Welcome Class, November 9th, 2016

Is there anything worth writing today? I carefully avoided all debates, and most of the news yesterday, so as not to feel too anxious about that crazy election, only to wake up like the rest of the world to the shocking news of ignorance taking over the world.

But life goes on, I’ve been told, and kids are blissfully oblivious to world politics so school was a welcome distraction today. Teens from the regular classes presented their work on kangaroos, on koala bears, on bush fires and so on. Yes, we study Australia this year. In my French class, they have to write about finding their way in the Parisian subway. They ask me to organize a school trip to France. We’ll see about that, another year perhaps. For now, we’re talking trains, and we are very far from what happens overseas in Washington.

I correct their spelling, grammar, pronunciation, syntax, in a haze. None of them mentions the election. I hesitate bringing up the subject, being their English and French teacher, but feel it isn’t the right time. In the teacher’s room, everyone is a bit stunned. But German-like stunned. That means people are very pragmatic about it, a “what can you do” kind of attitude which I thought at first meant they didn’t care. But they do, only they are less dramatic about it than other people. Later on, I head to the welcome classes.

I ask the kids to move the tables around: we’re going to have a debate. They have enough vocabulary to undertake that, and if anything it’s much needed today. In order for it to fit in with what they need to know, I begin to ask them what comes to mind when I say “German Republic”. We have a brainstorming session. The first word that comes up is “museum”. Culture, definitely comforting to hear today. Then comes “democracy”. Interesting. So I ask my kids (five Syrians, one Latvian, one Polish, one Afghan), what does democracy mean? “Elections”. It starts to itch. I ask them whether they heard anything about yesterday. The Afghan teen starts: “Ah yes, that guy in America?”. He grew up in Iran, but I’m not sure he’s familiar with “that guy”‘s stance on Middle East. One of the Syrians sees that I’m not happy about the election results and tries to comfort me: “But you know, maybe he has a good heart?”. Errrr. Yeah, maybe. Let’s see what will happen to Syria within the next few years before we can answer that. Coming back to what directly concerns them, I ask what more do they know about the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. “Political parties” comes next. During an election, one can chose between several parties, they marvel at. Spot on, that’s one fundamental principle of democracy. What else do they know about this country? “Mama/Aunt Merkel”, who protects refugees. If Merkel extended the right to vote to all refugees regardless of their legal statuses in Germany at the next elections, she’d be re-elected in no time.

Follows a heated debate between the Afghan teen and the Syrians, the Afghan maintaining that it’s much more difficult for Afghans to remain in Germany and obtain papers than it is for Syrians. I arbitrate that the best I can, listening to each story of administrative maze (that’s when “lots of paperwork” comes into the conversation). Some of them had to sleep rough in front of the LaGeSo, where it all began last year. Kids, arrived here on their own, without their loved ones. Sleeping in the street. 21st century civilization. All have been denied their nationalities, and they show me that their passes indicated “Staatenlos”, “Stateless”, in their residence permits. The Afghan boy risks to be sent back in three months’ time. He and his family had only been issued a year-long permit. The underage Syrians are in the same situation. They are also denied the right to bring their families to Germany, even though they are underage, under the pretext that “it’s not proven that they are Syrian” and because the one-year asylum permit doesn’t allow family reunification. Even once they battled through all the administrative procedures, they might have reached 18 years of age and no longer be eligible for family reunification.

Still, when you say “Germany” they get all smiles. The Afghan boy goes on: “We’ll never be sent back because Germany needs us! I saw it on Turkish television when I was living there, the news said it all the time!”. Do they, really. I think of what will happen in three months’ time and just hope the Afghan won’t be sent back to a country he’s never lived in. Our class goes by really quickly, they’re writing away the new words and exchange their impressions on German hospitality. They’re a happy bunch when they leave the classroom. No election thoughts. As I head back to the teacher’s room, this old mural in one of the school buildings catches my attention and I wonder whether this whole election story  was a long planned conspiracy all along, or maybe just a long lasting nightmare:

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