A few years ago, the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved bowls… saying that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl with curved sides because, gazing out, the fish would have a distorted view of reality. But how do we know we have the true, undistorted picture of reality?
I met Raouf for the first time at a New Year’s party and I did not know anything about him except that he works with my fiancé, he is Italian and does not look like Italian. It was the day I came up with an idea for an interview. With Raouf we agreed to meet last week on Tuesday afternoon in London. When I called him and offered him a coffee in Little Cairo as a destination of the meeting. He replied that has never been there before. I have had a double pleasure to introduce him to Edgware Road and have a talk.
Before the Romans, today’s Edgware Road began as an ancient trackway within the Great Middlesex Forest. The Romans later incorporated the track into Watling Street. Many centuries later, the road was improved by the Edgware-Kilburn turnpike trust in 1711, and a number of local inns, some of which still exist, functioned as stops for coaches, although they would have been quite close to the starting point of Coach routes from London. During the 18th century, it was a destination for Huguenot migrants. By 1811, Thomas Telford produced a re-design for what was then known as a section of the London to Holyhead road, and redesigned one of the most important feats of pre-Victorian engineering. Telford’s redesign emerged only a year After the area saw the establishment of Great Britain’s first Indian restaurant. The area began to attract Arab migrants in the late 19th century during the trade with the Ottoman Empire. The trend continued with the arrival of Egyptians in the 1950s, and greatly expanded in the 1970s, and continued to the present when events including the Lebanese Civil War, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, and the unrest in Algeria brought more Arabs to the area. They established the present-day mix of bars and shisha cafes, which made the area known to Londoners by nicknames such as “Little Cairo” and “Little Beirut.”
PM: Raouf, please introduce yourself.
RS: My name is Raouf Salhi, I’m Tunisian, born in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, and both of my parents are Tunisian. I came to London in January 2016 from Munich in Germany where I lived for three years. When I was six months old my parents decided to move to Bologna in Italy where I stayed until my 21st birthday.
PM: Where is your family right now?
RS: My mother and sister they live in Bologna, my father five years ago moved back to Tunisia where he has got property business and right now he spend six months in Tunisia and other six in Italy. My family is in couple of countries right now, maybe even ten, if counting all of my cousins and uncles.
PM: Which language do you speak at home?
RS: It depends who I talk to. Whit my parents I speak Arabic, with my sister I speak in Italian but sometimes we mix both languages, we substitute words and I think that you know a little bit about it because your fiancé is Italian
PM: Yes, it is true that sometimes one sentence include words from three languages. I call it house language. Speaking of which: where is your home?
RS: That’s a good question! I miss Germany and I would consider it as my home. Surprisingly I don’t miss Italy.
PM: What makes Germany better than Italy?
RS: And better than UK (laughing) In my opinion people make it great, it doesn’t matter how the country looks like because people makes me feel like I’m home. And Germany is the country where I experience kindness, respect and help. Life wise Germany is the place where you will have more opportunities to find work, school, proceed with your career. It seems to be much easier to live, much easier than here in the UK. In Italy looking for work is very difficult unless you know somebody who knows somebody. On the other hand Germany is the country where you can start from scratch, on your own and it’s much easier than here in London where I’m not saying it’s impossible but very difficult due to living costs.
PM: What was your reason for leaving Germany?
RS: Because of my Girlfriend. Yes, love was involved, as well as engagement ring. We were planning future together and there were two options, or she is coming to live in Germany or I’m coming to UK. First option was rather impossible because she didn’t speak German, so I decided to leave everything and come to her.
PM: You spend your entire life in Europe. In Italy, Germany and now UK. Are you considering yourself as a European citizen?
RS: I would say that half of me is European and half Arabic. I was raised in Europe between Europeans and under influence of European culture, but when I’m asked about origins I always answer: Tunisian. My name is Arabic, as well as my look and blood. And why do I speak Italian? Because I’m Italian. I have double nationality but fist is always Tunisian.
PM: Are you on a trip looking for new home or you already know where it is or where to go?
RS: I found home and I left it (laughing). Italy is not as multicultural as other countries and I think migrants start to settle there maybe thirty years ago, this is only one generation which is not even close to migration history of Germany or UK. In Germany quality of life is at the level I wish could be here in London.
PM: What about friends?
RS: There are friends in Italy, In Germany, I miss them all and I visit them at least once a year
PM: Are you religious?
RS: If you ask me what religion I am, I will tell you that I’m Muslim. I do believe in my God and my Religion. I pray but I struggle to go to the mosque, but I really do believe that Allah forgive me not following my religion properly. We say InShaAllah which means “if God wills” – with Gods will one day I will become good Muslim.
PM: We all know that time is flying these days, and might be silly to ask you but I really would like to know where do you want to be buried? This is very important matter to me and I would like to know yours.
RS: Without no doubt in Tunisia. All my family will be there, all my grandparents are already there. Shall I say that’s my home then? (Laughing) I wouldn’t live there because I know there is no life for me in Tunisia. I’m attached to Europe, to people here, to mentality and I think Tunisia is still far behind but this is my homeland.
I have had my shisha and mint tea first time in my life as well as my first interview with? With who? With the men who is making his living far away from his family and teaching me that it’s very difficult to find the home but it’s essential to search it no matter what. He wants to be here, he wants to have normal life as we all want to have during this very precedent time of decomposition of Europe, or “the”world perhaps.