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After A Trek Across 5 Nations, Building A Home In Germany

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: And I'd like to introduce you to a 28-year-old Syrian man named Mohammed Eh'tai.

EH'TAI: Ladies first. You're my guest, yeah.

MARTIN: We're in his apartment building in the small town of Neuhardenberg, about an hour outside of Berlin. It's been converted into a way station for refugees, about 250 of them. This is where they live until they find out if their asylum status has been granted.

EH'TAI: Hello.

MARTIN: Eh'tai is a small man with a big smile. He's wearing a yellow T-shirt, sweatpants, flip-flops and what looks like a three-day beard. Eh'tai has been at this place for two weeks, but he's been in Germany for three and a half months. He moved here from a temporary refugee camp set up in a basketball arena in the neighboring town of Seelow.

In total, Mohammed Eh'tai traveled through five countries on his journey from Syria. He was crammed into a small boat, smuggled over a border on the floor of a car. He was kidnapped once and robbed twice. He walked for miles, and now he's here.

EH'TAI: That's my room, where...

MARTIN: Let me see. Can you give a little tour?

Eh'tai shares this two-bedroom apartment with five other Syrian men. Its bare bones, but each of them has a small bed with a purple comforter. There's a kitchen with a stove and a fridge. In his bedroom, Eh'tai shows me a big pile of papers - German language worksheets.

EH'TAI: I learn Deutsche here. I have some dictionaries for writing. So meaning...

MARTIN: How are you doing on your German? Is it hard?

EH'TAI: Yeah.

MARTIN: An instructor comes here twice a week to teach free German classes. In the last town he was in, migration officials gave Eh'tai a laptop, so he uses that to study in his free time, which he has a lot of. He needs to learn German so he can get a job. While Eh'tai studies, he listens to music.

EH'TAI: All day, I listen to Mozart.

MARTIN: Mozart?

EH'TAI: Yeah.

MARTIN: Johann Strauss?

EH'TAI: Yeah.

MARTIN: You like classical music?

EH'TAI: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: We gather around a metal coffee table, situated between two beds, in the other room. One of his roommates smokes from a hookah pipe, cross-legged on a bed, while Mohammed Eh'tai serves tea. And he describes why he fled Syria. It wasn't just the war, Eh'tai says he was arrested and put in prison. The government accused him of supporting the Free Syrian Army. He denies that, and he says he was in prison for a year.

EH'TAI: We stay in the same room - 150 person - without clothes and our...

MARTIN: You were naked with no clothes?

EH'TAI: No clothes, 150 person in the same room, it was 4 meters by 4 meters. Can you imagine that?

MARTIN: In the end, Eh'tai paid money to be released.

EH'TAI: I paid $50,000 to give me my freedom.

MARTIN: You paid them 50,000?

EH'TAI: Fifty-thousand.

MARTIN: Fifty-thousand dollars?

EH'TAI: Dollars.

MARTIN: Fifty-thousand dollars is a lot of money.

EH'TAI: Yeah, my father paid.

MARTIN: Your father paid. May I ask you...

EH'TAI: But he sell everything.

MARTIN: When Mohammed Eh'tai fled, he left everything behind - his parents, his wife and his 2-year-old daughter. All he brought with him was a cell phone, his ID and about a dozen different certificates - a college degree in accounting, a master's degree in management. Right now, as a refugee with asylum, the German government is supporting him. He gets a check for the equivalent of $370 every month. He's grateful, but it doesn't sit well.

EH'TAI: I don't accept - I can't accept - take money from anybody without work. It's hard to me. It's hard to me to take money without job.

MARTIN: What do you think you can do here? What job do you think you could do?

EH'TAI: Any kind of job. Any kind of job, I can do it.

MARTIN: Eh'tai is legally allowed to look for work but because the German government has moved him around to different shelters in different cities, it's been impossible. And while most of the Germans he's encountered have been friendly and helpful, some have not. One man actually flipped him off. He says others just stare disapprovingly. Eh'tai knows building a life here is going to be hard, but he's on his way. He just found out the German government is setting him up with a studio apartment in Strasburg on the outer edge of Berlin.

EH'TAI: In the 1 of October, I sign contract for house.

MARTIN: So you're moving to - you got a house in Strasburg?

EH'TAI: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you know anyone in Strasburg?

EH'TAI: I don't know anyone in Germany, just my friend. I meet him here. I will live there because it's near Berlin, so that I can find work, I can go to school, can make friends. It's good for me. But I hope I can bring my family here, but we are not staying here too much time. When our country has come back, we are come back to our country. When Assad is going and ISIS is going, we must come back to build our country.


MARTIN: He wants to go back and build his country - at least that's the plan for now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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