Mahmoud and Lempi
How to integrate into Finland, help other people, and build a friendship.
Mahmoud Yousef was born in Luxor, Egypt. Before coming to Finland, he worked in Hurghada as a tourist guide and studied remotely at Cairo University. He interacted with people from all over the world and learned English, Russian, Polish, German, and Czech languages. Nowadays, Mahmoud also speaks fluent Finnish. Then he went to army in 2011. At that time, there was a revolution in Egypt, which impacted the whole tourism industry in the country. The business was dying, tourists were afraid to come to Egypt.
Mahmoud met his future wife at work back in 2010. During 3 years, they were regularly seeing each other and finally got married in 2013. After years of struggling to find a proper job in Egypt, in April 2014, Mahmoud relocated to Finland. Upon arrival, he came to meet his wife’s family for the first time. Family-in-law welcomed him very well, even though it was hard to communicate at the very beginning. But Mahmoud became a part of their family very fast. They had many things in common.
“They have a big family, and so do I. I have six siblings (2 brothers and 4 sisters), several nieces and nephews, and even great-nephews. Living in a big family wasn’t weird for me. I was happy to come from one big family to another big family. It’s never boring when you have so many people with different minds and interests like fishing, or hunting, or snowmobiles, etc.”
It took 4 months for Mahmoud to find his first friends. When summer came, he noticed young guys playing basketball every evening. Even though basketball was not his favourite game, he joined them. He felt just great to have some people with whom he could talk and, at the same time, start learning Finnish already. However, he didn’t meet any Arabic-speaking people in 6 months in Oulu.
It made me think: “I’m really far. I’m really-really far from my homeland and anyone who speaks my mother tongue”.
He met his first friends in Villa Victor. And then after starting the integration language courses at OAKK, he met even more friends from all over the world. When he successfully finished the courses, Mahmoud’s family took a long vacation in Egypt to introduce their newborn daughter. Surprisingly, during this trip, he found some useful connections that helped him to find his first work in Finland. It was an asylum seeker office in Kuusamo that was just opened. They were looking for someone who could speak both Arabic and Finnish. The interview went good, but he had to wait for a long time to receive a call and hear: “Can you come to work tomorrow?”
“I came to the asylum seeker centre the next day, Saturday at 8 a.m. Everybody was sleeping. I came in, and one of the Finnish workers came to me to ask: “What is your room number? Why were you out?”. I said: “I don’t live here, I came to work”.
Mahmod loved this work. It helped him to rapidly develop his Finnish language skills. His duties were about helping people to move around: visit stores, social services, immigration offices, or healthcare centres. When Mahmoud couldn’t use his car for several months, his manager offered him new duties in the office which included phone calls and paperwork. This opportunity gave him much more than any other course. Very soon his Finnish became fluent.
“During this period, we decided to connect two families and two cultures together. My family in law went to Egypt where they met my relatives. It was a great experience to stay together, eat together, do everything together. Each family made their traditional food and shared it with others. Grandparents played with grandkids even though they could not always understand each other. Both families loved each other. My family started to feel safe after seeing my in-laws. The same was for my wife’s relatives and parents. They felt that their daughter is in good hands. It was a big step for me and my life in Finland. It built trust between our families.”
However, this work was very far away from home, and Mahmoud was able to see his family and kids only during short weekends. After 1,5 years, the asylum seeker centre in Kuusamo was closed and he got a temporary contract in a similar centre in Ruukki (next to Raahe). When the contract expired, his family was left in a difficult situation. They had already two kids, his wife was on maternity leave, and he had no job. The only employment opportunity which he found was in Kemi. It was Sampo Icebreaker.
“Working on Sampo was very tough. It was extremely cold. You are moving with a ship in the middle of the sea when it’s minus 30 degrees. You need to guide tourists, help them to put and take off the suits which were frozen and very heavy. We had to stay in the cold sometimes for 4 hours.”
Even though this work didn’t bring enough money, Mahmoud was still happy to return back to his profession and work with tourists. Luckily, soon he got again the invitation for temporary work at the asylum seeker center and had to work 3 days in Kemi and 4 days in Raahe. This situation continued for two years. He was completely exhausted. Mahmoud didn’t have time to sleep, eat, and stay with his family. Luckily, one day he received an offer for a seak leave replacement position, which turned into a permanent contract later on.
“I wanted to have the feeling of “normal life” like Finnish people do, when they know when they work and have holidays, and when their salary comes. Especially because by that time, I was actually a Finnish citizen.”
We talked with Mahmoud about his duties at work and what kind of support asylum seekers can receive in the centre. One of the major cultural differences that he pointed out was gender discrimination at work and in family life. He said, that even in Egypt, men are not involved in domestic work and not taking care of kids. So the asylum seeker centre made a smart decision by arranging schools for their customers. When women go to study, men stay at home and look after their kids with the assistance of their supervisors. Despite that, all asylum seekers are actively learning the Finnish language and talking to their supervisors in Finnish for faster and easier adaptation. Furthermore, supervisors arranging various sport and cultural activities, arranging excursions and trips to the beautiful Finnish nature. They explain how to respect nature and the people around.
“My job is to show people how to live in Finland, how to act like Finnish people, how to get into the Finnish culture… So when they go outside, they don’t behave weird. I even show them how to go shopping, explaining that there are “lines” and you need to stay in the lines. Many people who came from non-European countries don’t have these habits.”
If the immigrant for some reason cannot stay in Finland, the immigration office help people to get their lives back in their homeland. Together with EU programs, they have some small projects which people can run back in their countries, become entrepreneurs, or receive some financial support to start an annual life again. But during staying in Finland, the asylum seeker centre also provides employment support for the immigrants. Many of their customers are working in the construction site, restaurants, manufacturies etc. None of the customers just sit at home. They either work or study. Even during the pandemic when they couldn’t visit schools, they were studying remotely and doing their homework.
“All refugees who come to Finland are just looking for peace. These people come not only from African countries or the Middle East, but they also come from Spain, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Ukraine etc. The immigration office runs their cases until they see that these people are ready to live in Finland. Looking for peace doesn’t mean that people escaping the war, people could feel unsafe even inside their family.”
Mahmoud has two kids, lots of activities at work, but at some point decided to get a dog. He was always a dog-lover. Back in Egypt, their family was taking care of 14(!) street dogs. When Mahmoud was 10, he also had his own dog, a german shepherd, but it passed away in a car accident. After moving to Finland, he was feeling lonely sometimes or wanted to have some private time outdoors.
“I decided to get a dog because I love Finnish nature, the forest, the lakes. I love to go and discover places I haven’t seen before. I usually do this alone, so it would be really good to have a friend with me.”
Lempi’s Instagram has more than 17 thousand followers. The idea to make an Instagram page for her came from Mahmoud’s neighbour. His family also had kids and dogs who were playing together with Mahmoud’s daughters and Lempi very often. When Lempi was a baby, he came to visit them and took a few photos because he is a professional photographer. Mahmoud was very impressed by these photos.
“It was a WOW! I thought that other people should see it because it was really beautiful. Maybe it will make someone smile. I will never see Lempi at this age again. Soon she will grow up very fast. Dogs don’t live long. It would be really good to remember some special moments because Lempi is special in my life.”
Author: Arina Lykova.
Photographer: Arina Lykova.