Photo by Boryana Ivanova
Hend, age 37, met at a refugee camp in Wilmersdorf.
"I grew up with war in Iraq – every day there were planes and rockets. From September 1980, it was eight years of war with Iran, then a couple of years of peace. Then the wars with US started...
When I was 17 my mother took us to Syria. That was the best thing that happened in my life – there was peace and security. For me Syria was like paradise. I finished my high school and university there. We had such a good life. But then the regime started getting more and more oppressive and people couldn't take it anymore. All we wanted was to live with dignity and real democracy. And we all know how this story continues. Living through the war puts a different perspective on life. It seems that people never really appreciate things until they lose them. We always want better houses, better lives, better jobs. We can’t just be satisfied with the roof over our heads. Then something horrible happens and we start saying “Remember that house? We were so happy there!” Then we appreciate having a home more than anything else.
The war really changed everything in our lives. I had my job as an English teacher, I had a lot of friends, I was settled in a good house in Damascus. Then everything started falling apart. We moved from one house to another, we changed houses three or four times. The situation got so bad that my father and sister went to the USA. We started to break apart as a family. My other sister got married and went to Baghdad. My brother also fled to Baghdad and I stayed with my mother in Syria. Despite the war, I continued working for a while. But in 2012 the school got shut down because the area was too dangerous – and I lost my job.
In 2013 I went to Saudi Arabia where I stayed for half a year. I was working for a few months but then the Saudi authorities figured out that I was in the country on a visitor's visa and wouldn't allow me to work anymore. I had no choice but return to Damascus. It was impossible to live there so I decided to go to Turkey. But I couldn’t stay there because it was so expensive and it’s difficult for Syrians to find work. If a normal worker gets €1000 per month, Syrians get only around €500. At that point, I couldn’t go back to anything. The only way out for me was to continue on to Europe. My mother was reluctant to get on a boat but in the end decided to come with me. We were so scared crossing that sea. It was raining the whole day and the boat was filling up with water. The whole experience was very dangerous but we had been living in danger for such a long time that we didn’t think about it too much.
Upon arriving in Germany we wanted to continue to Sweden but my mom got really sick and we didn’t have enough money to go on. I’m happy that in the end we stayed in Berlin. People here are very nice and helpful. The most difficult part of my life now is that I’m still not settled. It’s been like this since the war started. After all the time that has passed since we left Syria, we still don't have our own house, our own things. We are simply safe but we still haven’t settled down. From house to house, from bed to bed. People need their jobs, their communities and their own lives. But I’m taking tiny steps forward all the time. I like Germany because here we have rights as women and we can enjoy real democracy. All we wanted was dignity and we finally found it here.
I go to school here now and study German, but what I would like to do now is improve my English. My dream is to finish my education. I have a bachelors in English literature, I want to go on to get my masters. Maybe I can find a job as a translator or a teacher. I love teaching and languages. All the German people that I have met here are angels, so sweet and helpful. They have told me that not all people are well-intentioned and warn me that some will object to the way I look and simply to me being here. But to this day, I haven’t met anybody like this and I hope I never will. But yes, of course, I am a little scared. All my new friends here are so nice and encourage me to do what I love. An old woman gave me her bicycle. This is the first dream that has come true for me here – I can go by bike wherever I want. It’s so great!”