A comfortable routine has already taken over at school. I’m no longer surprised to see a new face popping out from behind a table each time I enter my classroom. This is going to be like that for the whole year. Authorities are really filtering through schooling requests and attestations are delivered very slowly. This is going to be like that for the whole year. So at each new arrival, we’ll have to adjust our course individually. It’s a bit like juggling and being given an extra bottle to juggle with every day. It also means that at times it can be challenging.
Today isn’t one of these days though, upon entering the classroom I know very well each of the four beaming faces in front of me. Three of them were there last year, they’re from Syria. The fourth one is an Afghan teen, freshly arrived and so full of grace that he looks like he came right out of a fairy tale. I barely have time to open the door that the four teens are literally on me. They surround me and babble so much that I can’t even reply to one question. “Slow down guys!” I ask, as I’m trying to get rid of my bag and books. They babble away and I feel like a bird nesting, only I’d bring German words instead of worms to the chicks. Finally, they all stand in rank and chant “Good Morning Miss C.!” before sitting down. I’m about to start when I’m taken aback as they begin to sing happy birthday to me. Once in German. Once in Arabic. It’s adorable and of course I’m moved but they don’t give me time to think too much about it. They’re full of questions today, and apparently something crucial has been on their minds, at least for to of the boys. They ask me whether I could help them with something. I wonder whether they’ll ask me to smuggle a brother or a cousin through the border, or accompany them to the foreign affairs department, or anything similar. Maybe is it school related? No, today the main thing on their minds is: how to date a German girl, and can I provide them with any tips to do so? I try hard not to laugh. They really don’t want dating advice from me. There’s seemingly a clash of cultures between the two boys eager to date (the Afghan and one of the Syrians) and the two other Syrians. The Syrian girl is utterly shocked they even dared to ask and sniffs in disdain before pointedly putting her fingers in her ears disdainfully. Such earthly matters are of no concern for her chaste ears, and she clearly disapproves of me answering at all. Her brother nods, saying “Allah allah”, laughing at the two others. Whatever, it’s a situation, we can work on that: there’s always new vocabulary to be learned, and they’ll eventually need dating vocabulary as well, so I put aside my plan for the day (“how do I behave at school?”, a fascinating pedagogical reading for newcomers, I assure you) and ask them to formulate questions. So apparently, the Afghan boy is the Alpha helping out the Syrian who is interested in a German girl. If someone had told me that one day I’d be trusted to give out dating tips to refugee teenagers I’m not sure I would have believed it. The Syrian starts “There’s this girl, you see..”. “Quite, quite”, I say, deadly serious. He goes on: “Well I don’t know how do you start a conversation with someone you fancy?”. It’s funny how much vocabulary they’ve already picked up when it comes to subjects that interest them. I smile broadly: “Well, as a woman myself, I appreciate when the “hello” isn’t a whistle”. The Syrian nods solemnly: “Of course, I would never do that, I’m looking for a girlfriend, for something serious! And this idiot there [he points out at the “Allah Allah Syrian who rolls eyes and laughs at him each time he mentions the girl] thinks I just want to have sex!”. There we are, I think, I’m in for a condom discussion again. Awkward. The Syrian girl looks at me with eyes like saucers. Surely I will put this nonsensical conversation to a halt? I tell her: “Relax, we’re not going to talk about anything you shouldn’t hear!”. Saucers eyes again. I give her up for the moment. Turning towards the boys again, I listen patiently as the besotted tells me in many different ways and with very good German that he has never been near the girl. I suggest that possibly the best way to start a conversation is simply to go over and say hello. Inside, I marvel at this discovery that boys seemingly ask themselves as many questions as girls at this age. But no, he says, he can’t possibly just go there and say hello, he has to have a good excuse to go talk to her. I lean forward conspiratorially: “Which class is she in?”. He leans as well, whispering the girl’s grade in my ear. Eye rolls from the saucers girl. I’m possibly the worst teacher she’s ever met. “Can we work now?” she sighs. “A moment”, I reply. Turning towards the boy, I nod seriously: “well, since you will see her as you have courses with her class once a week, how about you take this opportunity to go say hello? if you introduce yourself she’s likely to give you her name as well…”. Seemingly I’m an old cow and don’t see how insurmountable this obstacle is. “But you don’t understand Miss C.! I’m not confident enough to do that!”. “Well pet, no one is, bluff is all there is to it!” I tell him. “You mean, everyone doubts themselves?”, he asks. “Allah allah”, says the other Syrian, disapprovingly. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to teach in Damascus. “Of course they do”, I say, choosing to ignore the godly reference, “but not all of them show it. But usually the more confident from the outside, the more self-doubting the person. See, if you didn’t fancy her, you wouldn’t even doubt yourself for a moment, you’d go straight out there and say hi, wouldn’t you?”. The boy doesn’t want to see my point: “But I DO fancy her, that’s the problem! She might not like me! That’s terrible!”. Coming from a boy who had to escape his war-torn country and leave his family behind. I keep the serious nod: “Hmm. Terrible indeed. Of course, she might not like you, but if you never even talk to her then you’ll never know if she does or not. Besides, I’m pleased to say that you have enough German to have a conversation with her so that won’t be an excuse!”. Defeated, he concedes he’s his own obstacle. I think we’re through with that conversation but now it’s the Afghan boy’s turn to come forward. “You see, I once knew this girl…”. These kids have more romance than adults and they’ve only be here a couple of months!. “Uh-ho”, I say, putting aside once again my fascinating “”how do I behave at school?” for newcomers in Germany” brochure. The teen goes on: “Well at the beginning, it was all good, I started talking to her, and she was interested, and from one day to the other, she stopped being interested. “That, my friend, probably means she met someone else”, I interrupt. “YES! that’s EXACTLY what happened!” he says. “See, and the sooner you forget about it, the better for you”, I reply. He goes on “And another time, there was that…” this time I don’t let him finish his sentence. “Alright I see you’ve all got busy lives ahead but in order to have all those conversations with your beloved ones let’s do some German now! The four eagerly take out their notebooks [besides, this is not a sci-fi blog, eager-to-learn kids do really happen in a classroom, every now and then], but the Afghan looks longingly at me and say “but we’ve got so much to tell you about…”. The Syrian adds: “We have so many stories and no one to tell them to!”. I look up, startled; expecting them to be playing me for some more time without German. But no, those kids arrived here alone, without their families and loved ones to talk to. They genuinely have so much to say, so many stories and no one to tell them to. Last year I used to use my whole hour to instill grammar and German expressions, but from now on I think I will be more indulgent and listen to their daily worries as well; that’s part of nesting too.