At first I couldn’t place his accent, but then as the conversation began, I completely understood: born in Lebanon, Memu arrived in Germany 40 years ago by fluke. When he finished High School in Beirut, he had every intention to study medicine, but was hesitant because of the length of the course. His sister, who was already in Germany, assured him that the course would be shorter here and he believed her. Then civil war broke out in Lebanon and all the plans changed. Memu managed to escape shortly before the Siege of Beirut and made his way to Germany.
Much to his disappointment, none of his scholastic records were recognised and no university application was successful. Memu booked his ticket on the the next plane back to Lebanon but because of the siege, all flights to Beirut were cancelled indefinitely. The problem was that his visa for Germany was also expiring, as was his passport. The German government could not extend the visa due to the ongoing civil war, and the Lebanese embassy said that in order to extend the passport valid the application had to be sent to Beirut, for an unknown period of time. Stuck in Germany with valid papers and no way out, Memu did not fancy landing in jail or being expatriated to another country where he didn’t want to be. That only left him with political asylum, which the German government granted him. He swore to himself that it would be a temporary thing, since his disappointment with the country and culture continued to grow.
Memu landed a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant and worked his way up. The “temporary” situation turned into a long-term plan, since the passport took 3.5 years to process! By the time he finally received the passport, Memu had fallen in love and his girlfriend had given birth to their first daughter. Suddenly he was no longer in such a hurry to leave. Once the papers were processed and he applied for a regular residency permit, Memu applied for a driver’s license and went back to school for vocational training in gastronomy, while retaining his job with the Italian restaurant.
After 22 years in the restaurant business Memu needed a change because he had developed back and knee problems. his doctor had prescribed him a career change that didn’t involve too much bending over, carrying heavy items and running around. “But there are no jobs you can do lying down or in bed!” he wailed. He tried out the taxi business, since he wanted to continue to interact with people, be of service, and not damage his back further. The taxi business, Memu discovered, was just the thing – and 18 years later, with four daughters he does not regret his decision. “I still don’t like Germany but I have gotten used to it and now I remain here because of the children and until my last daughter is finished with her studies and settles in her job. Then I am free.” What exactly does free mean? I asked. “It means packing up and going back to Lebanon. My daughters are living my dream and achieving everything I never could. So I am happy and my business in Germany will be complete. I don’t want to grow old in a country where the old people are alone and thrown into homes for the aged. I want to be among my people and be taken care of by people who understand my soul.”