Friday’s programme is untangling horsehair. The lot in question is a very old stock and accordingly the plaits are very stiffly twisted. We descend into the basement where Daniel has installed an electric drill into which a skein can be clamped. You get hold of the other end of the plait, the machine starts working and you twist the plait in the opposite direction so that it becomes undone. This again is a job which demands strength and talent. The men take turns, everything runs smoothly. The undone plaits are then passed through the “Zupfmaschine”. We feel at ease with each other, we sit in the kitchen next to the samovar and enjoy the Hanuta.
On Saturday sewing is practised again; we work on a big specimen of cloth that will not be used for mattresses. Two men can work at the same time because Tareq is a left-hander and so the two men don’t get into each other’s way. There are no communication problems although Tareq and Hossain speak very little German. But apart from German there is a continual flow of translations underlying the activities filling the whole room. And gestures help as well: if you want to explain the difference between ‘pointed’ and ‘sharp’, you show a needle which pricks and some scissors which cut. Parallel to the sewing activities more horsehair is put into the machine, taken out and packed into sacks. This is becoming routine as well.
In the lunch break Daniel cooks a Swiss dish which is very popular with shepherds in the mountains- it consists of noodles, potatoes, a lot of cream and butter. It is definitely not an oriental dish but they all say that they like it—and not just because they want to be polite: they have emptied two large bowls. Afterwards we clean the kitchen: looks like a flat-sharing community of men. Then we turn to Mohamad for an interview.
Mohamad is 38 and comes from Damascus. He, his wife and three children live in Reinickendorf. His son Hamsa is of stunted growth; he is 7 but his arms and legs are those of a two-year-old. Mohamad shows me a photo so that I can see how small Hamsa is. He attends the first class. Mohamad says that life was not easy for them in Syria. In the street children jeered at Hamsa. Life is much better for him here in Germany, when people look at him they smile in a friendly way.
Mohamad left school at the age of 15 and started working in a tailor’s workshop. There is nothing in Syria that corresponds to a German apprenticeship; you learn a craft while working. He was a tailor for more than 20 years. In 2000 he joined a big American company in Jordania, first as a tailor but later, because of his good command of the English language, he became product manager. The company made children’s wear for America. Later, during the summer, he ran a shop near Damascus where he sold ladies’ wear. Apart from that he owned a company with seven employees; they assembled pre-cut pieces for French and Italian labels. Mohamad is a syrian Poet who gave poetry evenings in Damascus. His poems are about life and love.
Then the war started in Damascus; it was a slow process which made it less and less possible to work, where one couldn’t walk about as before, when bombs fell and friends died in the street. He and his wife decided to flee for the sake of their children. His wife is a nursery nurse. They thought that life would be difficult for their handicapped child in other Arabian cities as well and so they started on a long journey. Germany or Sweden seemed good alternatives; in the end the German welcoming culture decided the issue.
“I’m here for my children”, he says. He misses his life as a merchant in Syria. But he can see a new perspective for himself in this country.