This interview was conducted with two women who are related by marriage, the first with a young woman and the second with her mother-in-law.
I was born in Saudi Arabia, but my family moved to Syria when I was three years old so I grew up in Syria. I attended school through ninth grade but had to stop after my father had an accident because I had to help around the house more with chores. I did housework for a few more years until I got married at age 19. When the war got really bad in Syria in 2014, I fled to Lebanon with my family.
We took the bus from Syria to Lebanon because it was much safer than walking, but it cost a lot of money and we used all of our savings. Life in Lebanon was not good. We didn’t receive any help from the government, even just basic money or social benefits for refugees. My husband couldn’t find any work there, so we didn’t have anything to eat either. When the pandemic started, we were confined to our house without any kind of classes for the kids. My eldest daughter, who was six at the time, still wasn’t able to speak well without school. As soon as she could go to school again, she could speak entirely fluently. I felt bad for my daughter when we moved to Lebanon because all of a sudden she didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any friends or children to play with. I had another child while I was in Lebanon, but he’s only three years old now and doesn’t remember anything about life there. My husband and I actually applied for a visa for Germany while we lived in Lebanon, but it took seven years to come through, so we weren’t able to leave until 2021. Until then, we were barely able to survive in Lebanon without any help from the government.
We were able to fly to Germany in January 2021 since we had a visa to legally enter the country, but the tickets were so expensive that we didn’t have any money when we arrived. I tested positive for Corona as soon as I arrived, so I had to go immediately into quarantine at a different refugee camp. As soon as the quarantine period ended, my family and I moved to this camp. Technically, my husband and I could both work and look for an apartment as soon as we arrived, but there weren’t any apartments available so we are living in a refugee home until we can find one. Our visa only lasts until the end of July, so we also applied for a residence title to be able to stay in Germany for longer. We hope that everything goes well so that we can stay here.
Life is pretty good here in Germany. My mother-in-law came with us and now lives in the same apartment as us, so sometimes I wish for more privacy. We only have two bedrooms between the five of us, as well as a toilet and a kitchen. It’s very common for the mother-in-law to be around a lot in Arabic culture, but it’s still difficult in a space that’s this small. The children also get pretty loud, but it’s hard to tell them to be quiet because they have so much energy as a nine and three year old. My eldest has been in school since February, and it’s going really well for her. She can already understand a lot of German and even speak a little bit, so I’m hopeful that she will do well here. My youngest son still doesn’t have a spot in the daycare, but hopefully that will come through soon.
I want to be able to learn German so that I can continue my education here. Maybe I’ll be able to go to school once both of my kids are in school or daycare. It was always my dream to be a teacher, but at this point I just want to complete any kind of traineeship to be able to work here. I just need to be able to take a German course and get an apartment before I do that. I chose to come to Germany because I knew that there would be more opportunities for me here, and especially for my children. I only wish that my family in Lebanon who is still waiting on a visa are able to come to Germany soon.
I was born in Syria and grew up there, but I wasn’t allowed to go to school at all, so I still can’t read or write. I grew up with seven siblings in a two-bedroom apartment, so it was often crowded. There wasn’t any obligation to go to school or even any public parks, so I would usually just spend my childhood playing in the street. When I was sixteen, I got married and moved with my husband to Kuwait because it was a little easier to find work there. We had two kids while we lived there, and we built a very good life together. Unfortunately, he passed away after we had spent 11 years in Kuwait, so I returned with my children to Syria.
Life in Syria was really hard. Without a husband or parents, I had two children to feed on my own, but I couldn’t find work since I couldn’t read or write. The government didn’t offer any kind of financial support, either. It was truly horrible. My son had to start working when he was only nine years old in order to support our family. He worked odd jobs, but mainly as a tailor. Because of this, he couldn’t go to school at all so he can’t read or write, either. He wants to learn German now that he’s here, but it’s extra difficult for him because he can’t even read or write in Arabic, our native language.
When my son got married in 2010, not much really changed because he continued to care for me. It’s been difficult with the children, because I’ve been really sick over the past few years because I’m an old woman. It was horrible when we were living in Lebanon. My son worked while we were there, but it wasn’t enough to provide for four people. We all lived in one room and slept on the floor, even during the winter when it would be freezing outside. We couldn’t afford to buy clothes or food. We couldn’t pay the rent or send the kids to school. I couldn’t even get medicine for myself when I was sick. We needed to get out of there.
Life in Germany has been a dream compared to that. I have health insurance and all the medicine I need here. I’m able to eat fruit and vegetables again. My granddaughter is in school here, which I never believed would happen. I am so thankful that it has happened this way, that there are so many people with a good heart in the world who have helped us. Before I came here, I heard that the Germans are racist and don’t like to share, but that has not been my experience at all. I only want to thank them for all of their support so that I am able to live my life here. I know that I am an old woman and will probably die soon; I am sick all the time and I don’t have any energy left. My only wish is that my grandchildren can go to school and be self-sufficient when they are older.