Schönefeld, November 28th, 2015

Colors! Norma, one of the helpers, read my blog the other day and decided to decorate Schönefeld’s hall so it wouldn’t look as grey anymore. It is a lovely gesture, and an improvement that considerably brightens up the room.

Some colors brightening up the hall © Norma, November 2015

We’re expecting 450 people today. One hour ahead, everyone seems in a good mood, and the “usual suspects” of our helpers’ team are all here. The head of operations having suggested it, I also put some music on and we’re spreading the cheese on the bread while listening to David Bowie. The soldiers are really helpful, we get into a good cadence as we make sandwiches and we’re quickly done with that.
When the first people arrive, everything is ready and the food distribution starts smoothly. I go through the lines of people with plastic bags and sandwiches. Once everyone got something, I take a better look at this new arrival of people. Who needs a hat? who needs some shoes? Most kids wear wellies that were probably given to them in Greece. It’s so cold outside that when I see an uncovered neck I feel cold myself. I need to get plenty of scarves and hats for them. Fortunately, we have some left in our clothes room. Family after family, I look from head to toe and ask them. It’s like being a waitress but instead of two mojitos and three beers I need a woolen hat, two pairs of trousers and a pair of shoes size 3. Two soldiers guard the door to our clothes room as we’re the only ones allowed in. We pass twenty times in front of them, cracking a joke at each passage. Once, I come out with five or six scarves, and Syrian women waiting at the door try to get them as soon as I pass by. I know they are waiting for another volunteer to come back with more clothes, so I don’t give it to them: I have fetched those for other people. Still, it’s hard to deny a scarf to someone in need but I have to remain focused and first bring stuff to the people I was caring for.
As I had let some people use my WiFi again, my phone is now in the hands of one of the soldiers stationed in the middle of the hall. That way, I can come and go as I please to the clothes room without cutting the connexion for the people using it. As I come back looking like a street vendor with arms full of warm clothes, I see a Syrian man to whom I gave my WiFi code coming towards me holding his phone high. He gestures towards the phone, smiling. He’s video-calling a relative in Syria (and in doing so emptying my remaining data, but that’s fine) and wanted to introduce me to him. I can’t really wave hello with all the clothes but I nod and smile as three laughing Syrians in a living room somewhere in Damascus tell me thank you from a small smartphone screen. I have to get going, so I leave the man to it.
The clothes I brought are quickly gone. A little girl to whom I gave a hat gives me a big hug and a kiss in return, saying “Thank you” in English. As I look around once more, I notice a woman with a cover on her lap. Inside, a tiny baby girl. She’s only a month and a half. Her name, which I forgot, means “softness” in Arabic. She’s sleeping soundly and I ask whether I can take a picture of her as she’s so cute. The mother is very happy to and this is the little one:

A happy baby, November 28th, 2015 © E Chaze

Since people saw I had WiFi, they’re almost walking on the baby’s mother to reach me. Incidentally, I’ve reached my data limit, so I ask them to give the woman some space and tell them there will be no WiFi anymore. She and I look at each other again, and seeing any of the arriving people with a look of relief and smiley eyes is the best justification of being here, so now again I feel the warmth of her look on me and I try to send her as much love as I can through my eyes. Her brother speaks English, he asks me how he must do to go to Sweden. I tell him the truth: I have no idea. Not anymore. I don’t even know what’s possible for them anymore. But I give him a map of Berlin public transports in Arabic. And my phone number because he asks for it, “in case I am lost and need some help”, he says. That much I can legally do.

A woman gently poses her hand on my arm. She asks whether I speak French. “A little, yes”, I say, and she asks me if I’m French. As I answer positively, she tells me I look like it. We laugh, she speaks perfect French. She’s from Morocco, but lived with her Syrian husband in Aleppo. She asks me whether I could find her new underwears because she lost all her belongings. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be to ask a foreigner in a foreign land for that kind of thing. I tell her I’ll see what I can do. Once in the clothes room, I look around, and fortunately we’ve got some. I put them in a small plastic bag so as not to show them to everyone when I’m back in the hall. She also asked for warm socks, I find one too. As I come back, I discreetly give that to her and she looks so relieved. It dawns on me that her husband probably needs some too, but it makes me feel very awkward to ask him. Instead, I go back to the men’s clothes room, and again, take a plastic bag, pack two pants and two pairs of socks in it. As I come back, I tell the woman “for your husband, I can’t give that to him myself, sorry!”. Since we speak in French, no one around us understands, so no one understands why we’re laughing. She thanks me ten times, I answer her questions. Mostly by “I don’t know”, when she asks me about what is going to happen to them. I don’t know anymore. I can just tell them that they need to register, as quickly as possible. Everything else is so chaotic. It changes every day. I don’t want to deceive anyone, so I don’t say anything anymore. It’s time for them to go, I come along up until the door. The woman thanks me again, we hug as I wish her good luck, and an interpreter laughs because we look like two friends saying goodbye on a train platform. She too has my number. She will let me know what happens to her.

“Horror room”: where unsorted clothes lie © E Chaze

The hall empties itself again. A group of helpers has gathered in a corner. A newcomer walks towards them. I waited for him like the Messiah: he’s one of the “Freifunkers”, a group of volunteers installing free WiFi for refugees around Berlin. I pestered them on Twitter and they nicely accepted to come and see what they could do about our train arrivals. The other volunteers laugh at me as I look so pleased to see him here. I feel like a real estate agent as I show him “our” building. I have absolutely no idea about what he needs to see in terms of infrastructures but it’s good that he’s here, I also get to discover new rooms myself in the building. Once we come back to the main hall, we meet the head of operations who is very enthusiastic about the whole WiFi idea. He brings us to the first floor. It’s an abandoned building but here and there we find a chair, a desk, a long forgotten lamp. We try to make our way up to the roof but after having taken a spiral staircase we find a locked door. We will have to see to that at another point. For the time being, we must leave the building.

It’s snowing now. The Freifunker and myself walk around as we need to ask people in the neighboring buildings whether it would be ok to use their antennas for signal. It’s Saturday, so we’re not lucky, but we’re one step closer to offer a little bit more reassurance to the hundreds of people arriving to us everyday.

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