It was the first time someone hugged him after more than a year.

This is a simple story that moved me. A story told by Chrys* who teaches German in Austria and who is a friend of mine. A story of war and escape, a story of passion for learning. A story of a figurative and literal human touch.

The story characters are neither children nor parents, but emotions they shared are of a kind often reserved for the loved ones. And the child-like empathy embedded in this story is what makes me share it with you. And maybe it is something you want to share further – with your family or friends and discuss topics that it touches.

Don’t let me hold you back any longer and simply listen to Chrys:

This is my new friend, Hussein.
He joined recently my German language classes. On day 1 he approached me with vigor and raised eyebrows to say in broken German, but in decisive manner:
– Teacher, I want to finish my studies!
– When did you start them? – I asked
– A year ago.
– Where?
– In Aleppo, in north Syria… and his eyebrows lowered…
– What do you study?
– Anesthesiology, a medical specialization.
– Great! Did you like it?
– I loved it! I was learning so much about our body! But then the soldiers came, asked all male students to come to the main hall. They said we join them or die…
– Wow, join the class please!
Ι was fascinated, I was sensing his strong motivation! I showed to an empty chair and added “then let’s learn together!”

After the class I took him aside, asked him how did he manage to escape. His lips pushed each other and he lowered the head, avoiding my look.
– You don’t want to know. You don’t speak their language, that’s better so for you.
– … And then? How did you get here?
– I had to flee to Turkey, I reached Izmir. 
– Could you live there? I was now almost indiscrete, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me.
– It was a nightmare teacher… had to work 7 days a week… 10-12 hours a day, collecting oranges, polishing shoes etc., sleeping in a garage… 
His shoulders were now hunched. I was speechless for few seconds. Then I kept asking.
– And did you go to Greece?
– Possible only with those bad guys… (he meant the smugglers)
– How much did they ask for the trip?
– 1200 dollars per head… had to work 7 months to make it… then reached Chios… With a dinghy boat. We lost 2 on the way. The people in Greece offered me oranges there. 
– To collect again?
– No, to eat! The rest wasn’t so hard… I like Vienna!

I hugged him without thinking about it… He stayed still for a few moments. It was the first time someone hugged him after more than a year. He had almost forgotten to receive and return love. He had received so much contempt, so much hatred that the moments of growing up in a loving home where mom and dad cared for him had been pushed away, distant in his deep, dark subconsciousness…

But then he remembered!
He smiled!
And he hugged me back, so tight!

Then he pulled back and looked me in the eyes! He held my shoulders! The decisive tone had returned stronger!
– And now teacher, let me learn German, I want to finish my studies!

Today I’m Hussein!


* This post is published with Chrys’ consent. Thank you Chrys and Hussein!
I have made some minor edits (comas and the like) for clarity.