When they go shopping in the small Austrian town of Bad Schallerbach, Martina Schamberger introduces Nawras Ahmadook as her son.
The arguments they have in the grocery store are typical of those between a parent and child. Nawras heads straight for the junk food, and Martina tries to restrain him.
“That’s probably the only time Martina wanted to raise her voice at me,” said Nawras, a 26-year-old refugee from Syria, who is just under two metres tall.
Despite their differences over nutrition, their bond is tight.
“I feel like he is my son,” said Martina with pride. “He accepts me, a bit different than his mother. He opens up to me a lot, like a friend too. We have been together seven months now and never had a big fight.”
Their connection dates back to 2006, when Martina’s daughter, Valerie, was studying Arabic in Aleppo, Syria. Nawras’s family took her in and looked after her. When Valerie found out in November 2015 that Nawras had fled Syria and was near the Austrian border, she called her parents.
“I got the call from Valerie at 9 pm on Tuesday saying Nawras was at the border, asking if I would take him in,” Martina recalled. “The next day at 9 am I picked him up.”
They clicked as soon as they met, she said.
Nawras played for the Syrian national basketball team but fled the country in 2014 to avoid the military draft. He went first to Lebanon, where for nearly two years he worked 14-hour days and could barely make ends meet. He shared a run-down flat with five other Syrians.
“I went from holding a basketball in my hand and playing in tournaments around the world to having a mop in my hand.”
However, the end of his residency in Lebanon loomed and he knew he had to leave.
“After everything I went through and everything I lost – my family, my friends, my country, my home – I really had nothing more to lose. I was not afraid of getting on that dinghy boat and crossing the sea. Leaving Syria is not a choice.”
He is taking German language classes and trying to decide on a possible career in Austria. “I just want to live in safety and security and hope I can build a future here. As beautiful as it is, there is no home like home.”
Martina said she was certain he would do well in Austria. “He will always be a part of our family, no matter where he goes after this.”
The Schambergers said their experience had inspired another friend to host a refugee. “People are looking at us closely. Everyone who meets Nawras, loves Nawras. Maybe we are setting a good example.”
By Nadine Alfa
This story is part of a series entitled No Stranger Place, which was developed and photographed by Aubrey Wade in partnership with UNHCR, profiling refugees and their hosts across Europe.
One year on from the drowning of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, thousands of people have come together to bridge cultural divides and language barriers, embracing compassion, hope and humanity – even as some European governments continue to build obstacles. Their generosity is an example to the world.
Story reprinted with permission of UNHCR.