Berlin: Save Aleppo, December 17th, 2016

The Reichstag in the fog, December 17th, 2016 ©Emmanuelle Chaze

I’m heading to my first demo in ages today. For Aleppo. Well, for a show of humanity, more to the point. I had decided to give up – been to so many of late. Met fellow French citizens in front of the embassy after each attack, and there has been a few. After a while, you just feel there is no point to it all. What will it change to stand as a group of random powerless people in front of official buildings? Will bomb stop to fall? Will terrorists stop blowing themselves up? I may be one of those bringing candles and lighting them up and singing “Imagine” each time, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel discouraged by it all.
Anyway, the mood is like the weather today. Neblig. Foggy. I don’t know where my happiness has gone. It’s probably like the sun, always there but sometimes hidden by the clouds. As I make my way through Friedrichstrasse I see many people busy doing their Christmas shopping. They look like normal people having normal lives in a normal world. And: they seem oblivious to the world. Enviable. I take a side street to avoid Unter den Linden and walk to the Reichstag. Again, I feel discouraged. Now, I don’t like to be judgemental on people’s life choices, we all do what we think best for ourselves, but this had to come out here at some point so I’ll vent it out. When you talk about volunteering, or going to a demo, some people look admiringly, and say things like “oh if only I had the time…”, “it’s so good that you’re doing it”. Well, yes it is good, but hearing those sentences is annoying, at times. Of course I don’t expect everyone to come to all the protests against all the things that don’t work in the world – only a few can actually manage to sustain that tempo, life goes on and time doesn’t extend. But hey, I have a life too, it’s just a matter of priorities. Don’t “would if I could”, that’s just plain bull***t. Everyone can. Do you think I like standing and freezing in the cold with a candle that goes out every two seconds? I too do have nicer things to do with my life, but some things at stake in the world are so important that they should take precedence over our own petty matters.

A fog is wrapping the official buildings, but far off on Unter den Linden I can still catch a glimpse of the Russian Embassy. That massive building, architecturally so cold. Fits perfectly. I keep walking, now there are anti-riot police vans lined-up along the pavement. I hope it’s the sign of a strong participation. But it’s really cold out so I doubt it. Better be bombed in the summer, people are more likely to come and show support.

I’m supposed to meet up with volunteer friends. Haven’t seen them in ages. We’re all still active but in different places. We had all met during the summer 2015. When everything started (for us) in Berlin refugees’ scene. It changed all of our lives. We met and befriended each other because of the refugee crisis, else our paths would never have crossed. We developed strong bonds at a time when I experienced the loss of friends as I started volunteering. People tend to take their distances when you have less time for them, understandably, even if that time is devoted to people who are more in need of a friendly presence than anyone else. Friendship come and go but starting volunteering definitely made some masks fall around me.

When I arrive at the Reichstag, hundreds of people are already there. No idea how many. It’s more than I expected, but far less than what was announced on Facebook. A picture called “Facebook likes being distributed to the needy”, where you see a humanitarian worker handing out Facebook-likes shaped papers to poor children comes to mind: it’s easy to commiserate from the comfort of one’s home, less so to actually move out of it to take a stand in front of the relevant authorities in order to defend your convictions. When was it that we as a people decided to give up so easily on our freedom of speech, of protest, of choice, that our forefathers fought so hard to get? Sometimes, like today, I feel that we live in an anaesthetized world.

I walk through the crowd, don’t see anyone I know just yet, but that doesn’t last. It’s full of people I used to know back then, at the LaGeSo. Full of Syrian people, understandably. Most men look so pale, so fragile, with lifeless eyes. I had almost forgotten that look. I saw it so often, at the LaGeSo, at the train arrivals. In Lesvos. It brings back so many memories. The sound of the sea on that Greek island as I was looking at the Turkish coastline by a bright cold winter day. The lights of the smartphones going up and down as dinghies were floating in the sea. The cold wind those nights, the sitting around the fire with the Spanish bomberos while waiting for the boats to land. The meeting with the people who hadn’t died upon their arrival at Moria camp.

I quickly find my friends. There is Miriam, whom I met while we took care of the first kindergarten at the LaGeSo, when it still lacked all the basic infrastructures to provide basic, primary care to all the newly arrived people (<irony> people, an alternative name that may be used to qualify “refugees”</irony>). Not that now it has greatly improved: some things never change. There is also Jihad, from Damascus, and Ebru, one of Caritas’ princesses. It’s good to see them again. I feel like a veteran meeting old pals. Still fighting for our own ideals and still to no avail, seemingly. But we are two thousand today. Miriam brought candles and signs reading “Save Aleppo” she drew before coming. This time I hadn’t brought anything, although I have a stock of cemetery candles at home in case of further vigils to be held. You never know, the future may unfold further drama to be mourning about in front of embassies – I should have inserted the irony disclaimer). We hold our signs high, and shout “Save Aleppo” when required by the various speakers. The organizers are pretty disorganized, have technical problems with the sound, and are obviously not used to speak to a crowd, but they do their best and it works out. We listen to people from Aleppo. We listen to Syrian songs. We shout, again and again, against the murderers of Syria. It’s getting colder. I’m holding a big sign made of a white bed sheet with “Save Aleppo” painted in black. I don’t even know the guy holding the other side but Jihad does. A photographer comes by, he wants us to hold it like this, no like that, and if we can move a little bit more this, and now that way, that would be perfect. And wait, maybe holding it a bit higher as well please? He spends a good fifteen minutes shooting the sign, it’s getting slightly annoying. I tell myself, we’re all doing our best. Pictures are part of it, I guess. Still, I’d rather see more people and less pictures.

Making our voices heard, Reichstag, December 17th, 2016 © Emmanuelle Chaze

It’s getting so cold, after two hours I decide to head home. I give back the sign to its owner, blow off my candle, leave my friends and head back to another life. I walk towards Brandenburger Tor. It’s lost in the fog, and beautiful in the night. In front of my embassy, there are a couple of Chinese people. They’re demonstrating against organ traffic in China. I catch a flyer, pondering whether I should stay and show support. They’re only ten or twelve, next to three anti-riots van. I give up. I can’t feel my feet anymore, I’m tired, and emotional. You have to pick your battles. With a pang of guilt, I walk down Unter den Linden this time, and think of that Einstein quote: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. That would justify all the sorrow coming with helping others if it were true, and in many ways feeling so strongly about the world is a blessing that I will never regret having, but some days I really wonder. Ultimately, will it be worthwile indeed?

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Once upon a time, it was about to be a Merry Christmas for some. Pariser Platz, December 17th, 2016 © Emmanuelle Chaze
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