Welcome Class & the streets of Berlin, January 5th, 2016

This week the Welcome Class is really welcoming new children, giving full meaning to its name. Yesterday, as I looked into my mailbox in the teacher’s room, the teacher I share my class with came, all smiles, to tell me two new kids will start school with us today. It led to an interesting conversation:

Me: “Cool! Where do they come from?”

Teacher: “There is that little boy from Bulgaria, he’s adorable, and that way there will be two of them in the room, they will be able to communicate!”

Me: “Great! What about the other one?”

Teacher: “He’s from Africa.”

Me: “Ok, but from where exactly?”.

Teacher: “Well, he’s black.”

Me: “ (…)? But do you know whether he speaks French or English for example?”

Teacher: “Well, he should know one or the other since he’s from Africa, don’t you think?”

Me: (… ) <– in German one says sprachlos. It’s harder to pronounce than speechless and somehow it feels like it matches the situation better as I find the whole conversation hard to swallow…I just say “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow…”

Off she goes, happy about having shared the good news. I’m off to the first class, the advanced group. It’s music time today, Monday 8am, no one is really happy to be up so early. Since it’s my last month at school I’m trying to open their minds as much as possible by making them discover composers they didn’t know about. I try to alternate between what they would eventually get interested in by listening to the radio and things they wouldn’t necessarily find out about by themselves. Today I tell them about Mozart, and they’re really impressed about his life. We listen to the Flute and Harp Concerto K 299 and after five minutes of looking around and sighing because it was boring classical music to their ears, they became more interested and ended up elbows on the table, mobile phones no more in sight, and listening with eyes closed.

After that, one of my kids from Palestine, Ameer, tells me he finds Mozart talented enough, but that he’s not a genius like Leonardo Da Vinci. Ameer is obsessed by Da Vinci. We have been talking about him ever since I arrived at school. In order to get into a regular class, children have to pass some exams, including an interview on a theme they chose. Ameer chose Da Vinci. So he explains to me that no matter how good a musician Mozart is, he will never be as good as Da Vinci who was good at everything. It’s difficult to counter such arguments, and I like how passionate he is about it, so I encourage him to share what he knows about Da Vinci. After music, we prepare everyone’s themes for that exam a bit more. They all chose topics that matter to them. Life for refugees in shelters, languages in the world, medicine, and I’m surprised that one of my Polish student chose Johann Sebastian Bach. I fear it’s because I already gave him a text that he won’t have to prepare, but he seems genuinely interested by his music as well.

Today, no music course, but the two new kids to welcome in the beginner’s class. Indeed, there is a Bulgarian teen and I’m very happy to meet the famous “from Africa”, who is in fact from Cameroun and speaks both French and English. He seems relieved that we will be able to communicate. He’s very polite as they all are the first day. Then it depends on whom they befriend in the classroom and how motivated they are to learn. But it’s a lucky batch, even the mischievous ones aren’t giving teachers too much trouble. The Bulgarian kid already seems at home because of the presence of another Bulgarian. Plus he speaks several languages. His father is from Spain so he tells me we can communicate in Spanish. I can see cobwebs in my brain as I’m painfully reactivating that language. Still, we manage to communicate with each other, and at least he laughs when I talk. And so do all the other kids when they hear me and Ian, the Cameroonian, speaking in French. They mimic us and here I am, surrounded by teenagers speaking seven different languages altogether, but each saying French “je t’aime” and laughing at each other. Ian is laughing along now, no more shy. The other boys seem to have adopted him already. There are only two girls left in a class of 12, it will change the group dynamics as well.

As the time is up, they all leave the classroom saying goodbye and see you tomorrow in French. I wonder whether I could get in trouble for that, but we talked German all along, and it has been a while I hadn’t seen them leaving the classroom together, and so happy – all of them.

An hour later, I’m almost at home, happy about the school’s day. But I can’t forget refugees for whom school is still a long way away. A family of Iraqis is standing right at the subway’s entrance. Two couples, accompanied by two small children. None of them is wearing jackets, but the little girl, who must be five or six. They seem lost, and are looking at the map the Berlin Public Transport printed out in Arabic. I really want to tie that loose scarf properly around the little girl’s neck and put her hoodie on, but it’s not for me to do so. I come forward and ask them if they need help. They do, but none of them speaks English. They show me a stamped address on a loose paper the size of a postcard. The LaGeSo sends them to the Red Cross. I don’t know how they arrived in my part of town at all. I begin to explain to them how to get there, using the map. They say yes but I can see they don’t understand a thing. I have been hearing speaking Arabic in the subway ever since I moved to Berlin but of course today I seem surrounded by everyone but Arabic speakers. They have to make do with my gesturing away to explain them where to go. I realize they won’t go far, so I take them to the train instead.

It takes us a while to get there, because one of the man can barely walk. They probably arrived only a couple of days ago, given the look of exhaustion on their faces and the state of their clothes. When we reach our platform, I show them once again where to get off, and tell them to ask for help again once there. We wait together for five minutes, during which the little girl smiles at me as I smile at her. I trust myself to tie that scarf around her neck and she smiles, the mother smiles as well so I also put her hoodie on and tickle her in the neck and although I haven’t heard her speak she’s laughing now. I hope that, wherever she’ll be sleeping tonight, she will be warm and that there will be another person making her laugh.

The train arrives, they all get in, ask me a last time how many stations they have to stay in, we wave goodbye, and they’re on the road again, while I make my way home, for good this time.

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