About Refugees, By Refugees


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Photo and interview by:




Esra Gültekin

When you don’t have it, you want to give it to your children,” says Randa (60), a refugee from Jordan. “My motivation for this – for my children to be better that I am.” Life in East Berlin, when she arrived in 1985, to reunite with her husband, was difficult. “At first I was depressed because I didn’t know the language… I didn’t go out of the house because it was gloomy.” She became lonely. “You feel like you’re in prison.” And then, she says “it was a baby that opened the doors.” A neighbour also had a young child. The mothers communicated using hand gestures and a dictionary. Learning German was hard for Randa, but she would eventually speak the language. It was not the only difficulty she faced. “Discrimination is everywhere,” she says. And it “hurt” when her diploma was not recognised. But she was able to push through the challenges “because I’m a strong woman.” And she stayed in Germany “for a better life – for my children. And I think they did – they do have a better life.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

It starts first question and we will talk about the current situation. I will ask some questions. And what kind of housing do you live in?
I live in a flat. 

Hmm. And can you describe the condition?
It’s a good flat. Just enough for four people. Yes. 

And who do you live with?
I live with my husband and three children and two children. 

Two children, OK. And how do you spend your time here?
I spend my time. Thank God I have a job. So I work 30 hours a week and the rest of the hours I is between shopping or the children and the cooking and the family. So that’s how it is. 

And what are some of the things that brings you joy?
Brings me Joy, when you go out with your with my daughter, we go shopping. That brings me joy. Oh, we just go walking outside and going to eat a sandwich together, spending time with my daughter because she’s more like a friend than a daughter to me. 

Oh very nice. And how has life been since you arrived in Europe and what’s been good about being here, what’s been difficult?
Here? There’s a lot of things. The Germans, they have a different thinking then than we are. They have this thing that if I do it, everybody does it. But no, there’s more ways and more rules that can lead to Rome. So when you tell them, no, I do it differently, but we still we have the same solution or the same thing. They can’t understand that. At first it was hard, they don’t come visit you. You don’t know the language. That was a very, very hard. You feel like you’re in prison. You have to learn the language and then you have to learn how their life forms, what they expect from you, that you have to be on the point under appointment time you can’t be late. You can’t say, I don’t want to do this. You have to be up to date. The first thing I realized they’re running the Germans. Why are they running? Because in this hour that they have lunch hour, they have a lot of things to do. They have to go bank. They have to go to this and this and this. And that’s why they’re always running. And there’s a they have a lot of stuff that are good, but also they have a lot of stuff that are not good. And that doesn’t come with us at all because we are Oriental. We don’t tell our children when they’re 18, got out of the house. That we do not do. We do not encourage our daughters to have sex with out of marriage. No, we don’t do that. There’s things that they have that is good we take and what is not good, we don’t take them. We try to put that in our children. And mama, we don’t do that. That’s our culture is different. And I think I succeeded somehow. 

Mm hmm. And can you describe how a living here has made you feel?
At first I was depressed because I didn’t know the language. Really. I was really very depressed. I didn’t go out of the house because it was gloomy. It was the roads or the streets were alike, you don’t even know which house is yours. So I had my husband had to write the address and I was. And because if you lost your way just to show them, because when you speak English to them, they do not speak, they would not answer, you know, Deutsch, Deutsch, how are you going to just show him the address, he will tell you in which way to go. So I was depressed at first. Yes. And then I think afterwards there were not so many Arabs at my time and I was alone. And then when I had my baby, I was I was with my baby. I had lots of things to do with him. And then my neighbor, she was also a German, but she doesn’t know English and she doesn’t know Arabic. We spent a lot of times together because she has a baby. I had a baby. We we spent it but talking with our hands so that she understood what I wanted. And in the word book and the dictionary, you know, is this what I want. That’s how we communicated. And then I learned German. 

I know I still It needs time to learn German. Um, how does being away from the rest of your family home make you feel? How does the feeling of not belonging, discrimination, stigma, impacted you? Can you describe this?
Discrimination is everywhere, everywhere you go, even if you do know German. When they see that you are Austlander or a foreigner, the first thing they ask you and they asked my daughter too, she’s born here, she she has a German mentality and she she knows German perfect German, but every time they see her, because she is Auslander, they have to tell her, do you speak German? She goes, Mama, what am I supposed to answer them? I remember very easily, answer them: no, I do not speak German, Eh, wallah! Even though I’ve been I was born and raised here, say it in Germany so that they know. Not everybody that is dark, that is Auslander, that is foreigner, there, we are a lot, that we have a lot of people that are born here and they they know only German, you know, to me that it was hard because they would look at me differently and they can’t accept and who can’t accept the older people. I feel when you’re in the bus and the bus stops and you push, you are pushed off. It’s not my fault that the bus braked. It’s not my fault. I didn’t want to touch you. It’s they’re not tolerant. They’re not tolerant at all.

And yeah, and how does being away from the rest of your family?
It was hard at first. Oh, it was hard because the 1990, in 1985, there was no Internet, there was no WhatsApp, there was no email. There was nothing. It was very, very hard. You just spoke with your family once a year or twice a year because everything is, you have to pay and it costs. And it was really, you are lonely and you are waiting, waiting for the vacation that you can go and see them. It was something so big. Nowadays we have WhatsApp, we have email. I speak with them every single day. They’re like here, but not here. I hear them. I know how they’re living. They know what I’m going through and they’re near, but they’re far. And that’s that’s a lot better than before. Oh, God, yes. It’s a lot better. 

And could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation? And how have you been able to overcome, survive, live with it you coming here and living here and?
I didn’t I didn’t think I’ll be coming here and living here. I told you we thought we’d just live around two or three years and they would leave. But somehow God wanted us to stay here. And I I’m okay with that right now. Right now, believe me, I’ve been here thirty five years. Right now, when I go home, to Jordan, I can’t live with them. I love Jordan as as as you go there as a visit, as a vacation. But I don’t, I don’t I can’t see myself living there because they have a different lifestyle, a different life form than here. I’m used to something different and that’s why it’s hard to go back, because after a while you do integrate, you’re integrating into the German way of life. You’re doing all the good things and you are living and you find so many faults. At home, that’s sometimes my sister says, don’t talk about it anymore.  

Yeah, and do you think that you developed the ability to deal with these challenge or do you think you always had those skills?
I think I always had those skills because I was always in the middle everywhere. I was not in the American community. I was not in the Arabic community. When I came here, I’m not in the Deutsch, German community. I’m not also in the Arabic community: I am just something different. But that’s made me stronger, so that I can whatever comes in front of me, I can say No, I can stop it. I can deal with it because I dealt with different things. This is just the same thing in a different form. I’m not in with the Germans, but I lived here before so I can I’m used to it.

And how did COVID-19 affect you in terms of daily life?
COVID-19 affected everybody. First thing is that when you have to sit down, can’t move, you can’t go out. That was one thing. The second thing, I have a daughter. She has an immune system that’s really low and I was always scared. So what’s going out, what’s going, disinfecting everything because I was scared for my daughter, more than for me, for me. And this this telling you, somebody’s telling you do not go out of your house until you have to, huh? It’s like a person. It’s you can work at home. But it’s not what we were used to. And then when they said, OK, everybody, COVID is gone, you can go back to work and we could go back to work. I was happy. I was so happy the first time I saw my coworkers. I am happy to see a lady. And I’m talking with a lady, not a daughter, not a husband, not a son. Talking with somebody, a woman. That was. That was not there. OK, you talk with your sisters, but not like face to face. It was very hard this lockdown. We’re not used to it and we’re doing it again. This is the second time, but it’s easier this time than the first time. The first time was everything new. The COVID was new we don’t know what it is. Now we know what it is. So it’s the angst or there is OK, right now. We just hygiene, put your masks on. You good. Before we didn’t know what. Where is going to come from. And that’s why the second lockdown, because we went through it, it’s not new for us. We can do it. We did it the first time. We can do second time. That’s how it is. 

So, um, why did you leave your country?
My husband was here. We came as a family reunion. 

Mhm. And how did that make you feel that time when you came here?
I was, I was scared because I expected Germany to be Germany. Wow. Europe. Wow. And then when I came into the DDR the first thing I opened the fridge. There’s no tomatoes. I came in January or in December. There’s no tomatoes, there’s no like cucumbers because we don’t see these things here. So what? Did DDR think was so different than anything that I’ve ever seen. I was shocked. I was really shocked, yeah.

And how was the journey to Europe? Is there anything and an experience that was particularly difficult that you could explain? Journey? I mean your journey here?
Oh, took me a while to I don’t know. When the journey when I came here, it was normal in an airplane, he was there in the airport. So it was easy. But afterwards of living here was so different.

Um. And do you think, I mean, the about these events often? you know, OK, it’s not maybe like a trauma, you know, some people…
Oh, no. 

It’s an experience, not a trauma. It’s an experience that what I went through. I’ve seen things normally I never expected to see, like soldiers like that, that the street is close, that you cannot go to the West Berlin and Germans, how they think they look at you and and and these things. Yeah, I didn’t expect to live it. I thought it was they are going to say hello, come here, thank you for coming. And you just leave you live your life without judging you, but they’re judging you. And that was bad. 

And when you come here, could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle that situation?
Yes, I thought I would be able to do it because I’m a strong woman. But the things that they ask. I had German neighbors and they invited us for dinner and the…she asked me, in you and your country, do you live in tents? Yes, that was one that was the DDR time. So I would understand her. She never went outside the DDR, she said no. But the second time that happened, it was after the the wall by 10 years when they came, they wanted to renovate our house and people were going to see how they had to go inside our house. And then I made them coffee. Come sit down. After they finished, they looked, oh, you have sofas. OK, sometimes you don’t get mad at them, you just laugh at them. Oh, oh, you know. 

And how were you able to get through this?
Well, first two years was hard. I was alone all the time, reading, reading. I read a lot and then I had a baby and the baby took my mind off things because I had this baby. I had something to do and and he was dark. He had long hair. And I realized when you have a baby and you walk in the street, everybody looks at it. They all want to see this brown eyes. Oh, he has brown eyes, yes he has brown eyes. That was something that opened up that I was surprised that it opened up because I would be with the baby wagon and they would look at him, look at his hair, look at his brown black hair. He has black hair. And the Germans didn’t see that they were all blond. And that was so he he stood out, my baby. And that’s why I think they began to talk with me and so the neighbors. And that was a beginning. 

And can we say you find strength and support from your baby or?
My baby? 

You find your strength?
My strength? You have to… My strength comes from the way I was raised. And because I was not in I was not out, I was not Ger.., Germ American. I was not Arabic. I was in between something. You don’t know what you are. And my children are exactly the same. That’s why they’re all strong because they’re not 100 percent Arabic and they’re not 100 percent German. They’re in the middle. They took from here and took from here. And that’s how it , how it is. And that’s how I was. And then I got used to it. I don’t care. I didn’t care they didn’t talk with me or nobody came to my house. I had a baby to do what I had a baby I would like to play with. And when we would go outside, they all talk to me. Yes. And then the German came later. The German came later. I still didn’t know German. Just a few words. And then it was a baby that opened the doors and the doors. Yeah, but otherwise, no. I thought I would be strong because I know how they were thinking: they’re different. 

And before coming here, what was your dream?
Oh, before coming here? You know, but you have a career to work. I’m a teacher. I was working before I came here. Yeah, I was working as a teacher I had a career as a teacher. 

And, um, before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths?
What I thought, what I thought, it’s a diploma: when you have a diploma, you have strength. But when I came here, that my diploma is not good enough. That’s why I’m not allowed to work in schools. 

It’s not good enough for…
Germany. Yes, that was my biggest pain because I have a diploma. But here they said no. So that was, that hurt. So I went to an alternative way, I worked in a Kita kindergarten and then an asylum and then afterwards, a stätte was a social worker in a stätte that that’s then I came back here again. This is what I can do. This is all this is all that I can do. But my children have a more better chance than me.

Yeah. Um, do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience or has anything at all positive come out?
Yeah, I goo go big goo big for this because you, look, when you don’t have it, you want to give it to your children. So that’s why Diplomas, sure the school, good notes and that’s what’s going to make you more. That’s what can make you bigger. That’s going to make you a good job, not like my job, not like, like what I have, not like my salary. You can have a better salary. You can have a better life because my diploma is not unerkannt is not good and certified here. Your diploma is. And you can do a lot better than me. And that was my motivation for this, for my children to be better than I am, me!

And what are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
My hopes and dreams. Right now, I see a lot of refugees and are living in Berlin and some of them are integrated, some of them are not, and I hope.. They came here for one reason for a better life, just like me when the wall went down. Where are we going to go? And that’s why you stayed here for a better life. For my children. And I think they did they do have a better life and they can do something from themselves. 

And is there anything you would like to add that might help people in Europe to better understand the life of refugees here?
I would like to say to the Germans, we are all humans in different colors and shapes, but we are just one race. We’re not more than one race.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.