May 26, 2016

Connection between cultures: Iyad

written by: Elleke van Reuler

An important goal of the realization of restaurant Syr is the connection between different cultures. You can eat anything from Korean, Ethiopian, Australian or Vietnamees cuisine in Utrecht, but a Syrian restaurant was still missing. Food and eating together is a way of communicating and getting to know each other within each culture. This is why a restaurant is an ideal way of connecting with the Syrians in our country.

One of the first employees of Syr is Iyad Nakawah (30). You might recognize him from our film on the crowdfunding website. We visited him at his flat in Kanaleneiland. He used to live with his family in the centre of Damascus, which was at the time a lively city. In the street where he lived were over forty restaurants from all corners of the world. He visited these places regularly, but also enjoyed picnics in the park with his family. Until he had to flee the country. He sold his IT-company to raise money for the journey. He aimed to go to the Netherlands. ‘I first thought about going to Norway, but a friend told me that Norway is cold and has little sunlight. He told me that the Netherlands was a better place to live, and that the Netherlands and Syria are not that much different.’ According to Iyad, Damascus and Utrecht are very similar. ‘The Netherlands is a beautiful country, the weather is just like at home and there is a lot of culture and a thriving social scene.’

Meanwhile, more of his family members arrived in the Netherlands, one of them is his wife. Iyad has lived in the Netherlands for a year now, and is determined to make the most of it. ‘Syrians are enterprising people who are very eager to learn. Even in the asylum center we started selling bread and fixing laptops. That is what we are used to, in Syria you start working from a young age. In addition, I love cooking and I have a lot of knowledge of the Syrian cuisine.’

That is exactly why Iyad is glad that he got involved with Syr. It gives him the opportunity to work and to learn Dutch. ‘I do speak English and I am trying my best during my Dutch language course, but it is a difficult language. I want to be able to express myself as soon as possible, that is the best way to learn about a country.’ Iyad is looking to get to know more Dutch people who he can teach about his life in Syria. ‘We are not only refugees, but also Syrian. Most of us are highly educated and have a lot to offer. A lot of smart Syrian people arrived in the Netherlands. Europeans will get to know us eventually, now that we are here.’

In any case, this will happen soon in restaurant Syr. The last couple of months Iyad and his family have been working closely together with the initiators. Iyad: ‘I think it’s good and I agree with the fact that both Syrian and Dutch staff will work in the restaurant. We will customize some dishes according to the Dutch taste. This way we will make the restaurant accessible for our guests.’ Syr will be a succes when people start talking about it, according to Iyad. ‘Word of mouth always works. I am convinced that once our guests are inside, they will enjoy the experience and love our food.’