My name is Osama but people call me Abu Yazan. I was born in 1973. I used to work in drapes and home décor. Before the war, I was getting along like so many other Syrians. After it broke out, I tried to find a way to earn a living in my own country, but I couldn’t. And so, a year and a half into the war I was forced to move to Sweden. When I arrived I was surprised to find that all the immigrants who come here spend the first two years studying and getting their affairs in order. Looking at them, I thought something must be done, because what we lost by leaving won’t be compensated. Which means we begin in this new place not from point zero but from even less than zero. During those first two years I managed to learn the language to a pretty good degree, and I tried to find something to do, because there’s no future for my profession here. They barely get any sun in this country which means they don’t really need drapes. So, since I love preparing food, I decided to become a cook. In trying to find something to do I learned that there were these courses to learn how to cook, and so I enrolled in one of them. I told myself I’d find work in a kitchen since it’s the one warm place in this famously cold country.
I struggled for two years while studying and I finished the first level. I still needed to finish levels two and three, and then I graduated. We took practical training courses that in some European countries are paid for and provided by the government. The important thing is that I managed to prove myself during this training. I talked about our cuisine and our drinks and taught them a little about our food. I wanted to communicate something they’d never heard before, especially that they’d unfortunately heard many not-so-great things.
They really like fast food here, whereas we focus on food prepared slowly. I made them some roast chicken infused with Syrian flavors; I tried to contribute something and it went well.
Many things happened during the training, each phase of which was six months long and which consisted of three phases. Like once I made them some mloukhiyeh stew, and it was the first time they’d ever encountered it. They kept asking, what’s mloukhiyeh? I’d made it with both chicken and stock in our usual way, with some rice on the side. The next day I was surprised to find that most of the people who’d eaten it had a stomachache. Why? Maybe because they ate without thinking, because as you know, mloukhiyeh can slightly affect the stomach. In any case they liked it, and though they wouldn’t be adopting it as a regular dish, it was possible to have it served in Swedish restaurants.
And because they saw that I’d been studying cooking for two years, and I’d tried to find work here and there, I ended up with several contracts at different municipalities. I cooked children’s school lunches, Swedish food of course, on temporary contracts with different municipalities. They told me that they could offer me a full-time job after a while, but that it would take some time. It was fine, I had some contracts for five months, some for six months, sometimes for three months, I went on like this until I got my permanent job seven years ago.
Not everything is positive, but not everything is negative either. There’s no subject or thing within a human being’s capabilities that’s always positive. There are always drawbacks, but we try to overcome them in one way or another. Sadly, there are some people that can only ever see the negatives and they ignore the positives. Thank god we Syrians in particular tried to do something with ourselves in this country, and we experienced many good things and many not so good things but we still persevered….
We try to show them that we Syrians have a cultural background, we’re producers, industrialists, merchants, and we are naturally social. During Eid I made these Syrian sweets known as maamoul and I distributed some to everyone in my building, to all my neighbours on the other side. Why? Just for the sake of closeness and familiarity. Some of my neighbours thanked me, some of them offered things in return. The idea was to communicate the idea that we Eastern people are like this, and God willing I was able to get that message across to them.
I wanted to speak today so that other people can hear me, so they can try and offer up good things when they travel to a different country, try and contribute something, and not just end up drowning in memories: “We were once like this… we once did this… we used to have this…”. You came here, so work, learn, the most important thing is language, and remember that God almighty doesn’t humiliate anyone, not with work or anything else.
I am Osama from Sweden and this was my story about the concepts of belonging and coexistence.
This summarised transcript of Haneen's story was prepared by Omar Alshikh, edited by Monzer Hayek and translated by Leena Mounzer