Paris, November 14th, 2015

My heart lies in Paris, where beloved friends are experiencing yet another ordeal after January the 7th. It looks desolated there after yesterday, the same way it looks everyday in Syria, in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Eritrea, and everywhere else in the world where people suffer.

My heart also goes to the people I meet this morning. The Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan people who flee the Islamic State and leave everything behind to come to our shores. This morning, the fellow volunteers all offered me their condolences. I’m alive and healthy, so are my loved ones in France. I’m in a state of shock but there is nothing I can do about it just now, and hundreds of other people in a similar and worse state keep on arriving, everyday. So I can still hand in sandwiches and help these people in need before I look back on what happened in France and feel my world falling apart, again.

Per chance, today *only* 250 people arrive. We got so used to chaos that it seems an easy task. They are only 250 but arrive in a particularly poor state. Open shoes, some people having only slippers, a lot of children not even wearing a jacket. I fetch some clothes, give away woollen hats, and scarves, and pairs of shoes.

My mind is elsewhere, but the smiles of gratitude still touch my heart and remind me that although it is broken today it is still beating. I keep on covering little heads and warming some children with warm clothes. I try to help men getting new shoes but we don’t have any pair bigger than 43. Keeping busy with shoe sizes, while checking my phone every two minutes to see if the last people I didn’t hear from in Paris texted. Finally one of my close friends get back to me. She’s shocked, but safe and sound. I write to her in reply “Je t’aime”.

Only today, my empathy goes even further to the people arriving – because our fears are one. They always were, but the sound of bombs is getting closer. They don’t know about it, and I don’t want to tell them. They think they reached safe haven. As I provide WiFi to a couple of families, a Syrian woman asks me to use my phone. Her brother is in Bonn. They call each other for a couple of minutes, one of the interpreters comes to us, explains him where his sister will be brought and how it will work out for the two of them to be reunited. The last bus is about to leave, the woman and I look at each other again, we hug, for a long time, we kiss each other on the cheek. I tell her “good luck” and she’s gone.

Berlin-Paris, 14. November 2015 © E. Chaze

Later, in front of the French embassy, as I lay a rose in a sea of flowers brought by fellow countrymen and a lot of Germans, a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf comes forward. She lays a text presenting condolences from all Muslims. She looks worried to be here. Our eyes meet, so I thank her for her note, and tell her that French people don’t all think Muslims are responsible for what happened. Terrorism has nothing to do with religion. As we talk together, an old German woman comes forward. She asks the Muslim woman: “It’s good you are here, but where are all the others?”. The Muslima is at a loss for words. I try and remain calm as I say: “This woman came to offer her condolences to my people in a time of grief. It would be nice of you to respect that and keep your idiotic comments for yourself.” She replies, undeterred: “Yes, but where are all the other Arabs?”. She shouldn’t have started me on that. “As it happens, hundreds of them came directly from Syria this very morning, because they are fleeing the exact same terror that happens on a daily basis in their country, and the ones I talked to certainly don’t approve of terrorism which killed many of their loved ones as much as yesterday’s attacks killed French people”. Seeing that we won’t agree, the woman walks away. I turn to the Muslim woman and tell her I’m sorry about what just happened. “Don’t worry, people talk to me like that every day here”. Again, I’m sorry to hear that. I offer that we go light my six candles, one for each of the attacks, together. We walk arm in arm, kneel together, and light our candles in a joined mourning. There is no difference between us, we are both human beings, we both fear for our future, and the future of next generations.

Berlin-Paris, 14 November 2015 © E Chaze

As I walk back home, I look around me. This world, our world, is collapsing, it is falling apart and most of us are watching, doing nothing about it. Yet everything is related: refugees, us, terrorists, our inaction, us selling weapons to obscure forces, us doing nothing to stop terrorists who kill people who come to us. It is a circle, and it’s exploding to our faces, again, and again, closer and closer. Yet we don’t seem to understand. I wonder how many more dead, how many bombs and how much sorrow it will take until that sinks in: we are in a state of war, and the flow of refugees won’t stop pouring, the bombs won’t stop exploding, and Paris and all we hold dear won’t stop falling apart until we raise as one against obscurantism. Again, as it always does, history will judge, and we are its writers.

Berlin-Paris, 14. November 2015 © E. Chaze

 

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