Schönefeld, October 20th

Today the train is late. I find out about it as I stand alone in front of a closed door, at 7am, in Schönefeld station. No one is around yet, no police, no paramedics. It is still dark and a drizzle adds up to the gloomy setting. 7:20, still nobody there. I find it odd since the train should arrive 40 minutes later. It crosses my mind that if something happened to me just know, nobody would be able to help. A fellow volunteer calls me, and tells me the train is two hours late. She tells me she’ll pick me up in 5 minutes and we’ll have breakfast together. We meet up and have a tea, four of us, exchange our impressions about the previous day, and our mixed feelings about the presence of the army.

When we come back, at around 8:30, the police is there. However, we’re forbidden to walk in; someone has broken into the premises, between 7:30 and the arrival of the police. They’re looking around and making sure nobody is in anymore, and that there isn’t any threat. Ten minutes later, we get the all clear and can begin our day. New announcement, the train will be here at 11:30. Another problem appears: the rooms where we keep the few clothes donated have been flooded. Everything is soaked. We reached a point when we don’t even take anything wrong anymore, it is as it is, what can we do. We put whatever we can on heaters, hoping it’s not damaged.

We don’t mind the extra time, it gives us time to set things up properly, and we don’t have to rush this time. I even put some music on while I spread cheese on the sandwiches. Soon, two new helpers come and offer help. We set up a little assembly-line and everything is ready when the 400 refugees of today arrive. The food distribution goes on well, there is enough food for everyone. Some days, the last arrived just get fruits and biscuits, as all the sandwiches are gone.

A soldier plays with children, Schönefeld, October 20th, 2015 © Berliner Diary

The atmosphere is lighter than usual, a lot of people are smiling, both among the volunteers and the refugees. The same questions arise: where are we now, will we be allowed to get out of the shelter, how can we travel to Sweden, is there any WiFi here? There are some families, and as I see children playing I come over and draw a hopscotch on the floor. One girl seems delighted, she draws the exact same one just next to mine, except that she writes the number symmetrically, which makes us laugh. She looks delighted, we start to play together. She wins, and as she reaches the last box she jumps in my arms and gives me a big hug which I’m very happy to give back. A soldier who told me yesterday I shouldn’t take a biscuit after our shift because “we don’t know what kind of disease they brought and they probably rummaged through the box” looks at me, bewildered. He plays with the kids, too, contrary to his first day when he was standing back and didn’t know how to behave. He’s finding out, little by little, that the people who arrived are exactly like us.

I glance around, to see where are the girl’s parents. I don’t want to upset them, but on the contrary they look very amused seeing their daughter so happy. Now she takes my hand and we walk within the small space available in the hall. Every ten meters, she stops, looks at me, laughs, and hugs me again. She brings me to her mother, and plants a huge kiss on my cheek. Per chance, the mother speaks perfect English. I tell her I work with kids, and teach German to refugees. She’s over the moon: “We need you! We want to learn as quick as possible! Is German difficult? How long do you think it would take to learn it?” I tell her it’s a difficult language, but that within one or two months she will be able to express simple ideas, with simple words. She looks relieved.

We talk about their trip, they’re from Latakia. We laugh a lot together, each day I feel more at ease with the arabic culture despite having since then known very little about it. They laugh as I say a few words in Arabic, they thank me ten times for talking to them and explain they really want to do something here. As I comfort the mother who tells me, still smiling and laughing, that she’s exhausted after the long journey, I pat her in the back and squeeze her arm. She exclaims: “Oh please, I’m so ashamed, I haven’t had a shower since I left three weeks ago, the smell must be horrible for you!”. I laugh, she’s the first one to say something like that. The vast majority of them didn’t have the opportunity to wash since they left. Be they from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, they have just been given the strict minimum to survive, and apparently shower isn’t considered a priority in whatever camps they have been put.

I tell her I’m so pleased they made it safely to us that it’s the last of my worries, and that one day I’ll walk in Berlin’s street and I’ll see her all fresh and cleaned and she’ll look even prettier than now. Woman to woman, thanks to her daughter still in my arms, I feel we have immediately bonded. There is a strong complicity that can only happen in those defining moments, when two human beings are just that, when social or cultural barriers are the least important matters. The emergency of the situation makes us lay bare our feelings, and we connect, in an unforgettable and out-of-time moment.

Too soon, the family is called by one of the translator in charge of dispatching the groups to the shelters. I wish them luck, we hug, I hold Hala, the little girl, tight before she goes. She sends me goodbye kisses with her hand and her eyes are glowing with happiness. Mine on the other hand are getting filled with tears so I quickly turn around so she won’t see it. It’s time to tidy the place. Among all the sufferings we witness, day after day, today was a happier day.

A girl writing her name, Schönefeld, October 20th, 2015 © Berliner Diary
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