Today feels like an end of the year at school. The soldiers will be replaced tomorrow by a new unit. They’re in a very good mood. As I was pointing out the previous day to a fellow helper that they were ready to help but didn’t always know what to do, she advised me to provide them firm guidelines. So when a group of three comes overs asking what they should do, I feel a bit intimidated giving the knives away and explaining to them what’s the most efficient way to make a sandwich and feel I’m bossing them around. They don’t seem to mind being told what to do, let alone helping, which they now seem happy to do. They have also stopped wearing masks, one by one; they looked like a bunch of space invaders with them on, and it frightened the kids. I put some music on, and as we make sandwiches the soldiers also begin to dance. It’s surreal but it puts us all in a better mood.
I’m going to be away for a couple of days, so I’m showing another volunteer what we set up at the food stand, which isn’t rocket science but we try to keep it as structured as possible among this chaos and to keep track on who brings what.
In they come again – our everyday guests. 333 people exactly. Today there are a lot of Eritreans and Somalians. As usual, Syrian and Afghan families as well. Three young people try to run away, they don’t want to be taken to shelters with the others. They hide within the building. As I make my way to our small kitchen, a policeman asks me to wait outside till they made sure the three “fugitives” are located. There is no way out so they are eventually brought back upstairs. The policeman asks me if I know why they ran away. “They don’t trust the authorities, besides they probably don’t even know they’re in Berlin”. The officer seems very surprised: “How comes they don’t know where they are?”. I explain that ever since they left Austria, no one speaking their languages told them what was going on.
The first to queue to board on the buses didn’t have a chance to stop by the food stand, I bring sandwiches over. They’re mostly Afghans, so I use my two words in Farsi. As usual, they find it funny, and I don’t mind being laughed at for that. A translator comes over to help me, and laughs along and he hears me, it’s one of the first times the two of us interact apart from nodding hello and goodbye at each other. Even among volunteers, they are invisible walls not easily broken. I’m happy this one is slowly falling off. As I walk along the line, one of the Afghans asks me for a sandwich inp perfect German. I asked them where he learned it. “I lived here for three years but I was sent back…now I’m trying again…”. I tell him I hope he’ll stay with us this time.
Once the food distribution is over, I take my smartphone and go from group to group, asking people if they need WiFi. Most of them still haven’t had the possibility to contact their families back home, and they don’t understand why it’s never possible for them to buy SIM cards. Today, this improvised Hotspot allows us to reconnect a group of under-aged Afghan boys to a relative living in Berlin for several years. He asks where the boys are being taken, I give him the shelter’s address and that’s seven family members reunited later that day.
I come over to a Syrian family, six people waiting for their turn for the buses. While the adults are using the WiFi to get in touch with their relatives, a pretty little boy plays with a lion puppet. I tell him he’s cute, in Arabic, and his mother gives me a wide smile. I tell her she’s cute as well, and her own mother, who traveled along, smiles even more and takes the compliment like any proud mum. They wear huge white woolen hats with matching scarves, I’m happy to see that as Berlin’s weather won’t get any better in the months to come. As the boy still holds the puppet, I ask the two women how to say “lion” in Syrian. They were smiling, but as the boy’s mother thinks of the word and says “Assad”, the three of us are cut short in our smiles. We look at each other, and I hasten to say “Löwe”, the German equivalent, to lighten the atmosphere and erase the images that surely sprang to their minds. Nothing more was said, but their eyes are suddenly filled with worry. That single word was enough to send a palpable chill down their spines. We change the subject and they have to go anyway. I tell them I’m very happy they’ve made it safe here.
As the place empties again, the soldier who had previously had some very narrow-minded remarks about refugees comes to me. I thank him for his and his colleague’s help, and say to him it means a lot to us volunteers not to be entirely alone here. He replies: “Well, we will see in ten years from now if we did the right thing…”. I say that no matter what happens, it’s never, nor will it ever be wrong to try and provide the very basic needs of any human being.