Sawssan Gharib Valley

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"In a little while, the coffee is ready", we all sang, while holding hands in the warm summer air, and children playing around us. Right there, my very first Saint Hans, I fell in love with Denmark. I was happy and safe.

Even when we were sitting in the asylum center in Denmark, I started to help as an interpreter and in the kitchen, because I couldn't stand just sitting there. That's how it has been ever since. In Esbjerg, I really struggled to learn Danish and make money, so that I could manage by myself and move away from home, even though my parents were against this. But I could not live with all their rules, and risk being married off to a stranger. When I received the keys, and opened the door to my very first apartment, I had a sense of ultimate freedom.

I met my husband, Axel, at a party through my previous work in a kindergarten. Axel was a sweet and stable man, but I would not say that I fell for him. This only came later. My mother told me not to marry a Dane, because he just wanted to use me as a dishcloth! We have actually been married for 23 years. I didn't want my daughters to have Arabic names. It's not because I'm ashamed to come from Lebanon, but I didn't think there was any reason to make life harder for them.

For the first few years in Denmark, I hid under the table when I heard an ambulance. But even though the war will always be inside me, I refuse to let it fill my whole life. I want to live freely. I really do feel 99 percent Danish. The one percent where I still feel foreign is when Statistics Denmark calls to make their population survey.

54 years / female / married / children / educator and primary school teacher, working as project and integration worker / Esbjerg / stateless (Lebanon / Palestine) / came to Denmark as a refugee in 1985 / residence permit same year