The Unknown


The Unknown

By Oula Mahfuz


Have you experienced what it is like, to leave you country because of war? To live in a new country, where everything is foreign: customs and traditions, order and language. Sometimes, I wonder what’s worse: dying from rocket fire or living in a country where you face discrimination every day. On the other hand, there are always people who support you, who give you new hope. Here is some of what we encountered in Germany. The good and the bad experiences I can never forget.

When we entered Germany, the first people I spoke with were German police officers. They noticed the fear of our children, for whom a military uniform meant danger. I will never forget the kindness and the humanity they approached us with.

Another situation I will never forget is the kindness given to us by the aid workers. They dedicated so much of their time and attention to help us learn not only German, but also the local way of life. I thank all volunteers wholeheartedly.

I have my “laugh-cry” situations – situations where I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I once sat on a train next to man who looked at me anxiously and said, “I’m afraid of women who wear the hijab (headscarf).” I smiled and thanked him.

However, there were also negative experiences that left a deep mark on my heart and stay engraved in my thoughts. I rode on a crowded bus with a volunteer. We stood, because no seats were available. The driver slammed the brakes, and I flew forward. I met a woman’s shoulder. She screamed and berated me in a language I could not understand. I apologized repeatedly in English, but she continued her shouting. The other people on the bus gave no reaction. I will never forget the scornful look and her screams.

In another incomprehensible situation, a man hit me on the street and accosted me over my headscarf. I was completely shocked, could not say or do anything. I had never been hit in my life.

When we got our residence permit, we moved from temporary accommodations to an apartment. It was difficult to find someone willing to rent to refugees. The volunteers helped us with our search, and then found an apartment for us and convinced the owner to rent to us – despite the neighbor’s objections. The had never met us, but opposed refugees living in their village.

We lived in this house for three years without problem. Eventually, we needed to move to a new apartment. We began our search for a new home. This “journey” lasted over a year. We went through many painful situations. A potential landlord called us on the phone, just to say, “I would rather burn my building down than rent to refugees.” For three days, I could do nothing but cry. We made an appointment with another landlord over the phone. By name, she knew I was a foreigner. She opened the door, saw me, and slammed the door in my face without a word. On the other side, I was overwhelmed by the generous offer of a friend to pay the extra cost of an apartment that was out of our price range.

We have lived in Germany for five years now. Again, and again, these situations repeat themselves. Often, I feel a rollercoaster of emotions. It strengthens me to work as an editor and a translator for the tünews INTERNATIONAL media project and to teach Arabic at the Language Center of the University of Tübingen. The cooperation and the appreciation of my colleagues means so much to me. In addition, my three girls attend high school, giving me hope and making me so proud.

I sometimes wish I had tougher skin, so that looks full of contempt and negative comments didn’t hurt so badly. I want to others to see me as a “normal” person. I want to be accepted as I am, to not be judged for the fabric I wear over my head. My wishes and my hopes are no different from anybody else’s. I wish for my family and for myself a peaceful, independent life, filled with joy.

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