Schönefeld, November 26th, 2015

This morning I’m on my way to Schoenefeld for the first time in ten days. It feels like an eternity because so many things were discussed between us volunteers in the meantime. It is still dark out and everyone looks sleepy in the train. I wonder what awaits me, and think of the previous times I’ve been there. I wonder which head of operations, which company of soldiers, and of course which of my friends will be in today. I think about the place as well, and remember that fireman who had once told me he found it all so gloom because the whole place was grey. Before he had mentioned it I hadn’t really paid attention to it but now the sadness of the place comes to mind.
The sky is likewise as I get off the train, and I’m surprised to hear a bird singing in this cold morning.
As I get in, I see my favorite head of operations is on duty. He greets me with a cheerful “Hallo Schneeflöckchen” (a “snowflake” in German) from across the empty hall because of my white hat. It’s a long way since the “Junge Frau bitte zeigen sie mir ihr Ausweis” (“young lady please show your ID”) of our first encounter. We talk organisation for a couple of minutes, then I get started with the sandwiches.

As I come back from our kitchen with bread and cheese, I notice another official rummaging through yesterday’s leftover sandwiches. And since he’s one always causing problems I decide to use that beautiful way Germans have to use the same word but pronounced with different inflections to express their emotions, by telling, no, by almost shouting a threatening “Morgen” at him. He stops his rummaging and walks away after having mumbled an answer back. As other people arrive, many other “good mornings” are exchanged. Some also mean “Hey, happy to see you again!”, others are more cautious. But all moods are contained in that one “Morgen” word.

We expect 450 people today, we’re three volunteers making sandwiches. The soldiers working with us today are a good lot. They’re very helpful and we’ve known each other for three months now so it’s a bit less awkward to work together.

We’re quickly done with the preparation. As I talk to another volunteer, a fireman comes to our stall and takes a biscuit. We’ve got plenty today and there will probably be some left, but our unspoken rule of courtesy among the helpers is to not help ourselves before the shift is over, so as to make sure we’re not taking food from someone really needing it. I must look really annoyed because the woman I’m talking to giggles as she sees me glancing at the fireman. We talk some more. About risks of burn-outs among volunteers and on how to prevent it. We don’t have a solution at hand. The fireman comes back and helps himself once more. I don’t say anything, I just look at him and it’s pretty blatant that I’m not happy. He gives me a nod and walks away. We resume our conversation, this time the fellow volunteer also annoyed by his behaviour. And yes, here he comes again. As usual when I get worked up there aren’t enough German words coming to mind in time and in the right order but he gets the message from my dark look as he walks away chewing on his third biscuit. Of course, as soon as he left, I know what I should have told him. Still, I find it sad that both he and I should waste time in meaningless arguments like that.

The train is quite on time. There is a lot of children today. Single travelers aren’t brought to the sandwiches table and don’t dare to help themselves to some when they pass through the table watched by soldiers so I take some bags and walk through to distribute food. We still direly need plastic bags, as people have to carry their fruit, sandwich, cereal bar and cup of tea or coffee in their hands while carrying their sole possessions in backpacks, plastic bags or small suitcases. At some point, I see a toddler in a red jacket running around. She must be around two, is quite dirty but her clothes are warm enough, and she is laughing her head off. She turns her head and looks at me, with sparkling smiley eyes. As I smile back it seems to have given her the green light and she runs towards me, but there are too many adults on the way, so she gives up in front of the many human barrages between us. I’m quickly busy again, as people start asking me about WiFi.

I forget about little red riding hood for the moment, and begin the hotspot operations with my phone. Today is particularly difficult, almost no one speaks English so people don’t understand why I can’t share my data with more than five people at a time. I feel overwhelmed, I’m pushed from all sides, they all say “please” and I know how important it is for them but I can’t help more. I just see a sea of hands coming from all sides, and I can’t even type on my own phone anymore so I decide to go back behind the plastic wrap around the food table to get some physical space. I never felt that need before. The two soldiers who were waiting there see I’m overwhelmed and immediately come next to me, one of my right, one of my left. It’s the first time I really have the feeling we do work together, and at the same time I feel sorry that they seem to protect me from people who only want a chance to tell their families they’ve made it to Berlin. Fortunately, one of the refugees speaks louder than the others and he seems to be telling the lot to take a step back. He speaks English so at last he can explain to them why I can’t connect every single phone at the same time on my WiFi.

Little Red Riding Hood in Schönefeld, November 26th, 2015 © E Chaze

People board on buses pretty quickly, so this stressful phase is soon over, and I come over to the children’s corner. My little red riding hood is still there, she is drawing on the dirty floor. As I approach she looks at me and it’s funny that she seems to recognize me as if we had met ten times before. I kneel down and we start drawing together. I show her how to draw the contour of her hand on paper, and she’s very pleased about it. She draws the contour of mine as well. Another volunteer comes overs, he brought a torchlight and the child is just baffled at the light. She keeps on trying to catch it and everyone around is smiling. As she’s plenty busy, I come over a Syrian family and share the WiFi with them. An old Syrian man also comes forward and asks me for the code. I give it to him, and as he sees his phone connected on Internet he beams with joy. I smile back and he is so happy that he takes my head between his hands, gives me a huge kiss on the forehead, and calls me “Habibi”. I wonder how many people are that happy to get free WiFi.

Catching the light in Schönefeld, November 26th, 2015 © E. Chaze

I don’t have time to think much further as a little red bullet sees fit to run into my legs. Here is the little Afghan girl from before, who has apparently given up on trying to catch the light. She ran into me with all her strength and is currently wrapping my knees with her arms. As I lift her and make her swirl, which makes her giggle even more, a 7 or 8 year old girl comes forward and gently but energetically protests. Apparently I’m not allowed to carry her sister, I think she is on babysitter duty so I apologize as I pass the toddler to her. The elder one can barely carry her but they’re very cute as she plays the doting sister. The little girl waves goodbye, I still hold the drawing of our hands in mine, I’ll keep it as one of many memories of these moments. I write a couple of messages on people’s What’s Apps so as to tell their relatives in Berlin in which shelter they are brought to, but I need to go to work so I have to leave without having assisted everyone. Volunteers still work at full-speed so it feels weird getting out of all this chaos and sitting on the quiet train back to normality. It is broad daylight now and I’m on my way to school to meet other refugees.

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