Have a nice weekend! Moikka! Bye!
Happy greetings are exchanged, as students are spreading each to their directions to enjoy the weekend. Some students from the pre-comprehensive studies class continue to learn computer skills in the classroom opposite. Ahmed Karimali, 18 stays behind to have a short talk with his teacher.
Ahmed has been in Finland for a year and three months. He arrived in Finland alone, under aged asylum seeker entering through the Northern route. His parents didn’t continue the journey with him, but stayed behind in Turkey. Ahmed has not been able to contact them since.
“I don’t know where they are.”
Ahmed is living independently in Mellunmäki in East part of Helsinki. He travels every morning to take the class at the Helsinki Deaconess Institute. His teacher Taina Cederström praises Ahmed for always being one of the first students to arrive. There is a reason for Ahmed wanting to be early, he feels lonely in Mellunmäki, as his friends from school and from refugee center live elsewhere.
“Every single day after school I go to the gym for a few hours. I want to be as tired as possible before going home. I have nothing there. I just eat and go to bed. In the morning I do the same all over again.”
No school today
Ahmed was born and raised in Khanaqin, Iraq. Khanaqin is located in the Eastern part of the country close to the Iranian border. Ahmed is a Kurd, and his mother tongue is Kurdish language called Sorani. There are about six million Sorani speakers in Iraq. It is written using the Persian alphabet. For Ahmed, he struggles to read and write his mother tongue, as he has in Iraq never spent a day in school.
“In Khanaqin, some children did attend school, but many like me, just went to work. Our family was not rich. I started working on construction sites when I was ten years old. My day’s salary was 3, 5 euros.”
In Iraq children often work on construction sites doing many menial work, including electricity jobs. There were no books in Ahmed’s home, and he did not receive encouragement to learn how to read or write. As an only child Ahmed was given a lot of freedom. He describes playing with other boys after work, but ending up in fights.
“So I stayed at home instead.”
Ahmed says he was frustrated, as those children who had the opportunity to go to school did learn to read and write. But without school, learning was difficult.
First time Ahmed sat behind a desk in a classroom was in Finland. Studying began from Roman letters and numbers. In the beginning, studying was hard. Even the first words were a challenge. Now Ahmed is one of the best pupils in the class. He has learned to read and write Finnish in a year and speaks well. He has learned mathematics and is a talented drawer, using color creatively, his teacher tells.
As Ahmed describes the last months in Iraq, he speaks quietly, occasionally glancing the window. Last moments were difficult, as there was no money and it became increasingly clear that they would have to flee. Isis was only 20 minutes away from the city, and Peshmerga army could not guarantee the safety of the citizens. After fleeing, departing from his Mother and Father in Turkey was heartbreaking. Ahmed crossed the Mediterranean in a small boat.
“I don’t know with European countries I have crossed. There were times I was in a forest. I slept for a month in a forest, somewhere in Europe.”
The silent country
Despite going to the gym, Ahmed likes to play football occasionally. In Finland he appreciates the safety, and doesn’t mind the silence. But he misses the sense of community from Iraq a lot.
“In Finland, boys and men don’t say anything. Even the neighbor does not greet you.”
Ahmed describes, how in Iraq friends and neighbors visit each other often. When someone gets sick, people go and see if they can help. Also, if you don’t hear from someone for a few days, friends visit to see if everything is all right.
“In Finland, you can die at home alone and no one would notice.”
The best friends for Ahmed are also Kurds. They speak about learning Finnish, plan life and dream. Ahmed uses a lot of time to do his homework and reads Finnish books with the help of a dictionary in the evenings.
“My only goal now is to learn Finnish. Anything I want to study, I need the language. In the future I would love to be a police or a nurse. In Finland it is possible.”
For this story, Ahmed wanted to be photographed in front of the blackboard in the classroom. On the board he wanted to write a word in Kurdish Sorani. Under the word, he wrote the same word in Finnish. It means “beautiful”.
Editor: Anna Gustafsson