Happiness? When the war is over…

Kamal is a mathematician and enjoys playing the chess. He left Syria because of the horrible experiences he endured there in prison and hopes he gets the chance to finish his studies in Germany so that he can support his siblings still in the southern Syria.

Photo: Xenie Majznerová

11. 11. 2016

What is your name and where are you from?

My name is Kamal, I am a Syrian, and I have been in Germany for five months. That´s all. I come from a small town, Tafas, in southern Syria.

What did you do or study before the outbreak of the conflict?

I studied mathematics for three years and I also attended English language courses. I was not able to finish my studies because of the war.

So you studied near your town in southern Syria?

Yes, we have a university near us.

You are a mathematician. And beside your studies? What are your hobbies?

I like playing the chess. I used to play with my brothers and friends; something like a poker game, but without money. It is close to mathematics – a strategy. When you apply mathematics while playing then you can play well, and win.

Have you played chess here in Germany?

No, not yet. I hope to find a friend to play with, and by so doing, learn the German language as well.

What were your reasons for leaving Syria?

Actually the first reason was to finish my studies. It is possible in Germany if you can obtain your original Syrian education records, then you can proceed here. And well… I had a problem with my studies in Syria because I was incarcerated twice. When I went to the university once, I was arrested for no reason whatsoever. It was pretty bad going to jail for no reason.

How can a man be jailed this way?

You know, we have a lot of army posts everywhere – even at universities – something like a patrol post. They control you, and when a soldier dislikes you, they can arrest you. They have no problem with it.



How long were you in jail?

Two weeks the first time, and four days the second time.

Can you describe to us how it was there?

Actually it was pretty awful. I saw … something … I will never forget for my entire life. I saw people dying, and some of them were really, really badly injured, and I was not able to help them. There was no way. You could say only a few words to them. That´s all you could do for them. I saw children, old people; there were a lot of old people. And the situation in prison… it was really, really bad. Actually it was the worst. It was the worst. The worst times of my life. You know… so many people in one room and very bad food.

Did this experience urge you to leave?

Definitely. It was the reason. Another reason was that Syrian families do not have enough money to live well. The food and everything else in Syria is very expensive, and ordinary people do not have the money for it, so maybe I will be able to support my brothers and sisters. I have one sister. I would like to send them something as soon as I find a job; in a year or two I hope to send them some money.

Where is your family?

The majority of my family lives in Syria. My father is in the UAE, my brother works in Saudi Arabia, and I have three brothers in Syria. I am actually the youngest. My brothers are older; one is 33, the next is 30, another 25 and I am 23.

So a part of your family lives abroad and sends money home?

Yes, if you have someone abroad, you can live so-so in Syria. If you do not have anyone outside Syria, then it is very difficult to live there without receiving money – so much money is needed.

What is the happiest moment in your life?

The happiest moment? Well, the happiest moment… before the war. You can´t enjoy happiness when your neighbors and friends are dying. People die every day. You know, there are bombs and weapons everywhere. Therefore, you can´t be happy. But I think that before the war… before the war, when my family was sitting around the table eating together … those were the very moments of happiness. I hope that it will happen again sometime in the future. It is very tough, there are thousands of kilometers between us and we can neither go in, nor out of Syria. It is very dangerous there. My father cannot go to Syria because he can be detained and arrested at the airport without any purpose. Everything is possible.

How did you get to Europe and Germany?

From Turkey to Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Austria and then Germany.

What was the most difficult?

We encountered many difficulties. There are robbers all along the route that simply want money. The situation is very bad at sea between Turkey and Greece. A lot of people sail on small boats with nothing … when you embark, you … “just go”.

Were there any positive moments?

I think yes, in Greece. But in Hungary I was caught by police and arrested for two days. You know, they consider us aliens, because we are there illegally.

What does your typical day look like now?

You know, we mainly have issues with the German language. We are learning it with some difficulties. Surely there are differences between the languages; English is different from German as well as from Arabic. I have been studying it for three months and still I am not able to speak.

How long have you been in Germany?

Four months.

You have been learning the German language for three months?

Yes. I study the language four hours a day at school, and then when I’m home at my apartment.

Do you live in an apartment with other people?

Yes, we live in a house. There are a hundred people in one house with two or three persons living in each room. It is a big house.

What has been the most difficult part of the integration process?

The most difficult is that there are some people in Germany who dislike refugees, and I understand them. Sometimes I agree with them when they worry about their homeland, about Germany. They fear those who are coming into their country. No one knows exactly who is coming within the million people arriving. There may be thieves, robbers, terrorists, so they fear us. It is a problem. Not all people are like us – like the refugees here. So we have to explain that not all refugees are bad – that there are good and bad as well. Some people came to learn, some came to work; not all came just to sit and eat.

And what do you think is the ratio? How many people want to work and are nice people?

There are a lot of very good people. Many of them. They assist us with everything. “Just call us and we help you.”

Volunteeers, ok. But what about the refugees? Based on you experience, can you tell us which refugees you fear, and which refugees are here to learn?

Yes, yes, I understand. We need to show people here in Germany that we are nice. We came here to learn, and learning the German language is the first step. Talking, learning … We probably need six to seven months to master the German language.

If it is not personal, can you tell us something about your religion?

Yes, I am a Muslim.

Is it difficult for you to face cultural or religious differences?

It is ok. We have three mosques here in Dresden, everyone can practice his or her religion. I can freely practice my religion.

Why do you think some local people are scared? They fear Islam. What would you tell them?

I would tell them that… yes, the media is the problem. You know, they say in the media that Islam is terrorism. Ok, there are a billion Muslims all around the world. Not all of them are terrorists. Maybe one thousand, two thousand of them are terrorists. The rest are all peaceful. We just live; Muslims have lived in Europe for thousand years and everything has been ok.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you want to do in Germany?

I want to finish my studies. I am interested in mathematics and I want to finish my degree – maybe a higher degree, MA or PhD. I do not know my future, but I hope. I work at it.

By the way, what does happiness mean for you?

I think happiness means to have peace in your country, because ordinary people are dying, houses are being damaged, and it is all very bad. And you know, we all wish to maintain peace all around the world.

How do you plan your future when your home is considered? Do you think you will go back?

If there is no war, ok, I will go back. But because there is a war, I cannot live there. Without electricity, without schools for our children – there are many problems with electricity, water supplies, food – and you can´t live well with all of this.

And my last question, maybe silly or too personal, because everyone will ask me. It concerns your cap. Do you wear it all the time because it is cold for you in Germany, or do you have another reason for wearing it?

Yes, here it is colder than in my country. Temperatures below zero, minus 2 or 3 degrees.

So you wear the cap all the time during winter?

Yes, in winter…

And you wear it inside from morning to evening?

Yes, I pull it off only when I sleep.

Thank you for your time.

You are welcome. Thank you.


Blogs and interviews were produced as part of the project “Refugee stories, to which volunteers contribute in their free time. The core of the project is built upon the We Can organisation, cooperating with the organisation Umweltzentrum Dresden. The project is supported by the Czech-German Fund for the Future in 2016.