in person

Jehad Alwani: Although all my family stays in Syria, here I feel at home

06.12.2013 | Sofia Kochmar

Jehad Alwani is a Syrian-born doctor-dentist, who has worked in Ukraine for the last 20 years after receiving his degree from Lviv Medical University. "The War in Syria makes two different sort of people very poor or very rich. I am very peaceful person, so I prefer to stay here, Jehad explains as the reason he stayed in Ukraine for his career. KW met with Jehad in Lviv at a quaint cafe as students just outside the window demonstrated in favor of Ukraine joining the European Union

KW: What brought you to Ukraine?

J.A. The education. In Syria, if you study well at school, then later you have the choice to either remain in the country or go abroad. I dont know why I said I wanted to go abroad. I didnt understand exactly what it meant I just said it! At that moment I didnt know what Ukraine was. I couldnt even find it on a map. For the first month I felt like a parrot everything was understood, but couldnt say anything. I started to see country from clean slate.

KW: How did you learn to trust people whom you didnt understand?

J.A. It is very hard. You do not fully understand human smiles: it is for help or abuse? At the beginning, people just want to get the measure of you. You can fall into different hands good or bad. In my life it was different. There are countries, where foreigners are perceived good, neutral or bad in the world. Ukrainians as a people are very open and hospitable, but not as the system.

KW: Why?

J.A. It is necessary to change radically the law enforcement system. I am sure there are good people, but we should change everything. I had an encounter with a DAIofficer (road traffic inspector). Once I was arrested at 3 oclock at night in my car, which was not even moving. I just sat there, waiting for my friend. They suspected that I was drunk, so they took my documents, which they ended up losing. Taken in handcuff, I was detained at the police station for few days. Of course, there was no alcohol in my blood, but in the report they explained that I had coarse behavior and threatened them. Later they told my lawyer that I was not in the station or even on the list of detainees.

It is very difficult to make any documents here. It will cost a part of your health. I have been in Ukraine for the last 20 years, but I am still considered as a foreigner. I tried twice to collect documents for citizenship. Last time they confused one letter in the translation from Russian to Ukrainian. However it was not my fault, so I had to redo everything, which I worked on for six months. Some documents had to come from Syria, but now nobody is around to care, what with the civil war now. I dont think that this is the problem just of the system, which is very difficult, but also it is elementary ignorance.

KW: Do you feel save here?

J.A. Every person in foreign country will feel some danger around. This can not be avoided. I had similar feeling, but it passed in some way. During my first year I was really homesick, but at year six of university I would return home as a guest. All my relatives are there, but my home is now here. I observed that I can walk in Lviv and one hundred people will say "Hello" me, even though I dont recognize all of them.

K.W: How widely have you traveled in Ukraine? Do you see differences between western and eastern Ukraine?

J.A.: During this time I have seen all Ukraine. The biggest different I see is in development. It is strange, but even though eastern Ukraine has economic power, the development is in the western part. It is not because of architecture, but first of all it is education and culture. I see this perfectly in Lviv.

KW: Have any interesting anecdotes concerning your stay here?

J.A. I am not sure how funny this is, but one time I overpaid my taxes. If somebody will give more than he should, do you have some claim it? Frankly, I dont, but the tax service did because I paid an incorrect tax, even though it was not less. They gave me penalty, and then the court ruled that they were right. I didnt have another way out than to pay. If it is normal, it is mean that I am not normal. I tried to build my own business here. I already have such experience that I dont want to do it again. Here, you have to share with everybody. If you want to work honestly, you will share money from your pocket.

KW: What is your main language of communication and why?

J.A. Mainly, I speak Russian. At begging I learn Russian in Zaporozhye (East Ukraine K.W), there I couldnt imagine, that there is big different between Russian and Ukrainian. I thought that it is just one letter, but unless in Lviv I felt this different. For me strange, when people here in Lviv dont understand my Russian, I dont think that it is because of no knowledge. In Arabic we also have many dialects, but much people know just one of them, because it is easier live in their own box. The most difficult it is first few months, because at that moment, it can start depression, but later when you are walking at city and not lost, because you can read everything, some second breath starts.

KW: Do you feel religion different?

J.A. In Syria we have never asked this question, so for us it is not so important. I cant analyze religion because it doesnt come from me, but from God. Here it is main question: "Who you are? Who is your God?" I still dont understand why it is better to be a bad Christian than a good Muslim.

K.W: What do you like the most here?

J.A.: Since I have lived here 20 years, everything has become my home. I perceive everything as it is. Not as tourist emotional and only good things, but as person who lives in his own home and sees the pros and cons. I would like to say, because Ukraine became my home, thats why I love her. Sometimes I meet here very nice people. For example, sometime ago I forgot my documents and keys in a taxi, and then just an hour later the driver found me himself to return it all. I forgot his face, but he stood in front of me and said: "This is yours"

KW: How do people relate to doctors here?

J.A. Even I dont believe in the system, because I know how it works from the inside. One time, I went to a doctor because of a pain in my ear. He said to stay at hospital for a few days. For just an ear? He didnt know that I was a doctor too, not just a regular person. "You dont know, he said. You have problem with ear, nose, throat together." As for me, it is necessary to raise the salaries of the people, not only for medical service, but all people involved, but mainly for doctors, because it can help to build responsibility. The salary should be not less than 1000 dollars a month, because at that level a Ukrainian will be able to think not only about money for food and clothes. Before demanding from people, it is necessary to first give to them. There is no other way.

K.W: Where do you go for fun and culture?

J.A: I love our Carpathians. Do you notice how I say "our" or "we" regarding Ukraine? Yes, the Carpathians are so nice in winter for skiing.

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