On Lego and Kindness of Strangers

December 2016, Germany: The earliest memory Noor can remember is her playing with colorful pieces of Lego. She was very fortunate to grow up in a happy and supportive extended family on the country side near Damascus. “My cousins are like brothers and sisters to me,” she says with a genuine, crystal smile.

Noor says that her parents never inflicted any physical punishment on her or any of her three siblings. "Not even once," she underlines while expressing a strong dislike for the adults who beat their children. Not being exposed to any physical or psychological violence is one of the bonding elements among the gentle souls I have met across the world as I gather Syrian women’s stories. Adding “buy Lego” to the shopping list when you have a child alone won’t do it then.

 “We lived on a big family farm until it was time for us to go to school. My siblings and my cousins must have looked like a gang of dwarves. We grew up together on the farm, each family had its own unit. My grandmother used to tell us stories and fairy tales while we were in bed. We always asked for more before giving into sleep. My uncle took us every morning to the small local patisserie for some cookies before heading back to his office. My grandfather visited us every Friday, his pockets were full with candies. We lined up in order, from the youngest to the eldest, knowing that he would only give them away in this particular manner, always beginning with the youngest. We used to go to picnics in my father’s car, which almost always proved to be too small for the family trips. We were all on top of each other, singing songs along the way, we had so much fun.”

“The boldest thing I have ever done is to take the ferry from Turkey to Greece with my younger sister and my parents; not only because it was illegal but also because I don’t know how to swim. If something happened to the ferry, that was it! I’d be dead. The route from Greece to Germany was overcome on a bus with a broken heating system. Although the bus was full, we were freezing.”

The miasma of human breath surrounded her but failed to warm her up. When she stepped on the German soil, she felt cold, maybe not just in the skin.

“We were welcomed in English by two German officers. I can never forget their polite treatment toward us, the kindest souls on the planet. I wish I can see them again and express my gratitude in proper words. Sometimes here, when we chat with other Syrians, they badmouth Germans. They warn us that the civilized behavior is only on the surface and temporary but I don’t believe them. I take my own experience with Germans beginning with the initial border crossings, dealing with the paper work, all of which were handled with kindness, and nothing else."

Noor takes out her cell phone to show me some pictures. These cellphones are more than what they are to the Syrian community. They are the lifelines and the umbilical cords to the closest family members. They are used for presenting evidence of abuse and violence of the Assad regime keepers to the Human Rights Watch. During my interviews, I lost the count of number of phones being taking out of the women’s purses as the databank of myriad information and emotions. This time, Noor shows me the pictures of other Germans she met after the family settled in Darmstadt. There are always volunteers around, who want to meet and assist the new comes in order to ease their transition a tiny bit.

Noor had to quit university when the family decided to leave the country but she is not the type who holds on to regrets. She prefers to look ahead, plan, and execute her plans. She wants to study journalism, she announces, something which caught me by surprise. She is shy, which she herself told me a couple of times as we were conversing, she would like to be more self-confident. Maybe overcoming her shyness is one of the unmentioned reasons for her plans of becoming a journalist. Furthermore, she was fascinated by their relentless pursuit of truth and their desire to report it under the most challenging circumstances. She can’t fully grasp the urge to risk their lives but she wants to. “It is not even their country,” she says. She repeats the word “truth” several times. I feel that exposing the truth especially when the authorities do everything to cover it is very important for Noor.

I wish more politicians played with Lego. A smart and glowing young woman from Syria who is now in Germany and eagerly sharpening her skills of English and diligently learning German everyday played with Lego as a child. I doubt that Asad and Erdogan were ever given Lego as children. I wonder what toys they had and with whom they played.




Lifelines: Syrian Womanhoods in Transition | Ozlem Ezer | Berkeley CMES