Welcome Class, April 6th, 2017

The kids from the class mostly come from war-torn countries. So when I read about chemical attacks on Syria, I think of those in the class who still have relatives there. They usually talk about it when something that big happens.

Upon watching the horrible videos showing the injured and the dead I remembered how used to violence those kids are. They saw so many things before coming here that they don’t even blink an eye upon seeing blood or a corpse. They flick through those videos during breaks, they exchange the news in the class and in between they learn and laugh as if everything was fine. I can’t fathom how any of this won’t leave any trace into those brains as the kids will grow up. Knowing that humanity reached a new level of cruelty this week in Idlib, I head to school with some new books to work on for the kids. It’s a comic strip about summer holidays. Something light and fun to work on.

When I enter the classroom I check all the faces so as to see whether or not I can spot…I don’t know, a new trauma. But no, they all look fine and happy. There is the formal greeting and we all sit down. Fouad, a 12 year old chatterbox and the youngest here, begins to tell me that he needs to comb his hair and he needs to go to the hairdresser and and and and…the others shush him as I make them laugh by saying Escutu in bad Arabic (which means be silent) as he goes on and on and on. We’re all laughing, him included, as each kid volunteers to start reading our comic book. Then Muatasem asks whether I heard what Trump has said about Assad yesterday. “I try not to listen to what he says”, I answer. “He said he should be dead”, he informs me. “Oh”. The others fell silent. “So what do you think?”, I venture. They all look down. They know they are safe here but would never utter a single word against Syria’s president. I wouldn’t either, because I don’t know where they stand, politically. I think no matter their initial allegiances, they can’t ignore the horror that is happening. And no matter which side they were on, their lives has been dramatically changed, wrecked, torn apart, because of what is unfolding in Syria. “Guys, let’s go back to our book, ok?”, I say. They nod. Only educated souls will be able to fight evil, so let’s learn, I think.

I introduce the main protagonists, and explain they meet in a train and talk about their summer holidays. Fouad, again: “Miss, miss!! It’s holidays soon!!!”. “It is indeed Fouad, what will you be up to?” I ask. It’s going to be difficult to teach today but whenever they want to share stuff I think it’s better than a dry grammar lesson. “I’ll go swimming pool“! he says, over-enthusiastically. “Swimming, you’ll go swimming”, I correct, as the others laugh. They always laugh kindly though. They all make mistakes and correct one another when they spot them, there is a real solidarity between them.

We start reading, and find out that one of the two protagonists went climbing during her holidays. “What about you guys, have you already done some climbing?”, I ask. They all went together with another teacher. We talk about it, I give them some new words, I explain fear of heights in German. We also talk about seasickness afterwards. Muatasem, who came to Germany on his own, is laughing at this stage so I ask him why. “It’s just that at sea there were so many people in the boat that seasick women threw up on me”, he says, laughing nervously. He talks about rubber boats, the kind he took to reach Chios from Turkey. No one ever told me how to react when someone nervously laughs about being vomited on while risking his life with dozens of others because Europe prefers it that way. But he’s laughing, so I smile and we talk about his trip a bit more, until he withdraws with a “ah, whatever, let’s keep reading”. As if nothing happened. Will he ever heal from that, really? He seems so fine yet carries so many horrible similar stories. Just like the rest of them. The hour goes by as each kid plays a different character from the book.

Later on, we have a music class. Today I decide to introduce them to German rap and French reggae. I figured that learning a language was easier with songs and some of them really want to resume French lessons as they began to learn it in Syria.

We are only seven today to it’s nice and relaxed for the music lesson. We sit around the table and begin with the German song. It’s about a guy who asks himself whether life would be better, were he someone else, but then realizes that he’s perfect just the way he is (that’s Cro’s Wie ich bin). And I want them to know they are perfect just the way they are. So we read the text several times and after a while sing along. At first Fouad the chatterbox is completely silent, until he reads the “but I’m the king” sentence, at which points he jumps from his chair saying “King! king! that’s me!!!”. Haya, five years older, tells him “yeah, you’re rather a kind (German word for child). I feel like a proud mama at her swiftness to make that play of words. Fouad looks despondend and sits down. I ask him whether he knows what he wants to do “later”. “Yes yes!! I want to become a rap singer!”, Fouad says. The others laugh so I ask them what they want to become. We have three girls wanting to become police officers, another one a doctor, and the last one a busdriver. The one who wants to become a doctor, an Iranian girl, has been attending my class for six months now. She polishes her nails and makes selfies during my class, uses What’s App and Facebook and never brings her school material for the classes. Somehow I’m not sure about becoming a doctor anytime soon so I’ll have to talk to her at some point. The future busdriver is the liveliest girl in the classroom, the BVG will be very lucky to have her if she doesn’t change her mind.

Then, Haya turns towards me, and asks: “And what about you, what to do you want to do later, miss?” I didn’t see this one coming. “But it is already later for me, Haya”, I begin. They all smile but expect another answer and won’t let me get away with that, so I keep on, referring to being a journalist: “I’m already doing what I want to do”. And realizing it in the process. I’m doing exactly, wholly, what I have always wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it. Haya asks “but why are you still teaching us then?”. Within moments, everything becomes a little more clearer in my mind as I look at them waiting for my answer. Why do I teach, if that is not my call, as I believe it isn’t, really. What keeps me coming back at them? At this moment, I know, because of all the reasons that brought them here. Because of Lesvos and Calais and Malta and the train arrivals at Schönefeld, I know. So their enquiring faces beam with delight as I give them the only answer to all that nonsense: “Well, I suppose it is because I love you”.

Berlin, April 2017 © Emmanuelle Chaze
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