‘The biggest dreams I cherish are for them.’

Iraqi Hassan (right) and Syrian Muhammed (left) share their greatest passion: children. They cheer up whenever they mention their family. Reassuringly, Muhammed has a residence permit in Germany. However, Hassan’s future in Europe is still uncertain. He is terrified to return to Iraq. In the queue of a Syrian restaurant, Hassan shows us photographs of the destruction that bombings have caused in his country.

Dreams for the children

Since Cornelius and I were introduced to the Syrian Kitchen we cannot get enough of it. Whenever we are in the mood to go out, we head out to a Middle Eastern restaurant. In Berlin, we opted for a Syrian establishment that served a delicious dish of roasted chicken. We barely managed to get a table and when they took our order, other hungry customers were queuing up outside.

Here we met Hassan and Muhammed, two friends who are as keen on chicken seasoning as we are. If I had to describe them in one word, it would be “amiable”. They smiled sincerely the whole time, to the point that I struggle to imagine their faces without smiles on them.

I attempted to speak German to the best of my ability, which, admittedly, was not an easy task. The German lessons I took in high school appeared to be buried deep in my memory. I was impressed by how fast they acquired the German language. Muhammed could understand me almost perfectly, but had some difficulties expressing himself. Here, Hassan enthusiastically contributed by serving as a translator. He has lived in Germany for over a year now and he spends most of his time mastering the language. “It’s not easy,” he emphasized, “I have never studied. In Iraq my work consisted of manual labor, primarily in the egg industry. For my children, however, it seems to be effortless. They go to school here and they speak German as if it is their native language!”

Hassan glowed with pride when he talked about his children: “My children are wonderful! They love living in Germany and have already made lots of friends. The biggest dreams I cherish are for them. They can accomplish much in their lives!” Muhammed showed us a picture of his one-year old on his cellphone with sadness in his eyes.

It was as clear as day: these two fathers loved their children unconditionally.

Iraq not dangerous enough

After he finished discussing his children, Hassan’s mood turned gloomy. “I don’t know if we will be allowed to stay here. Muhammed does not need to worry because he is from Syria. Iraq, on the other hand, is considered to be “insufficiently dangerous”. I do not understand it. There are so many bombs! If I were to return my whole family would be endangered.” He raised his finger, as an idea came to him. “Wait, I will show you … however, this is not for the faint-hearted.” He smiled apologetically to me, seeing me as more fragile because I am a woman, and took Cornelius’s arm. Hassan swiped through the photographs on his phone, selecting the most striking ones to reveal to us. “Here is the place I worked. Now nothing is left of it.” He was right – it was not for sensitive viewers. Cornelius’s face stiffened, while continuing to nod compassionately, while Hassan showed him scenes of explosions and bodies. Perhaps Hassan was right to save my eyes from such horrifying images.

After a brief moment of silence they tried to lift our spirits. “Muhammed never goes to school” Hassan uttered in a slightly accusing manner. Muhammed lifted his hands in the air. “It’s not my fault. They don’t give me documents.” Hassan frowned, “What do you mean, no documents? How is that possible?” His Syrian friend laughed lightheartedly. “I don’t know. So be it…” Muhammed clearly tried to take each day as it came.

This impression appeared to be correct. There was a moment when Muhammed received a phone call from his wife, who  was wondering why he wasn’t home yet. He chuckled when he heard Hassan’s translation of his conversation with his wife. “Oops!” Muhammed said indifferently. They put on their coats and said goodbye. “Well, women… You know the how it goes.” Hassan added with a wink.

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