Humboldtians in private

Me and My Brood

By Muna Ali Abdala Mohamed, recorded by Teresa Havlicek

Get up, wake the children, dress, make sandwiches and set off. By the time I get to the lab at nine I have already been on the go since half past five.

Photo: Humboldt Foundation / Harry Schnitger
Photo: Humboldt Foundation / Harry Schnitger

The photo shows me and the children leaving the house. On the way to the lab I drop off the two little ones at daycare and my oldest daughter at school. I am a visiting researcher in Berlin and I have my three children with me. My husband lives in Sudan, our own country, and can only visit us every four or five months. When I describe my situation some people react as though my life were a disaster. But, actually, it is not that difficult for me.

Berlin is very international. People are extremely open and it is easy to make contact. There are daycare centres and schools. At TU Berlin, my host university, there is also flexible childcare which can be used in the evening if I have to attend staff seminars or Humboldt Foundation events. We can easily get around by bus or train and my older daughter can even attend an international school where she is taught in English. This is really important for us because we shall not stay in Germany for ever. When I hear people complaining about the childcare system here I sometimes think to myself: they certainly would not want to swap it for the ones in other countries.

In Sudan, for example, there is no support at all and we do not have a babysitting tradition either. If at all, it is the maid who looks after the children while she is doing her other work. Early learning activities or even reading with the children are not on the agenda. In other countries like the United Kingdom, where my sister lives, there are childcare facilities but they are not nearly as good in educational terms as those in Germany. But despite that, you should not kid yourself: it can be difficult anywhere. I too experience situations that are hectic or stressful and I am simply tired and worn out. But here in Germany I know that I can get everything organised one way or another. I do not only have good schools and teachers for my children but I can also do my research in very well-equipped labs – who could ask for more?

published in Humboldt Kosmos 105/2016

Dr Muna Ali Abdala Mohamed is a Georg Forster Research Fellow in the Institute of Chemistry at Technische Universität in Berlin where she lives together with her ten- and five-year-old daughters and her son who is nearly four. She previously worked as a lecturer in biochemistry and food chemistry at the University of Khartoum in Sudan.