Recently I remembered going to a training course on writing grassroot projects that was happening in Belgrade. June 2015, about 40 degrees outside and me with a huge bag on my back, going from the train station in Belgrade to a nearby street, called Resavska.
And then I look to the right.
Sea of people in front of the train station, and her. Lady, with the saddest look in her eyes, covering the face of a crying baby in her arms, and looking straight at me. I remembered how guilty and upset I was feeling many hours after that. We already knew about those people seeking refuge and coming from the Middle East because of war that is happening there. And honestly, that was the only thing I knew at the moment when I received that look of a lady on the train station. Somehow, now, I see it as a sign of warning and keeping my eyes wide open towards the situation that is happening, and that will be happening more than a year after our encounter.
After that, I was wondering – Can the weight of my bag, that I was having on my back that afternoon, be even compared to the burden inside the soul of that lady?
26 July 2016. 8:00am
It was time to say goodbye to my two four-legged best friends, because I knew I will not see them for the next 3 weeks. After months of planning every single activity, every single unit related to the studycamp in Friedland, I finally got to see my dear coordinator friends and will spend few days before the camp with them.
And I was happy. Got on the train, music was on and magical Hemingway’s essays were in my hands. All the things I knew related to the current situation of refugees in Europe were there, in my mind; I heard so many stories, read so many articles and updates about the situations on borders and in refugee camps and at the moment, I thought I knew everything. Was also a little nervous, since this was my first workcamp ever, and was always going trough all the things I read about camp coordinating; for me, at that point, on the train to Budapest, that was the most important thing to know. I could not guess how, in few days, all of those things will become so unimportant, that I will not even try to go to news updates, or to use a toolkit on camp coordinating.
Solidarity with refugees
Solidarity (n.) – unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.
Our studycamp had so much in itself that the poor definition of solidarity; the name of this camp was just a glimpse of everything we felt, cared about, and wanted to experience and work on. When I arrived in Friedland, in the heart of Germany, I felt so at ease. Peaceful. It was a warm sunny day, trees were everywhere and a LOT of animals! The sky was so unusually blue; at one moment I felt like I am on a whole another planet, and so cut out from everything that was surrounding me just few days before. And I was more than ready to accept this as my new, short-term reality.
It was like my old friends were arriving to Friedland when participants started coming; although any of them I haven’t seen in my life so far. A lots of laugh, decent meals, and confusion was all over the place during the first days of our camp. And everyone, at least at the beginning, had descriptions of this ,,Solidarity with refugees’’ camp in their heads:
– Friedland became the place of the largest German refugee camp after WWII. (…) Years later, many refugees, mainly from the Arab world, pass through Friedland and a new museum has been created to reflect on the different refugee streams that have passed through. This year we will work in a community garden with locals and refugees and learn about the different refugee movements in Europe, including as an example Balkan refugees from the Yugoslavian war. Moreover, we want to share experiences of supporting refugees and empower participants with a broader knowledge of understanding reasons for refugee movements.
– We will work in the community garden where refugees, locals and volunteers will work together to create a “common ground” of cooperation.
– We will receive expert inputs regarding the history and organization of Friedland from local activists and the museum Friedland, as well as get into contact with witnesses of time, current refugees and migrant communities and organizations.
And for some start that was enough.
We had a lot of amazing inputs of experts in the field; we visited Museum Friedland, that helped us a lot trough the process of preparation of the camp, as well as organizing activities during the camp; same as Caritas. Sascha, or PhD guy (I called him all the time like that!), had really (not surprisingly) wrote a PhD on Friedland and it’s development, and he gave us an amazing and new perspective of the camp and history of migration – we could also experience that at the museum also. Speaking of migrant communities and organizations, we visited Roma center in Gottingen and it was also valuable experience for all of the volunteers.
Work in the community garden
The garden we worked on was really something special. Starting a day in a place like that really makes you think about why you didn’t had any physical activities before the camp, since your arms and legs hurt after shoveling and carrying loads of bricks few hours a day!
Maybe I wanted to make a small joke, but it’s not about that. Me, as a volunteer, felt really useful doing something like that – harvesting, planting strawberries and making beds for future plants of this garden. And I cannot help myself but thinking – how much this will help people, the one we call refugees, who will come here and work this on a daily basis. How much this will help them feeling useful and respectful in a whole new society, and how much this work will do to empower their future and maybe changed individuality.
And it seems to me it’s a never ending circle of questions…
In this same garden, we make a small art project – painting the hut and letting volunteers and refugees to write on it. We asked them to write words on their languages, like – peace, love, home, freedom and hope.
Maybe it’s not a common ground, but it’s definitely a common hut of understanding. And everyone was quite happy about it.
Also, we had a chance to be present on the rehearsal of the theater show that was part of Boat people project, with the topic of refugees and migration. With personal stories of refugees and faces of refugees/local children and teenagers, the whole perspective of a play was becoming clear in everyone’s minds; even in the minds of people who did not understand a word of German or what they were saying in the play.
And it made me think – what is understanding all about? Is it about words, or about something else, something that is more non-verbal, or just, at some point, heart-verbal, if I may call it like that? How do we want to understand things that are around us?
For me, this camp also opened doors to new ways of understanding – and by that, I also mean to new ways of feeling and interacting according to what I felt it’s right at that moment.
And our friends from Friedland transit camp seemed to be very good at non-verbal communication skills! Sometimes all you need to do is to wave back, or smile in order to invite them to join you.
And what was most important and most valuable to us, as volunteers, was the possibility to actually talk and be around people who traveled so much, went through so much pain, loss, disappointment and discouragement, and yet they were still there – alive and well, talking to us about their experiences and families, smiling, and sometimes, without a word, saying things that we will keep forever in our hearts and minds. There is no need to say that we managed to have a great contact with refugees from Friedland transit camp. They became our friends, someone who will be our greatest memory related to those two weeks in Friedland.
As a conclusion and final product of our project, the camp group filmed a short movie on a Syrian refugee’s daily life, Mohamed, in the Friedland camp and presented it to the camp and local community in Friedland. And I think everyone of us related to this project will remember the moment watching this movie for the first time. I did not to want to watch it earlier – although I could – because I didn’t want to ruin the surprise factor on the whole final-event-of our-workcamp thing, since the movie was shown in Friedland museum, and there was our presentation and finalization of the camp.
I did not cry, although I wanted to. I didn’t, because at one point of the movie I remembered a lady from the train station in Belgrade last year. She didn’t cry, but her baby cried for both of them. And I couldn’t cry now in honor to that brave lady. And sadness was not present at that time at all – Mohamed got his transfer to another city in Germany. He will start a new life, he has a chance for a new beginning, and his smile will shine still, but on another place. Because since we met him, he was with his smile all the time, and it really inspired me to work more and do more in everything in my life.
After the camp ended, I felt like i was carrying a dandelion in my arms, holding it in one arm and protecting it with the other, in order not to be blown away until I get home so I can show it to my mom, just like when I was a kid – that is how much I wanted to keep all of my impressions at one piece; that is how much I wanted all of this to be one big image in my mind, one big experience that cannot change a bit. And that is what I realize now. But I also realize that everything changes all the time and that this is just something that will stay as a piece of me – but I am also aware that there are many places to see and experience, and that are maybe not so pleasant as this amazing experience in Friedland.
But what I want from this experience is to share it with others and to grow inside me as a flower that can fade away and blossom the very next spring.
What is most important is to show a will to accept, to nourish and absorb all the things that might be different. To make a simple gesture of love, patience and companionship, sometimes without a word, because after end of it all, we are just human beings who can feel and learn from their observations, emotions and experiences. What I learned in Friedland camp is that you don’t have to be at your best communication skills; sometimes you ask questions that maybe are not so easy for other person to answer it, but somehow all of that can be managed by mutual understanding and willing to communicate and share. And sometimes dancing, singing, or even just smiling was a lot for both persons interacting. Those are universal languages of love and friendship.
Somewhere between stories of my mom about how she found her soul laying in old buildings of Krakow when she was visiting it 30 years ago and barking of my dogs, I started to write this story. And I realised that I have so much things to keep within me forever.
I will always remember Museum Friedland and the amazing place of Friedland transit camp, full of life and peaceful disturbance between the houses refugees were staying.
I will remember Mohamed and his amazing drawings, and Ayla, talented writer, whose story touched my soul a lot.
I will, for sure, remember Samah, the strongest and bravest woman I’ve ever met.
I will remember all volunteers that were part of this camp and their amazing personalities.
I will remember the final football tournament in the camp with volunteers and refugees from the camp.
I will remember all refugees we met. Mohamed, lovely soul with the greatest smile, refugees from Pakistan with horrible stories told trough a smile full of hope, Zeshan, who told me to pray for him to meet his family again.
I will remember horses and all the animal kingdom I’ve met in Friedland – they made me so happy every day. J
I will remember laughing, swimming, running and drinking homemade sangria made by my great Spanish friend.
I will remember this place, and Gottingen, which is a beautiful city.
I will remember singing together in a row in the garden while carrying bricks in order to make beds for the plants.
I will remember all the things we learned together, our lovely garden, and our shared experiences in refugee activism and other.
And I will always remember the lady from the train station. She is a symbol for me, for many things, for many reasons.
When image of her came up to my mind once again, I realized I remember her look differently now – now it’s full of hope, and some kind of rebel. Was it really like that, or my mind is so tricky that it made me think that this new perception is correct and the only one possible? Do I just understand it differently now?
I will smell flowers more, love more, and observe more.
And I will, for sure, make bubbles towards the sunset at the end of a happy day, just like in Friedland…
And beginnings. ❤
Studycamp Building Bridges – Solidarity with refugees, Friedland, Germany, 7 – 14. 8.2016