“He said: ‘Congratulations, you can stay for five years.’”

“He said: ‘Congratulations, you can stay for five years.’”

A silver-painted cuckoo clock is his latest acquisition. Bought at the Mamamini thrift shop. “There were two batteries in it, one for the clock and one for the bird. I took out the latter – that bird was quite annoying.” Samer Mamo has been living in a roomy house in De Hoogte since September. Spacious and quiet. Sometimes a bit too quiet, he says a little timidly, sitting on his brand new dark gray corner sofa.

Kindness radiates from his face. It was already like that in the refugee centre, and it is still there. He is proud of his new house: to the left of the entrance is a bedroom with an oval table with six fancy chairs. To the right, a bedroom with a heavy wooden bed, “got it from friends”. Through the hallway to the right is the kitchen with a pristine stove and the balcony, straight on is the bathroom with a  brand new washing machine, to the left is the spacious living room with a coffee table and a corner sofa. Unobstructed views of the Groningen-Roodeschool railway line. Everything is painted a nice white and a purple orchid stands in the window sill, “also from friends”. On the wall a picture of a field of poppies.

With pride he shows his Dutch travel permit, which looks just like a Dutch passport, but gray. It says: ‘Valid for all countries except Syria’. He received it from an immigration officer in Ter Apel. “He said, ‘Congratulations, you can stay for five years.’ But,” says Samer: “I want to stay here forever, and I want a real Dutch passport.” He was only able to tell his mother in Syria after two weeks. “The Wi-Fi was very bad for a while.”

His Dutch is going pretty well: “I go to class three days a week at the Alfa College. And I practice reading and writing every day. If I don’t understand something, I can call Anika who wants to help me with the language.” Samir knows Anika from the Refaja church in the south of Groningen. Members of that church also came to the centre at the Van Swietenlaan. “They made it possible for me to play football, that’s my great passion.” On Sundays he sometime attends the church service. “It’s nice and sociable, especially afterwards.” He does not understand much about the service, but he does not mind. “I also go to the mosque on the Korreweg, because I’m actually a Muslim.”

He has a pretty busy weekly schedule. “School three times a week, football practice twice a week, mosque on Friday, church on Sunday.” He does not really have any contact with the neighbours. “Upstairs lives another young man who speaks Arabic, and a Dutch woman with a child, but I don’t really know more than that.”

The big difference with Syria? “In Syria of course there was a lot more communication because I speak the language, I could talk to everyone. And I had a lot of family there. Here, both these things are different.” And something else: “In Syria, people always interfere with each other and with each other’s lives. They poke their nose in your life. That can be very annoying. And people make a mess of the public spaces. That’s much better over here: people respect each other and respect their environment.”

Samer has a clear top three of things to do the coming year: “A wife and preferably a child, learning the language very well and finding a job.” In Syria, he used to be a jack-of-all-trades in and around the house: “Laying floors, electrician, those sort of things. “

On the table is a book, “Basic exam for integration”. Read aloud: “Is dad a man or a woman? Is a cent a lot or a little?” Say, “The woman is eating cheese.” And: “Eating fries is unhealthy.” When we say goodbye he again smiles his friendly almost shy smile. “Thank you for your visit.”



At home with Samer Mamo


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