My Bicycle

Riding a bike. Sounds unexceptionable? For Hend it is a particular experience.

von Hend Alrawi

Hend und ihr liebgewonnenes Fahrrad. Berlin 2016. Foto: Heike Steinweg
Hend and her new bicycle. Berlin 2016. Photo: Heike Steinweg

I have always loved cycling, ever since I was a child. When my father gave me a bicycle it was a dream come true. I cycled around day in, day out, never tiring. A wonderful feeling – like flying. Everything around me flowed together and dissolved, the cares and woes of the world no longer interested me. On my bicycle, I didn’t have to pretend to be happy.

But then I got older. “You can’t ride your bicycle any more!” I was told. But why not? We have the word disgrace in our society. A frequently cited justification as girls grow older, but it didn’t convince me.

My passion for cycling and the feelings I had for it remained. Sometimes I cycled on the street under cover of darkness, never without fear of being seen. Why are girls not allowed to ride bikes in this country? The women drive cars here, after all. I didn’t understand. What was so bad about a girl riding a bicycle?

Then I came to Germany and saw women riding bikes. Why not?! My old dream came back to life. Heike, my German friend and guardian angel, introduced me to an older German lady who said I could have her bike since she could no longer ride it. Which meant I would soon cycle the streets of Berlin for the first time. The lady was very friendly and welcomed us with tea and sweets. The moment I sat down, she handed me a key on a red ribbon. A bicycle key. For my new bicycle. My heart leapt. Then she led me to her present, a bike with a red bow tied around it. I also got a pair of gloves so my hands would stay warm while cycling. She had even thought of that. My heart almost burst for joy.

Heike and Carsten, the lady’s son and just as nice as her, accompanied me. Heike rode ahead and Carsten behind me, so that nothing happened to me on the street.
I laughed from ear to ear. A real laugh, not a put-on one to protect me from gossip and judgements. My own true laugh, which I had lost somewhere along the way.
I was not only happy about the bike, but also about these wonderful people around me. It might be a small matter for them but it certainly wasn’t for me.

My elation as I cycled made me forget the strangers, noise and cares all around me. All I saw was my own world. A world I had created in my imagination, a place I don’t have to share with anyone I don’t trust. A wonderful feeling. The same feeling I had when I realized there are people in the real world whose eyes I don’t have to flee, with whom I can enjoy my hobby openly. These people give me a feeling of safety because they don’t act in their own interests, something I have always run away from. They are willing to help simply because that is the way they are. They don’t judge me, don’t criticize me or spy on me.

Not long ago, I read that girls are now riding bikes in my country because there are problems with public transport due to the war. Congratulations! It may be a very small step, but change always begins with small steps. Girls must take what they are entitled to, because no one will give it to them.

Hend is a 37-year-old teacher for young learners from Syria. She is enjoying her new freedom on her bike – soon she will conquer Berlin’s swimming pools.
Translation: Katy Derbyshire