I was born in Damascus, Syria. My father is Palestinian and my mother Syrian. The first six years of my life we moved from place to place. We lived in Palestine for a couple of years, another couple of years in Jordan and when I started school we moved to Syria, where we lived with my grandparents in a village six kilometres from Damascus.

At the end of the 1950s my father had for political reasons sought refuge in Syria where he met my mother through her brother. At the end of the 1960s, and unable to settle in Syria, he read in the papers that labour was needed in Europe, and he went to West Germany to try his luck. There he met other Palestinians who lived in Denmark and he went with them to Denmark.

In August 1974 my mother and my four siblings (three brothers and one sister) and I arrived in Denmark. My father had rented an apartment in Istedgade on Vesterbro in Copenhagen – a very ‘interesting’ part of town in the 1970’s. Two days after his arrival in Denmark my father had a job but after working for 8 hours in a factory, he was too tired to go to school and learn Danish.

Back then, as unskilled foreign labour, you didn’t have to speak Danish to get work. Looking at job adverts today perfect Danish is a requirement, even for cleaning work.

We lived in Istedgade 7 until 1981 and moved only because the building was being converted into a hotel. My father liked living in Istedgade. It was in his estimation the safest street in the whole of Denmark because it was a regular thoroughfare for police cars. He was right. We never felt any unease living there. The working girls were nice to us and often bought us ice cream when we were on our way home from school.

In the first year I longed for home, missing my grandparents and school friends. I had difficulty sleeping. I didn’t like being in Denmark. I loved my grandparents very much and wanted to go home to them. I was closer to them than I was to my parents. I cried a lot. Worst when it was Islamic Christmas. Nothing happened in Denmark. In the Middle East there would be decorations everywhere and a festive spirit.

After six months when we had started school my longing for home started to fade more and more. I and my two older brothers were enrolled in a reception class at the school in Oehlenslægersgade. The two youngest went to kindergarden. In the reception class we had to learn Danish to be integrated into the Danish education system. We also had tuition in our native language on two weekday afternoons and on Saturdays. For me, this has proved very useful in many Arabic school exams, and I have been able to use my language as an interpreter and translator and, not least, I have been able to study Arabic and Islamic culture.

After school we would go to Dannebrogsgade and play in Gravergården. It was occupied by flower-power communists squatters who had turned it into a playground. It was called Hudegrunden. We learnt a lot of Danish there since our  friends were mostly Danish. There were not so many Arabic children around then. In Hudegrunden I tasted liquorice and ryebread for the first time. I did not particularly like it then but now I love it. After a year and a half in reception class I was ready to go into a regular Danish class. I was integrated part time in seventh grade with a half timetable where I attended classes in woodwork, art, and PE. In eighth grade I had a full timetable and didn’t need any more language tuition. I finished eighth, ninth, and tenth grade and went to college (Rysensteen on Vesterbro) in the summer of 1980. Originally I studied engineering at the Danish Technical university but after two years I changed to reading economics at Copenhagen University. I graduated in 1993 with a Master’s in political science.

In my book you can read about my experiences when I first came to Denmark, how I managed to integrate, how I think others can do the same, and why I became active in politics and the Danish Social Liberal Party.

Translation: Gasword

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