Welcome Class, December 9th

The parallel is easy but coming each day to school is quite similar to opening an Advent calendar window each day when you’re a child: you’re always surprised by what you find. As an adult the surprise effect tends to fade away as habit creeps in, but some days are better than others.
Yesterday, I talked about the imminent departure of the Syrian girl who was being bullied. Her bully is still not back to school, so the atmosphere is much lighter.

Today, I decide to teach German to the kids through geography. Since there is no fixed program, I can do as I please anyway. And to me it’s important that they know in which world they live in, also geographically. So we take some jigsaws, and I form three groups. Seven kids are rebuilding the world, two others are constructing Europe. In a way it’s a bit what I hope will happen in their future as well.

The Roma kid tells me he always hated geography. He just wants to go back to Bucharest as soon as possible. No interest in knowing any other country. I tell him that anyway he might get back to Romania quicker if he knows how to get there in the first place, so he starts looking at the world map, slightly more interested. He is 15 and doesn’t know where Brazil is. He plays – and is, in a way – the bad boy, but little by little, takes pleasure in trying to assemble the pieces of the jigsaw together. I leave him be to help other kids whose German isn’t as advanced as his. The Albanian kids work together, one is much more advanced and shouldn’t be doing that, but I also have doubts about his knowledge in geography. So I appoint him tutor of two other kids, and off they go, with their map, trying to fit the north pole into Mexico.

I sit for a while with my two Afghan teens. They have come a long way, and they’re the most disciplined of the class, because they know the value and power of knowledge. I gave them Europe to build. I feel a bit like a British settler trying to evangelize people, with my EU map to refugees, and think that I’d find it quite difficult to assemble a jigsaw on Afghanistan if I were them. Anyway, they are here to stay, hopefully, so I want them to know their surroundings.

I spell out the names of the countries and capital cities to them, and they repeat, first in German, then in Farsi. As we assemble Europe, I venture to ask which route they took to arrive here. One of them explains that it took him a year to reach Germany with his family. As the pieces of the jigsaw come together, he tells me a bit more about each country he crossed. I also get an evaluation on both the police officers and volunteers in each of their country.

Upon forming the Black Sea on the map, he gives a knowing look and says “ah! wait!”. He wants to explain something. With drawings and words, he explains that he and his family sailed the Black Sea for five days on an inflatable boat made for six people but carrying 26. Each of them had to pay 8000 € for their place on the boat. Sure enough, they sank, but were rescued by the Bulgarian maritime police. Then detained for three months before being allowed to continue their journey. In Hungary, the family was separated by the police and my school kid had to make his way to Germany on his own. He took a taxi from Budapest to Munich. And a bus for Berlin, where he was reunited with his parents and brothers. He is only fifteen. I take my phone to Google Translate “I’m so sorry that Europe makes it so difficult for you to seek shelter here” in Farsi. He smiles, tells me “It’s how it is”. I know, but it’s not how it should be. And tomorrow, I will be welcoming hundreds of new asylum seekers coming with yet another of the daily trains reaching Berlin each morning. The Afghan boy asks me how I came to Berlin from France. My story is much shorter. I trace a simple trait between France and Germany and mimic a plane. And I apologize, again. The other boy sports large scars on his right hand and on his face. I know he only came here with his brother, so I know better than to ask where his parents are. He tells me anyway that they are still in Kabul. His eyes are full of sorrow as he says that, so I quickly divert the conversation towards his brother. He talks about his life in Berlin, shows me his temporary passport, I see that he has been granted asylum for one year. I wonder what will happen to him afterwards. From the sadness in his eyes I can’t fathom how it could be safe to go back to Afghanistan in a year’s time.

My Syrian girl, who was practicing her writing, comes over. The two Afghan boys are done with the map, they’re writing down the names in German in their notebooks. There is only ten minutes left, we probably won’t have time to finish it, but she wants to try and make the jigsaw as well. I undo it first and we sit just the two of us, while the others keep on doing their other tasks. She’s very good. We exchange some words in Arabic, I think she makes fun of me but she laughs and I don’t know how much longer I’ll see her laugh so I really don’t mind. Too soon it’s time to leave, and as the room empties itself, she stays and tries to complete the jigsaw. I don’t mind staying longer. When everyone has left, she raises her head. “Like that, nice!”, she says. You bet, no bullies around anymore. “Yes, it’s quiet”, I reply. “Are you coming back tomorrow?”, I ask. “Of course!”, she says. “Do you know when you are leaving?”, I continue. “No, I’m not sure, maybe I’ll stay here after all”. I’m so surprised by her answer, I have to repeat the question. It turns out she hasn’t made up her mind yet. I should be neutral and say nothing but I seize the opportunity and tell her “Please stay with us. I promise you it gets easier, if not better. And I’m here”, I add, as if it would change anything against a group of bullies. She smiles broadly and replies “I know. I will see. I will think about it. Maybe, yes”. “Good”, I say. And really hope she will stay. She leaves with a joyful “Tchüss” and I’m left alone in the messy classroom. But today the mess doesn’t matter, because I know she hasn’t given up the fight just yet.

***
I now use a new template for the blog, which doesn’t allow me to show the “Donate Now” button for “Berlin Train of Hope” on the front page, so I will try and think about posting it at the bottom of each post. 

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