Fatien Hayajneh can still remember exactly how she taught herself to ride a bike as a little girl.
It was in the attic of her parents' home in a small village in Jordan, propping herself up on the wall with one hand and gripping the handlebars with the other. "The wall still helps me sometimes," she says with a laugh.
The 35-year-old works for the Arab club Al Tariq in the eastern German town of Fuerstenwalde. Today she's with around 20 other women at the town's traffic training area. Together with other volunteers, she's going to teach refugee women how to ride bicycles.
In preparation, Joerg Raue, chair of the local road safety council, has built a course, including wooden blocks set up to lead the cyclists in an S-bend and then a left-hand curve around a bush.
Raue says: “At the end there's a slalom and a brake-test."
He's never seen women with headscarves at the training ground before. "It's usually fourth-graders practicing for their bicycle test."
According to the German News Agency, it's the first time the course for Arab women has taken place in Fuerstenwalde.
Co-organizer Gabi Moser, who got the idea in 2015 at a bicycle workshop in Berlin with a high refugee turnout, has boned up for the session with the help of videos and training manuals.
Moser told Hayajneh about her idea, who was immediately enthused.
She had already attempted on other occasions to teach women how to ride bicycles. "There were a few bruises," she remembers.
It didn't take long for her to find enough women who wanted to take part in the course. "Many discover cycling as a piece of personal freedom," says Moser. In the relatively rural Fuerstenwalde, it's a long way to the shops or to take the children to school or nursery.
"In many Muslim countries, women are discouraged form riding bikes," says volunteer Ayse, including in her home country, Syria.
The pharmacist fled the war in Syria and has been living in Fuerstenwalde for two years. "In Syria's cities, you mostly can't cycle anyway," she adds; the roads aren't suitable for cyclists.
"The most difficult thing for adult women is the balance," she continues. While kids tend to have more problems with coordination, it's harder for adults to keep themselves on two wheels.
"I want to pick my children up from school on it," says Sawsan Younis, who is riding a bike for the second time in her life today.
The 45-year-old Syrian manages to ride in a straight line across the training ground when Moser throws a wooden block in her path. She slams on the brakes and comes to a halt.
"Well done!" says Moser, but Younis is already cycling on to the next obstacle, her headscarf fluttering in the wind.
Cycling classes for refugees are now being offered in many German cities, including courses at the German Cyclist's Associations in Munich and Voelklingen, a town near the border with France.
The club also has videos and information sheets with the most important rules of the road available for download on its website in six different languages, including Farsi, Arabic and French.
In Potsdam, just outside Berlin, there's also a club called Hand in Hand that offers courses for Arab women, with female Syrian assistants who speak both Arabic and German.
"The courses are very popular," says spokeswoman Frauke Havekost, adding that some of the women had already bought their own bicycles.
As of January 31, 2018, there were 19,188 people living in refugee accommodations in Brandenburg, the German state where Fuerstenwalde is located. Last year alone, the state took in 4,500 asylum seekers.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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