My name is Mahmoud, I am 37 years old and come from Syria, Afrin.
I was born in a village near Afrin in Yakhur. At eight I left the village and moved to Aleppo. In Aleppo I worked in my uncle’s sewing shop, after two years I started in a university cafeteria, where I didn’t like it very much, so I changed my job. I started working in a very famous Syrian restaurant, they made Shawarma and other delicious dishes. I’ve been in that restaurant for eight years. Then I had to join the military, then I worked in the restaurant for another year, until I started in a car repair shop, I worked there for the next 8 years.
Later I travelled to Lebanon and worked as a car tire mechanic, after three years I went back to Syria and became self-employed. It went well, thank God.
Before the war there were no conflicts in our village, I lived in a traditional village where all families held together. We lived even closer together than a family, regardless of religion and nationality. Kurds, Arabs, Yezidis, there were no differences. I am a Kurd and have never had any problems with it. We all lived in one place and there were no differences between us.
The conflicts in our village were created by politics, not by us, the people. The Arabs should have problems with the Kurds or other Arabs. We ourselves never contributed to it. That was the reason why some people said: I am Muslim, but you are Christian, I am Kurd, but you are Arab.
When the war began, I lived in Aleppo, I lived in the war for a year, without electricity, water, gas. We couldn’t cook without gas. My mother cooked our food by burning our old clothes and in this way she also heats our water for showering. She burned old clothes so we could have a fire, we lived like this for a year.
Every 10 days tractors came to distribute water, during the war it became much more expensive. In the peaceful days we paid for 5 barrels about 150 Lira in time of war 700 Lira. That was a load of water. We were supplied by two authorities, one by the state and one by the parties that governed our district. We shared the water with 9 people. After 10 days came a new load.
This year, when we were at war, we forgot what electricity meant. The first six months he came by chance, each for half an hour, maximum one hour. After that, all we knew was darkness. We charged our cell phone batteries at the cars. I didn’t have a car but my uncle, so I took my phone to him and he charged it for me.
There was hardly any work during the war. However, there was a lot of work in our industry, the car tyre mechanics. The tires were destroyed by bullets, people had no choice, they came to us to repair their cars. The work in the war was more than dangerous, we were surrounded by the conflict between the Kurdish army, the Syrian regime and the free army. In the midst of this conflict, we, who had to bring the tyres from one side to the other. There was no stock of goods in our area, where did we get our goods from? From the side of the Assad regime. The road was very dangerous, but we had no other choice because they were the only ones with the goods. Every time I had to take a path of 2 km, I wore the tire on my shoulder.
The road almost cost me my life, three times I was in the middle of a conflict between the Free Army and the Syrian regime. Me in the middle and around me the shots. I hid in a graveyard, there wasn’t a second between me and death. I had to expose myself to these dangers because I was living on it, it was my job and the money I used to feed my family.
After a year of war, the Free Army occupied Aleppo. Since then it has never been quiet in our city. From morning to night, a new bullet was fired between one bullet and the other. Not a second of silence, not a second without shots, not a second.Thank God nothing happened to my parents and siblings. But in my uncle’s house a girl was shot, she was only 7 years old, my little cousin. May she rest in peace.
We fled to Afrin, after three months we fled from there on foot to Turkey. We didn’t know anyone there, we rented an apartment and I found a job. After two years, Germany opened its borders and I set off. Alone. It took 18 days from Turkey to Greece. There were 55 people in the rubber boat, the boat was not bigger than 3 meters. None of us have ever ridden a boat like this. There were children on the boat too. We drove three hours, and then the engine went out.
I lived a year in the war, without water, without food, without drinking, without electricity – on the water for five hours. It wasn’t life, you don’t know if you’re dying or living, you don’t know what’s happening to you on the water. We knew how to help each other in the war, but on the water, on the water it was something completely different. We knew nothing. I can’t swim either. Whatever happens, I can’t help myself. We sailed the ship for three hours, what happens when the ship goes down, so how are you supposed to make it through?
It’s the sea, the sea!
We stood still, only water around us, we were on this boat for an hour, we could not move. The Greek sea watch found us and brought us by ship to a Greek island. We were registered and got a three-day stay.
When we arrived on the island, there were already ships ready, we took the ship to Athens to get from there to Macedonia. We drove six hours. When we arrived in Athens, we were told that a bus was going near the border, so we drove 3 hours by bus to the border. We got off the bus and still had to walk a lot, the bus could not stop directly before the border. We left at 4:00 p.m. and arrived at the border at 6:00 a.m. Women and children went with us. How did they manage to walk all the way? They had no choice.
A Macedonian patrol arrived at the border. She let a group of people through every 30 minutes. We were too late, the border was closed for that day, we had to wait until the next morning. We slept at the border. We slept on earth, there was nothing around us, everywhere people, more than 2000. I was alone without my family.
We wanted to take the train to Serbia but the train arrived after 7 hours, so we waited again. The Red Crescent, a non-profit organization, provided us with food and drink. The train came and we took him to the Serbian border. It was forbidden to stop directly in front of the border, the rest of the way we walked.
In Serbia there were patrols from Macedonia and Serbia, they told us: “You can’t go any further from here” and showed us the way. They helped us. We walked a whole night and arrived at the Serbian border at 10 pm.
The patrols at the border showed us another way, we walked through the forest all night, again we slept on the road. We arrived at a home, the line was very long, and we slept another night in the line. In the home we were cared for and registered. We got four days stay in Serbia, we went to a hotel in Montenegro, here we washed ourselves and our clothes. Later we slept three more days in a garden in Serbia. It was a large garden next to a garage.
The refugees were not allowed to use trains, we stayed 5 days in Serbia. Finally we found a smuggler that was supposed to take us to Germany, we came by taxi from Serbia to Germany. The smuggler was fine.
In Germany we came to a city near Stuttgart. We didn’t know anything, didn’t know anyone, everything was strange to us. On the way we met a Kurd, he saw our dirty clothes, our condition, he spoke to us. We were seven people, the man took us to his home in his car. He let us take a shower at his place, he let us eat at his place, this man, he let us sleep at his place. The next morning everything was strange to us. Where would we go, what would happen to us? This man helped us, he brought us to a home. When he arrived at the home, he said goodbye. And then he drove. He did more than you can imagine, I will never forget him.
I did not stay long in this home, I went on to another home, then to a camp and later on to a large house near Freiburg. The house was really very nice and clean. On each floor there were about 24 people, we were three people in a room, everyone came from somewhere else. From Syria, from Iraq, I am a Kurd from Syria. The people with whom I fled were distributed to other places, we were no longer together, but what we experienced together will shape us for a lifetime. As they say: A friend in difficult times is different from a friend in easy times.
I got a three-year stay and was looking for an apartment. Because my friend lives in Cologne, I decided to look for an apartment there, I had never heard of Cologne before. I found an apartment, but I didn’t expect the place I live to be so terrible. I live in Cologne Meschenich. It’s really horrible. In comparison, the house in Freiburg was like a palace. In Germany I studied at the VHS, unfortunately I did not manage my language course B1. I didn’t go to school in my home country, I can’t read or write, it’s not easy for me. I’m looking for a job. My wish for the future is to find a good job and a good wife.
I know the Germans have been through a lot. Whoever has lived in war no longer lives in its entirety. I’ve seen things in war I don’t want to describe. A bomb exploded in my uncle’s house, killing 13 people. I saw a boy who was still talking to his father in the afternoon, a healthy 17-year-old boy who came back without legs, no arms and no eyes after my cousin’s funeral. The war, it changed everything.
Thank God nothing happened to my family.
I have been here for three years, the Germans have offered us everything, learning, life, it is incredible; it is impossible to return. I’ve seen a lot of good here. Even if the war was over, I couldn’t imagine coming back. I’ve seen more good than bad here. More peace than war.
Love, I’ve seen love.
There are many people here who help, for example a woman who works in the city, she helped me a lot and called me her son, she said to me: “You are like my son”. A stranger said that to me. I’m 38 years old and she calls me her son. My German is okay today, I can understand a lot. 60% approximately. My family’s been in Greece for 10 days, we talk every day.
Storyteller’s name: Mohamoud Jabo
Interviewer’s name: Sarah El Desoke
Country of origin: Syria