How long have you been in the Netherlands?
Wahbi: “Since 2015: I was sent to an asylum seekers’ centre, but I was lucky and could move into this house after six months. Nada joined me a few months later.”
Sisan: “We met seven years ago, at university in Damascus where we were doing maths.”
Wahbi: “We were maths teachers at a secondary school, and I was a beekeeper too. I had 30 hives, no less. To teach here, we had to go back to university; we have exemptions for a couple of subjects.
Isn’t weird to find yourselves among first-years again?
Wahbi: “I was 33 when I started and the other students were 18 or 19, but I feel like twenty, so it’s not a problem.”
Sisan: “At first, we were very frightened. I was nine months pregnant, but none of the other students said anything untoward. They were very nice. In the weeks after Saïd was born, Feras attended all the lectures and explained them to me.”
Wahbi: “A fellow student gave me all her notes because I still couldn’t listen and write at the same time.”
Sisan: “We’re now working on our bachelor theses. Next term, we’ll do an education minor.”
Wahbi: “After that, we can start on a part-time master’s degree. We both love teaching and we like to persuade pupils to love maths, so we immediately started learning Dutch. Within a year we had achieved level B2, which you need to be able to go to university. If we want to teach, we need to get level C1, that’s one level higher. We are already doing a project, Dreamocracy, in schools. We play games that teach the pupils about equal opportunities, freedom and democracy, and we tell stories too.”
How did you learn Dutch?
Wahbi: “First, we went to a Dutch language school, then we did a summer school and then a transition year. The summer school was three weeks in Rotterdam and because we didn’t have the money to travel, we cycled 25 kilometres there and back every day. After class, we translated new words on a laptop there because we still didn’t have our own laptop.”
Sisan: “We wrote the words on pieces of paper so we could test each other as we cycled.”
Wahbi: “At first, things were tough. I only spoke a bit of English, understood nothing, couldn’t express myself. But life is good here if you understand the language and the culture.”
Why are there letters on the wall?
Sisan: “I stuck those letters up for Feras’ birthday. On the other side, there are envelopes with notes, on which we’ve written how we celebrated each birthday. Last year was our first with Saïd. Four years ago, we couldn’t celebrate because I was in Syria and Feras was in the Netherlands. It wasn’t a good day.”
Wahbi: “We got all our furniture from Marktplaats. I bought this table as a dining table, but we use it to work at. We’re either looking after Saïd or studying; we don’t have time for anything else.”
What will you do when you have more time?
Sisan: “I’d like to learn to swim.”
Wahbi: “We’d like to visit the Wadden Islands too. And, it might sound strange, but just to be able to spend a week in our house without having to study, not shopping even. Just sleeping and eating.”
Sisan: “We’ve only managed to do that for two days at most in the past three years. But we’ll get there one day.”