My Nurse Named Mohamed

By Christoph Titz

German retirement homes are having trouble finding geriatric nurses. To resolve the problem, they’re looking for help from abroad, recently expanding that search to Africa. Is it a good strategy? And for whom?


Mohamed Ali Nefzi, 23, wants to live in a country where he can wear floral-print shirts without being stared at. A place where his mother won’t ask him every week when he is finally going to get married and how many children he plans to have. For Nefzi, who goes by Dali, Germany is that place.

A tall man in suit-pants and suspenders, Dali Nefzi squints over the frames of his sunglasses into the glaring light on the beach of La Goulette in Tunisia. He’s a registered nurse in his home country and until recently he worked as a paramedic for Pireco, the pipeline contractor.

Now, he’s been chosen to participate in the German program Triple Win. He and 17 other people from Tunisia are to help alleviate the extreme shortage of geriatric caregivers in Germany.

Waves are breaking behind Nefzi on the beach of his hometown of La Goulette. Children are shouting as they play on the beach, calls drift over from the nearby basketball court, music pumps out of the cafés and the noise of TVs can likewise be heard from the marble sidewalks. He will miss his family and friends, Nefzi says.

“My goal is for all people to live with a smile on their faces.”

Some 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the south, boats full of Africans from myriad different countries, all dreaming of reaching Italy, set out to sea from near the Tunisian port city of Sfax. They are all full of hope for a better life in Europe and are willing to risk their lives to get there.

But the new geriatric nurses heading for Germany will take the plane. Nefzi refers to the offer to move to Germany for work as a “Schnäppchen,” or “bargain” – an important German word he has already learned. He is excited about the freedom that Germany offers to young men and women. He wants to learn, to travel and to meet new people. And he wants to get to know the German culture.

He is unaware of the racism that also exists in Germany, of the right-wing populist, Islamophobic party that has 92 seats in Germany parliament which they use as a platform for their hate. That wasn’t a topic of conversation in his one-week crash course on cultural differences and the German work ethic. But Nefzi isn’t worried.


Nefzi took German lessons at the Goethe Institute in Tunis, paid for by his future employer, the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK). He only received his airline ticket after passing the test at the end of the course.

It costs the BRK at least 6,500 euros to recruit new caregivers from Tunisia. Their residency permit in Germany is directly linked to their job and candidates must first sign a contract with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), a development organization that works directly with the German government. The employer in Germany, in this case the Bavarian Red Cross, only takes over responsibility for the candidate once he or she receives additional training, completes another German language class and passes two state exams for geriatric care.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.