Day 9: Dornach


Saturday, 03.10.2015

Actually, this weekend should have passed calmly. On Friday, no one was expected and Sunday was even declared a day of rest. Surprisingly, however, in the afternoon the message came that buses were still to be expected. Thus, I got on my way and was at the accommodation facilities from 6:30 p.m. until around midnight. Two buses arrived. Many of the arriving refugees had already been registered in initial reception facilities, but were brought back to Dornach due to overcrowding. That evening, once again a few encounters came about.

Encounter 1

A young man younger than 18 years asks me to call his uncle. The latter was on his way to Dornach to pick him up. However, he had problems finding the accommodation. While we were waiting, we started talking:

  • „Where are you from?“ I ask.
  • „From Iraq. I am a Yazidi.“ (It was my first conversation with a Yazidi.)
  • „Are you here on your own?“
  • „No, with my little brother and my sister.“
  • „Have you fled from Daech?“ In Arabic, the ISIL is called ‚Daech‘. It is an abbreviation of ‚Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq‘. Most Arabs whom I know despisingly call the IS followers ‚Dawa’isch‘.
  • „Yes, they attacked our village.“
  • „It’s a shame what they are doing…,“ I say glumly.
  • „They have slaughtered the men and kidnapped the women and girls.“
  • „Oh God, they’re barbarians!“ I’m lost for words. After a while, I ask: „How did you get away from them?“
  • „We were in a neighboring village when they attacked.“

Silently, we wait until his uncle picks him up and his siblings.

Encounter 2

A black African pair gets off a bus. The man is tall and muscular as if he came out of an action movie. The woman is advanced in pregnancy. I wonder if they speak Arabic. The woman says:

  • „I speak Arabic.“
  • „Where are you from?“
  • „I am from Libya.“
  • „Ah, welcome! I’m Tunisian.“
  • „Ah nice, be welcome as well.“ (Tunisians and Libyans have a very similar accent and therefore get along with each other very well.)
  • „Doesn’t your husband know Arabic?“
  • „No, he’s Malian.“

Encounter 3

It is already late and I get hungry. I sit down, eat some soup and a bun with it. A slightly corpulent Syrian, around 25 years old, sits down next to me. He seems to be in a relatively good mood and tells me to enjoy my meal. I ask him where he comes from.

  • „From Halab (Aleppo),“ he says.
  • „Are you here on your own?“
  • „No, I came with my mother. How is it in Germany? What advice can you give me?“
  • „Germany is a beautiful country. If I can give you one piece of advice, it is to learn the language well.“
  • „Yes, I’m just waiting that I’ll find accommodation somewhere to start with learning.“ At that moment, I notice a tattoo on his wrist: a kind of ornate plant. In the middle of the tattoos, I believe I recognize a cross.
  • „May I ask if you are a Christian?“ I ask, pointing at the tattoo.

He laughs and says: „No, I’m not. Anyone who sees it thinks the same thing, but it should be something completely different. However, the tattooer made a mistake.“

  • „Were you a student or have you worked before you came here?“
  • „I had been studying Arabic to become a teacher. Unfortunately, our house was destroyed, and all my certificates were burnt. I have long tried to get them certified by the ministry, but I did not make it. In my previous job, I was working on construction building sites as a tile layer.“
  • „It is unbelievable that in spite of all the destruction, people still build.“
  • „Yes, that is true. If a house is destroyed, the owners often begin the next day to rebuild it on the same spot.“
  • „What else should they do?!“
  • „If the schools are destroyed, the teachers put up blackboards in front of the schools to teach the children.“ I remember that I have already seen pictures of school classes in front of destroyed schools.
  • „You know, the war has been going on for four years now,“ he says. „People are wondering what will become of this generation. They will be a generation of illiterates.“ That thought had never occurred to me. But it is true. Perhaps, this lost generation is the biggest problem with all the death and destruction.
  • „We have become accustomed to the bombing and destruction,“ he continued. „However, there is nothing left for living. We can no longer feed our families and our children. That’s why we flee.“
  • „It’s a disaster, they have destroyed Syria,“ I say.
  • „Yes, and now, when Russia intervenes, Syria is definitely lost. My brother stayed there. I have long tried to convince him to come with me. But he would not. Yesterday, I spoke with him and he told me that the Russians have bombed our street.“ He paused and his eyes became red. He fumbled out his cell phone and said:
  • „Look, I’ll show you something.“ He showed me a picture – a portrait – of a small smiling girl. Maybe seven or eight years old. With tears in his eyes and broken voice he says: „She’s our neighbor. My brother said that she was torn to pieces in the attack by the Russians and parts of her body were lying around everywhere.“

Encounter 4

A young man comes up to me at the food counter. He takes me aside and says:

  • „Have you still got instant noodles? I love these noodles!“ I check and someone promises to look in the warehouse. I ask the young man where he comes from.
  • „Ladhiqia. Do you know Ladhiqia? Where the giraffe comes from.“
  • „The giraffe?“
  • „Yes, our giraffe. You know…“ I understand that he means Bashar Al-Assad. He is sometimes referred to as the ‚giraffe‘ by his opponents because of his long neck.
  • „Where are you from?“ he asks me.
  • „I am Tunisian, German-Tunisian.“
  • „Tunisia is free, Tunisia is free!“ he chants jokingly, alluding to the protesters of the Tunisian Revolution. „You have ignited the revolutions and are the only ones who have managed it somehow.“ We talk about Tunisia for a while. Then I ask him:
  • „Why did you flee?“
  • „We were constantly bombed.“
  • „By whom have you been bombed?“
  • „By the regime, by the army.“
  • „But why does Bashar bomb his own hometown?“
  • „Because he bombs the Sunnite half of it.“ Bashar Al-Assad and the political elite of the country are Alevites.
  • „Are you a Sunni?“ he asks me.
  • „Yes, in Tunisia, there are almost exclusively Sunnis.“
  • „Our neighbor’s house was hit by a rocket. Everything was razed to the ground. A relative was hit by a bullet in her car while she was driving and was killed instantly.“

Encounter 5

A bus has arrived and the people are assigned beds, depending on their nationality. A man from this bus does not speak Arabic, but only bad English. I ask him where he comes from.

„Iran,“ he says.

He is the only Iranian in the accommodation. There are many Syrians and Iraqis, but they do not like the Iranians because of their involvement in the wars in the region. So I gave him a choice: „Do you want to go into the room with the Syrians, the one with the Iraqis, the Afghans or the Africans?“

His answer comes promptly: „Afghans!“ Many Afghans speak Farsi (Persian). This is probably also a reason for his decision.

Encounter 6

A couple with three children gets out of the bus. They are Syrians. Father and mother are each carrying a sleeping child. A third child is walking by their side with half-closed eyes. All of them look extremely tired. The woman is advanced in pregnancy. Someone takes the child off her. Later that evening, a helper tells me that the woman already is pregnant in the ninth month and that on that evening she already had contractions every 20 minutes.

I just think: What can persuade a man to get into a boat with his heavily pregnant wife and his three children, and to cross the sea?



Lying on my bed, I think about the tears shed by the Syrian from Halab (Aleppo). I think about all the powerful people who destroy a people and a country. And again and again I see the image of the small Syrian girl in front of me.

Translated by Manuela Hoffmann-Maleki


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