This morning everything seems to be going wrong. I don’t hear my alarm clock, and the S-Bahn to Schönefeld is late. I look at my watch every minute in panic, thinking I’ll never be on time before coming to the conclusion that it won’t make me any less late to worry about it.
As usual, we’re not so many volunteers on a weekday, but when I arrive the soldiers unit have already prepared the sandwiches. I just have to put my badge on. There is a lot of women soldiers today. We expect only three hundred people, but realize when they start to arrive in the hall that they are pretty hungry and that there are many children among them. We’re missing about fifty sandwiches, the young soldier standing next to me looks totally panicked as she gives away the last two sandwiches. I tell her I’ll go get some more, she looks relieved. It’s her first day, she’s overwhelmed, it shows. When I come back to the table with bread and cheese, we talk a little, she’s really nice, not only with me but also with the refugees.
A little boy comes and looks at us. A soldier gives him an orange, he doesn’t want it. They look tentatively at each other. The soldier attempts to give him a banana. No banana wanted either. The kid wants something else, and the soldier doesn’t understand the Arabic way of saying “no” using the tip of the tongue against your palate. The soldier, amused, asks “what?” in German. To what the kid, who doesn’t understand German, answers “what?” in Arabic. This goes on a couple of times before I manage to stop laughing and tells the soldiers they’re asking the same thing to each other. The kids laughs too. He wanted a tissue, we finally find out.
When the food distribution is over, I see an interpreter in awe of a cute little girl playing with a… shampoo bottle. Sure enough she must have gotten some of the product’s taste in her mouth as she looks very skeptically at her toy. I go fetch her a teddy bear, but end up asking another volunteer to do so as I am assaulted by other children in need of a soft companion to hug on the road. Within seconds, all teddybears are gone. I brought some chalks so I start drawing on the ground, and soon five Iranian kids draw along. They’re very shy, they don’t dare drawing anything at first. So they copy my roses and wait for approval to draw further. I tell them “buru buru”, which roughly means “go ahead” in Farsi, so soon a lot of little hands colour the grey floor of the hall. Mothers come to me and ask for some clothes. I’d rather play with the kids but know it’s more urgent to give them decent clothes.
Once you get started with the clothes, a never ending race back-and-forth the clothes room begins. Everybody needs something. Especially warm clothes or shoes which we direly miss. As I come and go to fetch a scarf, a jumper or a kid’s pair of trousers, I marvel at the amount of monstrosities people give. High heels, roller blades, clothes that must have been last worn sometime between 1950 and 1960 at best. If only they were warm the style wouldn’t matter, but I still wonder why some people see fit to give away stuff that no one in their right mind would wear. I mean, roller blades!
The trickiest part is to clothe the men. Sure enough, one comes over and needs everything. I manage to find him a warm jumper and a t-shirt, but the long mantel I found for him is so big that he looks lost in it. I go back to fetch him something shorter and smaller. We only have five men coats. Three of them being tracksuit tops. The second jacket doesn’t fit either, he raises his hands helplessly as they disappear into the top which is at least three sizes bigger than himself. He looks like a puppet so his friends and myself can’t help but laugh at the sight of him. Five Syrian friends, laughing, because they’re here and alive despite the ridicule of the situation.
Two women ask me for shoes. I frown at the thought of the pointless high heels I could offer them. I have to tell them there is nothing left. That’s when I met Lulu (her nickname), a beautiful young English teacher from Aleppo. I’m so surprised to hear such good English that I lose mine when we start talking. She came here on her own, but her fiance lives here. It took her nine days to reach Germany from Greece. She’s the only one with whom I share my WiFi today, just because I didn’t have time to do so before meeting her. Maybe I’m getting used to hear horrible stories about coming to Europe, but I’ll never have enough of the look on people’s face when they are suspended on the phone, anxious to hear the familiar voice of a loved one, and beaming with joy and relief when at last a voice resonates from Kabul, Aleppo or Baghdad.
Lulu will be reunited with her fiance in a couple of hours. He’ll pick her up from the shelter. As she hangs up her eyes are full of hope, relief and tears. “Hug?” I say. “It wouldn’t go amiss!” she replies. We hug for a long time. I tell her it’s almost over and that she’s safe now. I know I will see her again as she gets in the bus, so when I leave for work I feel happier.
if you would like to donate for Train of Hope, here’s a quick way to proceed: