“We grew up in a dictatorship. When people need you they are your best friends, but for the rest we grew up in distrust.”
Mohammed Al-Mansour is having a bad month: “My grandmother died in Syria. I basically grew up with her, she was like a mother to me. She had problems with her heart and that’s what killed her. There’s no medical care in Deir ez-Zor anymore, that’s the problem.”
He was distracted, cried sometimes – “not many tears, but a few,” – and could not concentrate on the Dutch lessons at the Language Centre anymore. “Now I’m terribly behind. Maybe I’ll have to stop and start over again.”
Getting an internship or finding a course to study has not worked either so far: “I called the Hanzehogeschool, department of Civil Engineering, because I would like to do something with that again as I used to study it in Syria as well. But they told me that my Dutch needs to be at least at level B2, even though the course is in English. But some of it seems to be in Dutch.” So, for the moment, that’s not going to happen.
He was visiting Syrian acquaintances in Alphen on the Rhine. They have a theater program. “I know a director who wants me to join, but I don’t have any acting experience. Last week I helped with the decor and such. Look, on this picture you can see me standing on a ladder on the on stage.”
There is something, he says, that can sometimes stand in the way of having contact with other Syrians: “We have grown up in a dictatorship. When people need you they are your best friends, but for the rest we have grown up in distrust. I don’t think it has to do with Arab culture, or with Syria. I think it is a characteristic of all dictatorships. You kind of forget how to live and deal with other people. That’s why I often prefer to hang out with older countrymen. They are different. When they grew up in Syria it wasn’t all as bleak as it is now.”
Then his phone rings: A Humanitas volunteer – his language coach – is at the front door. Mohammed had completely forgotten about the appointment. He has to split. “Oh how stupid! Excuse, excuse.”
At home with Mohammed Al-Mansour (32)