Monday, October 26, 2015.
Last Monday, I made my way to the emergency shelter in Dornach once more. The previous night another 650 people had arrived and more buses were announced. A total of up to 1400 guests needed accommodation. I arrived 5:30 p.m. and was there until 1 a.m. As I travelled by public transport, I had to leave at that time. For most of the night, I translated for paramedics of the Hospitallers. Those were the encounters I had:
A man and his wife come to see me. They ask how long they will stay here and where they will be taken. I say to him that I do not know and most likely no-one would, as even those who make those decisions wouldn’t know just yet. However, they were not supposed to spend more than a day or two in this shelter.
The woman says: „Brother … please, I would like your honest opinion. We know that you cannot tell. But let us know your thoughts based on your experience. “
„This is what I know. I’m not making it up.“
„We still have € 400. We are considering to go somewhere with less people. Do you understand? We don’t want to have to wait for so long.“
„Do you want to stay in Germany?“ I ask.
„Yes, we think so. The most important is that our children can go to school and learn. They may go to school here, right?“
„How old are they?“
„Eight and ten years.“ (I’m no longer sure about the age of the children)
„Of course they’re allowed to go to school here! In Germany, they must to go to school. That means the State has to ensure that they are enrolled in school.“
Father and mother look at me in relief.
„Nevertheless, I would advise you to refrain from your travel plans. You better rest here. Just wait until they let you know where they will take you and then decide whether you want to continue your travels or stay here. If you get on a train here, it will probably cost you most of your remaining money. Furthermore, it’s not sure if you get there. It could happen that you end up in a police check and taken to another shelter. Should you arrive at your destination, it’s possible they cannot take you in or it won’t be any faster either.“
They both look at me pensively. The man nods in agreement and his wife says: „You’re probably right…“
„You better save the money for an emergency situation, or go to a restaurant and eat something decent when you are fed up with soups and sardines in the shelters.“
Both thank me and apologize that they have taken up so much of my time. I assure them that it was a pleasure talking to them and wish them well for the future.
I translate for the paramedics. An Iraqi Kurd from Karkouk shows allergic asthma symptoms. The paramedics connect him to an ECG. I notice his T-shirt. The print reads „Samos“ and a sketch of the Greek island.
Jokingly I say: „Have you brought yourself a souvenir from Greece?“
He smirks and says: „Yes, that’s where we landed.“ He looks at his T-shirt and says: „I tried to learn a few Greek words there. They told me, however, (he meant his companions) that it’s not worth while because we were in transit only and were not going to stay there.“
Jokingly I say: „Insha’Allah you will get your papers here and find work. One day, you’ll go as a tourist on vacation.“ He laughs and says: „Insha’Allah.“ (Insha’Allah means „God willing“ and is probably the phrase most used in the Islamic world).
„Did you make the crossing in an inflatable boat?“
„Yes, and I found it very difficult.“ He is making a face. „I was terrified because I cannot swim.“
I ask his companion whether he could swim. He confirms.
„How much did you pay for the crossing?“
„One thousand dollars per person; the costs of the lifejackets and the life belts were on top. You have to pay for them. You know, we were on an inflatable boat that was designed for a maximum of 25 adults. What do you think, how many of us were we?“ He asked.
„Maybe 50?“ I guess.
„No, we were 55 adults, children and luggage on top,“ he says and makes a face as if remembering a nightmare.
„The waves were very high and at one point we almost capsized. The sea was very rough. We sent an emergency call because we were so scared. The Greek coast guard thereupon accompanied us and assured us that nothing would happen to us. We were also accompanied by a Greek fishing boat.“
I am impressed by the great benevolence and say: „May God reward them.“
He looks at me as if I was a naive child and says: „You don’t actually think that the fishermen were interested in our safety?!“
„What do you mean?“ I ask surprised.
„They just want to have the boat. It’s worth at least 5,000 dollars.“
A large family just arrived on a bus. At the reception, the paramedics are called to the 50-year-old family father. He is seriously injured. I ask him what happened.
„A missile exploded in front of me.“ The man had already undergone treatment in Syria. Nevertheless, the paramedics decide to take him to hospital.
„Where did this happen?“ I ask him.
„In Damascus. We are from Damascus,“ he replies.
„Do you know who shot at you?“
He raises his head, shrugs his shoulders and turns his palms upward, saying: „It came from above. But who knows who launched it.“
Later, the man is taken to a hospital together with his son, who speaks some English.
A young couple just arrived by bus. They travel with two little girls. The younger child aged eight months has had diarrhea for five days. She has a sweet smile regardless. The paramedics decide to take mother and child to the hospital. When I fill in the paperwork for them, it strikes me that the sick child was born one day earlier than my son. The older girl is as old as my other daughter. We talk about the children. They say: „May Allah protect them.“ I reply: „May Allah protect your children, too.“
„The journey was certainly very exhausting for the children,“ I say.
„God knows, it was more exhausting for us than for the girls. We had to run after the little one all the time. She had never-ending energy.“
I also noticed the little girl jumping about all the time, pulling her father’s sleeve, standing on his feet, constantly seeking attention. She reminds me very much of my daughter.
„Do you want the big sister to accompany her mother to hospital?“ I ask the father.
„No, she will stay with me. She would only make her mad. She can have some rest at least, „he says, with a tired smile.
Volunteers who organise accommodation for new arrivals call for me. A woman with three children is allocated to a room for females only. The room, however, is currently occupied by a couple. I am supposed to ask the man to move to the men’s only area.
The man accepts immediately. A volunteer asks me to translate some more for him and explains: „When I walked into the room, his wife didn’t wear her headscarf. She then quickly covered her hair. I hope I did not upset him. Could you please let him know I’m sorry?“ I translate. All the man says is: „He didn’t know she had taken off her headscarf. Tell him not to worry.“
That moment I notice the oldest of the three children in the family. I ask his age: He is twelve years old. The lady who was already in the room says: „He’s already an adolescent. Twelve years is not little any longer. I’ll have to wear my headscarf all the time.“ Her husband leaves the room. He doesn’t appear to be happy with the decision, but he agrees. The volunteers think about it briefly and decide to give the women with her children a different room after all.
Later, I meet the woman with her children again. They were lost and are rushing around, looking for their allotted room. While I walk them to the room, they tell me that their uncle has arrived from Karlsruhe to pick them up. They take their bags and leave the shelter.
A woman has just arrived by bus. She sees the paramedics and states she has a heart disease and has to take medication each day. She shows the paramedics an empty container and asks for new tablets because hers are finished. The paramedics check her heart rate and examine her. Her heart rate seems to be in fine. The woman is relieved. She is told to come back the next morning. The tablets are not in stock and have to be ordered. Before she leaves, she asks: „Is there anything to eat? God knows, I have not eaten for two days.“ We let her know this is the place for her to sleep, eat, and to use the facilities.
She smiles and seems to be really happy.
In the dining area I see a child wearing wide gray trousers. I think to recognize him to be the boy I saw the day before at the German-Austrian border, his father helping him to pee over the rails on the bridge in the river. I wonder if all those here today are perhaps the same people I saw there waiting in the cold. I look around and search for the man with the kidney disease but I cannot see him. I take myself into believing that he is possibly having a treatment somewhere. The thought feels makes me feel good. But could it be true?
I walk through the hallways. A volunteer, accompanied by two refugees, comes to see me. He asks me in Arabic where the clothes station is. The volunteer is looking familiar. I recognize he is the man from the first encounter that very day. He is the person who had 400 Euros after his journey. I say:
„Ah, now you are a volunteer as well!“ and smile at him.
„When we arrived here last night, I signed up as a volunteer. That way I can kill some time. There is nothing else for me to do here after all.“
I explain to him where the clothes are being distributed. He thanks and leaves.
He used to work in marketing in Syria.
Translated by Manuela Hoffmann-Maleki