‘To tell the stories I have to tell’

By Merel Blok

‘To tell the stories I have to tell’

Nabil Nabo fled to the Netherlands two years ago. As part of the InclUUsion project, he is currently taking a course in religious studies at UCU. Originally from Aleppo, he spoke to the Boomerang about the situation in Syria, his life in the Netherlands and his ambitions.

“I arrived in the Netherlands on the 16th of November, 2014. I come from Aleppo where I taught English and ran a small clothing factory. Life – to be able to live was my main reason to come here. I do not want to kill or be killed. The Syrian people started the revolution with the same motivation as to why I am here; they want freedom and social justice.”

Before coming to the Netherlands, he lived in Istanbul for two years. “For most Syrians, Istanbul is a temporary refuge. Like me, they would want to go back to Syria. My mother is in Istanbul with two of my brothers. They live in a three-room apartment with 7 people. My mum wants to return to Aleppo where my father and 3 of my brothers live but it is impossible right now. We haven’t spoken to my father for two weeks, the internet is completely blocked in Aleppo.”

Articles analysing Syria and the political situation have no effect according to Nabil.

“Complicating the Syrian situation makes it easier to become distanced. It is the easy answer and an excuse for inaction. To me, the main issue is to get rid of the current Syrian regime as they have been the source of violence since the revolution in 2011. Many people in Europe don’t know what is going on in Syria.”

Nabil has been translating news articles from Arabic to English, some of which have appeared on the website of the Dutch public broadcasting service.

“Translating is my task. I do not want to dictate how things should be but tell personal stories. Those will create understanding. People are exposed to so much cruelty on the news, it creates a fear of refugees. They have such low expectations of refugees.

My goal is to let people see the other image and the humans behind all these stories. For example, I remember a man in Aleppo trying so hard to charge his MacBook! People should not think refugees have absolutely nothing when they flee to Europe. There are some cultural differences but, really, we are quite similar. It’s the smaller things, the details that matter.”

At this point, Nabil gives me a dade-cookie. “This is a typical Syrian sweet, something from back home. We eat it during Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. I was so surprised to find this here.”

He has experienced some discrimination in the Netherlands, although it’s a minority of the people.

“I can tell the way they talk to me is a bit belittling. People tell me: ‘Wow, you know how to use a computer?’ or ‘You speak English very well!’ They don’t realise I also received a university education.” Besides that, Nabil has learnt to speak Dutch in a year. He is planning to eventually do a master’s degree at the University of Utrecht.

He has a particularly bad memory of one instance. “I travelled via the airport to visit my family in Istanbul. They interrogated me in a very unpleasant way. I was on the verge of crying. I already had to explain all of this to the Immigration and Naturalisation Service and now I had to again. One question I will never forget: ‘Why would you come to the Netherlands?’”

He observes that a lot of Dutch people want to help but don’t know how. “My neighbours in Soest are very kind. I fell very ill one time and I had to be taken to the hospital. My neighbour drove me to the hospital at six in the morning and stayed with me, even though he had to go to work. Back home, there were so many cards for me. It takes a mutual effort to get to know each other.

When I first moved to Soest, I was known as ‘the refugee’ or ‘the Syrian’. But I do not mind. I am proud who I am, I am Syrian, I am civilised, I am educated and I am also a refugee. Syrian people should be proud of their country and who they are, if you know what I mean. That’s why I have a goal. To translate what I have to translate, to tell what I have

As we walk back to the station, I eat the cookie Nabil gave me. My phone buzzes with flashing news. The United Nations predicts Aleppo may be destroyed by Christmas. The cookie suddenly leaves a bitter aftertaste.

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