Back from holiday, back to earth.

On the train from Basel I met 10 young Syrians (boys and men aged 16-50) – some “fresh” from the war, all who had survived a death defying boat trip and the long walk across Europe. All they seemed to own between them was a couple of smart phones and a broken carrier bag of a few things, because they had to throw out all their stuff when their boat was sinking. They looked so sad and tired, but very happy to chat. We conversed via one good English speaker among them and after refusing about 5 offers of food and drink they eventually took us up on the offer of coffee. Having not slept for at least 3 days and with another probably long night ahead of them, they needed it. We had a few more laughs and I even got to touch a scar from a bullet wound (personal first). I told them they are heroes and he said no, we are not, we are cowards, we left our country, we should have stayed there to die. Hard to know how to reply to that one. When they left the train they were all very grateful and thanked us for the coffee and company.

A few hours later, just before midnight we reached Berlin Central station where a group of about 20 people on the platform – men, women, teenagers, young children and a babe in arms – caught my eye. Not the usual Saturday night partygoers, that’s for sure, but no luggage either. They were trying to get help from the security people but obviously the message/answer wasn’t getting through. I offered to translate (EN/DE before anyone thinks I have learned Afghan!!) and they said they had just arrived from Afghanistan and wanted to go to the camp. I helped with the answer and directions, welcoming them to Berlin and again got lots of thanks. I can’t stop thinking about the mother with her baby – happily smiling and grateful, just for a few words.

Both times I wasn’t sure about stepping in to help (interfere!), but in both instances I am glad I did. I think people who have been through what they have just experienced need to know they are seen. They need to know they are still human! And quite possibly (almost definitely) need assistance or help whether in the form of a smile, kind word, coffee or translation. I guess at least here in Berlin and other parts of Germany helping refugees will now be part of everyday life for us. So we best all reread the Good Samaritan for inspiration and put our best feet forward 🙂

For Berliners who do have time to help in a more formal/regular way you can register on https://volunteer-planner.org/helpdesk/

The decision to host

Princess Alyssa of Nigeria – Part Two

A good place to begin is always the beginning, but when was this? How did we become the sort of people who let a complete stranger live with us in our small flat?

Nannie Oma and sister in River Oder, Küstrin 1930

Nannie Oma and sister in River Oder, Küstrin 1930

Was history turning the cogs of fate already in 1945, when my grandmother was displaced along with 11 million Germans living to the east of the Oder-Nieße Line? Did hearing stories of my Nannie Oma‘s escape from the advancing Red Army make me sympathetic to the plight of modern day refugees? Maybe this is also what motivated Conservative MP Martin Patzelt to host refugees, as he was born and lives just 30km from where my Grandmother grew up.

Or should we fast forward almost exactly 70 years to our arrival in Vienna in May, for the Eurovision Song Contest. (My apologies, I had to get that in somewhere, I swear more Eurovision is what this world needs. Aherm, Globovision?). Upon our early arrival via the overnight sleeper from Berlin – yes we hug trees as well as refugees – we checked into the swanky Hilton Hotel. Even treehuggers need luxury sometimes, and in our room big enough for 15 people to practice their dance routine, we turned on the local news and saw a report about the tents being erected in Austria to “house” the refugees.  Something just didn‘t seem right.

However I seem to remember that the actual decision to allow a complete stranger from another continent to stay in our guest room was made several months before, in around March 2015. Looking back at the news from that time, I see there were several headlines about refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, as well as reports of the refugees arriving onLampedusa.

Above all I was motivated into action by two photos. One from Syria where thousands of Syrians queue in front of a backdrop that could have been superimposed from any one of a number of tacky post-apocalyptic movies.

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Photo: AFP/Getty Images

And another photo of a 4 year old boy, somehow temporarily separated from his family on the long walk across the desert. There was a fair bit of hu-ha surrounding this when it turned out he was only „temporarily“ separated but I feel that was a handy distraction from the fact that HE IS A FOUR YEAR OLD WALKING ACROSS A DESERT

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Photo:Andrew Harper UNHCR Twitter @And_Harper

Despite being regular donors to UNHCR and having given several suitcases of clothes to the local refugee homes it just didn’t feel like enough. So when I stumbled across the Flüchtlinge Wilkommen (refugees welcome) concept it seemed like exactly the right thing to do. So we signed up and it was whilst still suffering from severe post-Eurovision blues that we got the call asking if Alyssa could come to stay.  And this is where the real story of our time with Princess Alyssa of Nigeria begins. Part 3 to follow shortly!

*Name changed

Twitter: @beriyani