By Nancy Huth The author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” I always thought this referred to going back to your childhood home and finding it strange and foreign; not how you remembered it. But for 49-year-old Syrian dentist, Ammar Hasan this quote can be taken literally. I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Hasan during my August/September stay in Germany.
As you may know, Germany has taken in over a million migrants fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries during the past two years. Mr. Hasan sat down with me in a church cafe in the town of Erkrath, near Duesseldorf. Each Thursday at 5 p.m. the refugees gather for coffee, cookies and conversation and are served by German volunteers. Here Ammar has bonded with other Syrians of similar fates. Ammar Hasan’s odyssey began one year ago after the dental clinic he ran with a partner in Aleppo, Syria was bombed, followed by the bombing and complete destruction of his home and every object in it. He, his wife and four children, ages 8 to 16, escaped over the border to Turkey.
While his family stayed with an uncle there, Ammar began his four-month journey to reach Germany, first paying $2,000 to what he called a Mafia-type organization to take a boat from Turkey to Greece. Many died on the journey which he described as extremely dangerous. From Greece he continued, sometimes by bus, by train or on foot through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and finally into Germany. This part cost him about $300. Arriving in Munich, he was then moved to the German city of Essen and then to the town of Erkrath where I met him.
Ammar is grateful to the German people whom he has found kind and helpful. He is bitter toward Arab countries like Saudi Arabia who turn a cold shoulder to those fleeing the war, even though they are next door neighbors and speak the same language. Ammar himself speaks Arabic, Russian, French, English and some German. Mr. Hasan’s family joined him one month ago after he had all his registration papers and permission to stay. He and his wife now attend a language course at an adult education school. Their four children are still traumatized from nights of heavy bombing and artillery that ripped them from their sleep. They still cry and sleep fitfully. But as a father he now feels they are safe. This word he repeated over and over, saying he didn’t care so much about himself, but his main concern was for the safety of his wife and children.
When I asked him what was most difficult in this whole year-long saga, he said, “Leaving home, knowing you are leaving behind your culture, your friends, your town, your memories – that there is nothing left to go home to.” He said the refugees have to understand that life will be very different in Western countries. They have to adapt to a new political system, a different climate, different food, another language and another culture. It’s a traumatic change, a process requiring much time and patience on the part of the refugees as well as the citizens of Germany, before assimilation can take place. While talking to Mr. Hasan, I thought of my Slovak grandparents who came to the USA as 23-year-old newlyweds in the late 1800s. They also wanted a new life, but how different were the circumstances.