Another day, another train. This morning, I’m the only “private” person here. The others are either policemen or soldiers. They’re happy to see me and ask if other volunteers are coming. I tell them I certainly hope so. For the time being, I’m alone with my layers of bread to spread with cheese or jam. I ask them if they can help, and soon we are four, me and three soldiers, making sandwiches. The situation is odd and funny at the same time.
The soldier who asked me yesterday why I was helping asks this time: “Do you expect to go to Heaven with all our good deeds?”. I smile and tell him I don’t do it to get a medal. He keeps on: “They don’t even thank you, doesn’t that bother you?”. No, it doesn’t. I can understand that after weeks on the road and having lost relatives to bombs or drowning at sea one doesn’t have enough strength to keep a straight face and be polite to everyone. I answer: “Actually, I feel sorry for the people”. “Me too, but just for the women and the children”, he replies. I don’t answer and keep on making my sandwiches. I hope the others will be there soon. “After all”, he adds, “they all came here on their own free will”. I put my (plastic) knife down and look up, surprised that I remained calm: “You know, maybe you could try and imagine that tomorrow, a bomb explodes in your living room, here in Berlin, or that you lose a family member through a bullet or the Islamic State. Nobody wants to leave their land unless they are forced to. This is no holidays for them”. The soldier looks surprised. This time he doesn’t reply and I fear I crossed a line, but my arguments seem to sink in.
Another soldier asks me what’s the name of the arabic bread.If they count on me to improve their arabic they really got the wrong person. I tell them, they laugh and say it’s impossible to pronounce this “r” sound. As it happens, all Arab speakers laugh at me when I say the word, but they understand it and they look happy I try.
An hour later, sandwiches are ready, we’re all in line, on it goes with the 400 people arriving. This time there are a lot of Somalians, Eritreans, Ghaneans. A lot of them are wearing the Samaritan’s bags they were given after being rescued at sea. Somehow I feel happy that whoever is in charge of “dispatching” people across Germany tries to keep people talking the same language together. I’m alone distributing, but four other people are now here at other sections – distributing baby food, toys, water and hot drinks. A smile, a sandwich, one or two words, again, and again. Day after day, it is tiring, and emotionally draining, but each time a contact is established, through a word, a glance, a gesture, I know why I’m here, and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
As the crowd gathers towards the waiting line for the buses, which as usual takes them to emergency shelters, I’m called by the translator’s coordinator to provide assistance in French.
I am told to reassure a group of under-aged Eritreans who don’t understand why they’re being put apart. They have to go to another shelter, and they’re afraid. French is just useful with one of them – I continue in English. They aren’t convinced. It seems they will be separated from people they traveled with. The chief police officer taps on my shoulder: “Young lady, what are you doing here? Do you have a badge?”, he asks. “Actually I was told to come here, sorry about the badge”, I say. “It’s fine, but don’t forget to bring it tomorrow”. I say I won’t.
I turn around, the group of youngsters waits patiently. On my right, I see a tall policeman talking to a young Eritrean who waits behind a cordon. The policeman seems very crossed. He talks English with a very strong German accent: “Why are you lying to me? Say it? Why? Why are you lying?”. The Eritrean doesn’t understand why he’s being adressed to in such a way. I don’t know what to do, I look at him and when our eyes meet I see that he’s shaking and on the verge to tears. As the policeman keeps on repeating his question, I put my hand on his arm, and tell him in German: “You know, I don’t think he understands what you want from him”. He answers: “Of course he does! He lies! He says he’s 20 and clearly he is under-aged!”. I look at the Eritrean, try to think of his age, can’t figure out, there are too many people who look older than their age, because of what they have gone through. I can’t say. Instead, I retort: “Ok, let me talk to him. It’s not the end of the world if he’s going to the emergency shelter with his friends, at worse he’ll be send to a shelter for under-aged”. The policeman is still annoyed: “I don’t understand why he’s lying to the police!”. “He does so because he doesn’t trust you”, I say. “But why!”, the policeman keeps on. “Because where he comes from he probably can’t trust anyone”. Again, I wonder whether I crossed the line with the authority. Seeing I won’t look away, he gives up and stands still watching in the other direction. I repeat to the Eritrean: “Everything is alright, don’t worry”.
In the meantime, the group of young people board on a bus, the Eritrean joins them and they’re all reunited. A white and red cordon fell off after they left and I bend over to fetch it. I hear a voice saying: “Don’t worry, I won’t run away…”. I raise my eyes and see a smiling man in front of me. The cordon was used to separate him from the way to the buses, so that the coordinators can send people in small groups, one after the other. However, I feel ashamed to have used this rope to cross a line in front of him. I apologize. “It’s alright”, says the man, a Syrian from Damascus. “Can I ask you a question?”, he continues, “Is Berlin as ugly as this place?”. I laugh: “No, don’t worry, this is as bad as it can get. That, and the shelter. Outside, it’s better”. He seems relieved. I apologize again, this time for all the stress they go through here. “It’s alright, don’t worry. It’s way worse where I come from. I just hope I can find a job here”. He is a teacher for Mathematics. I know Berlin urgently needs teachers. But he’ll have to learn German first. We talk a little bit, he tells me about how he got here. He’s one of the lasts to leave this day.
Once the hall is empty, we pack up. As I make my way out, a soldier asks: “You will come tomorrow, won’t you?”