My name is Marwa, I am 42 years old and come from Syria. I’ve lived in Germany for two years. My husband fled before me to Germany, I still lived in Aleppo when the war started. In Syria I managed a kindergarten, in the afternoon I taught English to adults and younger people. I studied English in my country. I never wanted to leave my homeland, we lived well in Syria, I always took care of myself.
When the war began, we first wanted to travel to Norway because a part of my family lived there. My husband flew ahead of us, in Istanbul he was stopped with the accusation that his passport was forged. He stayed there for two months, then flew again. During the stopover in Frankfurt, a policeman advised him to stay. Life would be safer there. My husband took the advice and stayed in Frankfurt. He called my brother, who had lived in Vienna for 40 years. He told him he was in Frankfurt. My brother told me to accept his decision and not question it.
When my husband called me, I followed my brother’s advice and did not ask why he chose Frankfurt. He filed his application for asylum, the letter with his residence status was lost. My husband put pressure on the authorities because we were living in the middle of the war. We lived in Aleppo in the middle of the war. There was no electricity, everything became more expensive. We could lead a reasonably normal life. Until one day the bombs destroyed our roof. Our house was between two parties fighting each other.
I worked and my children were in school and kindergarten. It makes me very sad to think back. I picked up my sons after work to go home. We were forbidden to go in front of the house. When the soldiers realized that I wouldn’t let them stop me from going into my house, he took one of my sons by the hand and we ran to the house. My house was destroyed, shards all over the earth. We had furnished everything new, I hadn’t lived in the house long. I fainted from shock. The soldier took me to the ground floor, to a family to whom we had made the apartment available during the war. The grenades destroyed all the doors. Before the war I wanted to build a floor for my children, now everything was destroyed. It pains me to think back.
My husband told me to come to Turkey immediately. I didn’t want to, I ran a kindergarten and was teaching. I didn’t want to abandon my students. It was hard for me to leave. My husband told me I was crazy. But that’s how I did it, I stayed another month, I closed my windows with nylon. I didn’t want to buy new glasses, we needed the money for the trip. I never had anything to do with politics, my only wish was to work and have a normal life. During the war you are always accused of standing on a certain side. I wasn’t on any side, I wanted to live, that was my wish.
I went to Turkey, my sister picked us up from the airport. A lot of memory has been lost, but one thing I will never forget. When I arrived in Turkey, I was holding in my hand a large bag full of Arabic books for my children. I bought them before I left. It was very important to me because I didn’t want them to lose touch with their home and language. I cried a lot, the escape never went out of my mind. My brother-in-law rented us a house. In Turkey, many Syrians lived as refugees. I had to wait for the documents.
In Turkey I registered as a refugee, I was forced to do so, although I entered the country in the normal way. Otherwise I would have had to pay a lot of money I didn’t have. Because Turkey recognized me as a refugee, it was harder for me to be recognized in Germany. I had to go to Lebanon to submit the missing documents. Meanwhile, my husband came to Turkey. After a few weeks the consulate contacted me and told me that my visa was ready. On my second trip to Lebanon I got in big trouble. I wanted to pay the documents for the visa, because in Lebanon you often pay with dollars, I had previously changed everything into dollars. They didn’t take dollars, so I had to change the money to Lebanese lira. None of this would have been a problem if my return flight wouldn’t leave at 6:00. I was under enormous time pressure. Back at the embassy, I paid for the documents and had to wait.
I was just waiting for the time they called my name. The hours passed and nobody called my name. Five o’clock, Marwa Saffaf. I got my visa and ran to a taxi. The taxi driver wanted $100 for the ride, he took full advantage of my position. I gave him my last money and he took me to the airport. We arrived at the airport at 17:40. I gave my passport to the airport staff and he left with it. When he came back, he told me a place was already taken. How could that be, I asked him, I had finally made a reservation. I should have been there two hours earlier. My seat was sold to someone else. I was stuck at the airport and couldn’t get to my family.
A very nice policeman told me to wait until a seat became available. I waited 12 hours at the airport. The next morning a place finally became available and I flew to my family. My husband had to return to Germany, he was staying in a hotel there. My husband told me we can’t go. In the hotel were only single men without families. We should wait until there’s a place at camp. I wanted to stay and wait but my mother advised me not to let my husband fly alone again, so I decided to fly with him. Even if it would make it harder.
We flew to Germany, we were not allowed to stay in the hotel but we could keep our bags there until we were in the camp. Then we were taken to a camp, a big hall full of people. There were blankets, pillows everywhere. It was like the army. We didn’t want to eat, I couldn’t sleep a bit. The next day we had an appointment at the immigration office, they sent us to a home. There we got three rooms with toilet and kitchen. It was much nicer than in the camp. The walls were open and next to us were several families, you could see me walking around in the rooms. I’m wearing a hijab, so I hung a ceiling on the walls. I wanted to move around freely, the caretaker didn’t understand me and always put the ceiling down. I hung them up again. It went on and on. We had a nice room, refrigerators, a table and chairs.
There were many wonderful people there who helped us. Especially the people from Caritas helped us a lot. They got me everything I needed. I will never forget a person, Antonia. She was always very committed to me and my family. I am still very grateful to her for that. Of course there were also less nice people, like everywhere else. But this one I don’t want to remember. I wanted to give something back, so I worked as a volunteer in a clothing store in Michaelshoven. I was motivated and wanted to do something, learn and help. I couldn’t help with money, but with my life and health. It filled me to help people. I’ll never forget my time in the home. I will always remember the people who helped me, with their time, affection and love for me and my children.
I’ve been in Germany for three months. In August 2016 I met a journalist and I told her my story. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve met a lot of people since I got here. I have changed, I am not able to tell my opinion because I lack the language to express myself. I don’t feel like the Marwa I was in Syria. I feel trapped, oppressed. I miss my home, I miss it very much. I’m not at home here yet. Maybe it will be different when I speak the language better and understand it at work. I used to teach at home.
I’m afraid of the future, I don’t feel young enough to build something new. The worst thing for me is that I can’t study with my children because I don’t understand what they are learning. My children are my responsibility, they are entrusted to me and I cannot support them. This is incredibly difficult for me. I feel like someone who has legs but can’t walk. My children forget their culture and language, I’m worried about them. My son got worse in school. He’s one of six foreigners in school. Once my son asked me what “refugee” means because all the children at school called him that. I told him it means a human being is fleeing the war into a safe area. The way he runs to me when he’s scared. That means flight.
But we are people who have fled. Now we are no longer on the run. There are very few children with flight experience in Germany. I don’t want to say refugee children, because I hate that word. I am an emigrant, our prophet also emigrated when he was oppressed. I always say I’m not a refugee, I’m an emigrant. The word is not bad, but the way it is used is bad. I am Marwa, a person with a story of my own, every person has a different story. I emigrated from my homeland and hope to help the people in Germany with everything I have.
I sent in my certificates for accreditation. To work, I have to learn the language. I have a little son, I have to wait until he has a place in the kindergarten. I would like to work, a profession that corresponds to my education, in which I can realize myself. I would also like to do something on a voluntary basis again. I wish my children a place in this country, that they learn the language well and arrive here. I want to see my children happy. My children, I wish that they get a place in this country, the language, that they may arrive. I wish I could give back everything that the people in Germany have given me, but not as a refugee, but as Marwa.
Storyteller’s name: Marwa Mohamad Saffaf
Interviewer’s name: Sarah El Desoke
Country of origin: Syria