difficult for the Germans, too. We are new here, and we need to do something too. We have many things—a good life and freedom. So, we should also give something.
[Interviewer] So you have compassion with yourself and also for the others?
[Salam] I cannot say if I don't like it or I do like it. No, everything is okay. It's not easy. [Interviewer] I have another question as I listen. What would you wish for, for yourself, for your family? What could you imagine?
[Rama] I wish that my family could come here to be safe, but they're still in Syria. I live here, but my thoughts are still with them. I look at the news, and I see that they are still bombing it. I know my father is working very close to the places where they bomb. I tried to call him, but he doesn't answer and I'm worried. What are they doing, and how are they? I had this great chance to come here, and I would like my parents to have the same chance to be safe here or to be safe in Syria. But still, to be safe.
[Salam] Do they have food and water?
[Rama] Yes, and I don't know whether my father, parents can. All the countries are closing their borders. I can't go to Lebanon, and my parents can't go to Turkey. There's always trouble with these borders between the countries. I really hope that I will have a good future here. I have the energy. I have the courage. I need the acceptance of the society, of the community. So, and I need open doors.
[Salam] I feel like a bird. Where will I be at the end? Here in Germany or back in Syria? My parents are still in Syria. I dream about my parents. Can they come to Germany, but the main thing is to be together. I cannot sleep well when I know my parents are still in Syria.
[Interviewer] So both of you have a hard time being calm until you can come together with your family?
[Salam] You work, you play with the children and with neighbors; and at night when you are alone, you think of what will happen. We are all women here. We dream about our children. What about our children? Shall they stay here? Shall they learn German? Afterwards, will they go back? What will the children do? My children live better here, and my parents live better in Syria. I'm in between, I don't know. They are different. I'm different.
[Legan] When my children are adults, they may not want to go back to Syria. They live here now in Germany. Have friends here. They have no relationship to Syria.
[Rama] Yeah, and they grew up here; and they don't have any idea about Syria. I still don't know what to do.
[Salam] The memories of Syria disappear, step by step.
[Ghadia] Yeah. For the children, it was difficult. Many children came here. They went to first or second grade in Syria, but they started again here with the first grade. It was difficult for them to go into the second or third grade immediately. The system here is very different, it's different from Syria. Math and English are the same so it's more or less easy, but all the other subjects are difficult.
[Legan] Math and physics are difficult in German.
[Ghadia] Yeah, you have a certain vocabulary. When the children come here, and they want to stay here, and they learn German from the very beginning; and then they go back to Syria, they start from the scratch again.
[Rama] So where are the children now? When we have peace in Syria, it's their decision. They can stay or they can go. It's up to them.
[Salam] Now it's my decision; but maybe in 20 years, it's no longer my decision. The children decide. I came with my children, and I came because of my children. Then they will decide. What, I don't know.
[Interviewer] So you think about your children and your parents?
[Salam] Yes, okay. We have a very nice life here, but our homeland is our homeland good or bad.
[Ghadia] She wishes for peace. Peace, peace and peace. Her mother is old and ill and living in Syria. She really needs medication, and she is afraid that she isn’t able to bring the medication to her mother—just a simple medication. The children still in Syria don't have a childhood. They don't have real childhood. There's little opportunity to have a childhood.
[Interviewer] And for you?
[Legan] I’m the same as Ghadia. Peace for my homeland, and I wish that my husband can come to Germany too. My husband isn't in Germany. I only have the resident permit for one year. I am here with my two brothers. I wish that my husband can come here too.
[Interviewer] So a last question. We are going to share the information with students, social workers, teachers and professors and others in the United States who are interested in this global topic. What would you like to share with them? Would you like to share something at all? And if yes, what?
[Rama] I'm very glad that there are still people with open minds who are interested—that they don't only just believe what they hear but are interested in questioning. So, my scarf doesn't mean that I'm from ISIS. I came here escaping from ISIS. I have nothing to do with ISIS or things like that. I'm not aggressive. I don’t want to do any harm. I just want to live in a safe place. I really would like to be a useful person in this society. There are so many people dying still and nobody cares about them. I just want to say, our voice has to be louder, and we're very glad that there are some people listening to us.
[Salam] I'm of the same opinion as Rama. We hope that we have done something very good. We hope that the Germans say okay, the Syrians were very good, and they’ve learned a lot; and maybe when we stay here, we will get along better and better. Also, to have something more for the children here; maybe my children will be scientists. That would be nice.
[Rama] Also, I would like to say something about the governments who are active in Syria. They are protecting something, and they have their hands in the war. When we say that, and if you listen to us, if everyone says to their government that they should be active in stopping the war, this is my dream. Every government has bombs and every government can help stop the war. Hopefully, they will listen to that.
[Ghadia] Maybe, it would help. I would like to say that Islam doesn't mean racism. That's not Islam. Those who did wrong don't belong to the real Islam. Islam means caring about people, being good to people. It's bigger, it's much bigger. It's about the Earth. It's about everything. It's bigger. Finally, we are all human beings. If you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish, we are all human beings; and everybody can benefit from their shared thoughts. That's it. Thank you.
[Legan] The woman have said that we are all human beings in spite of our differences. We are all people, and I wish that the government, Europe, and the USA will end the wars. Please leave us alone. We're searching for a good life. It's difficult for us, but it works. It can work slowly or fast, but it works.
[Rama] I would like to thank you for the chance to share. This was very positive for us. For me, it was an honor and makes me feel that humanity is still alive.
[Legan] The people all over the world are like brothers. The people all over the world are like sisters and brothers, but governments are evil.
[Interviewer] So it is important to bring people together.
[Ghadia] Please. Please stop war.
[Salam] That's all we want. Stop the war. That's it.
[Ghadia] It's a dream.
[Salam] Yeah, the dream.
[Ghadia] It's a dream.
[Ghadia] Live in peace.
[Salam] Peace, live in peace.
[Interviewer] I would like to thank you for taking your time to talk to us and for your openness. I'm really touched.
[Salam] Thank you, too.
[Interviewer] And you will be heard. We will make sure that you could see the video of this. [Salam] Maybe next year when you come back?
[Rama] So we're going to do chapter two.
[Legan] Oh yes.