The part of their story with me in it

By Marisha Lange 

At the beginning of May I began a three-month internship at a refugee shelter in the south-east corner of Berlin. In my first days at the shelter, I met people from Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, Iraq and Iran, Syria and Eritrea and Turkey. I was fascinated by the diversity of their languages and religions and cultures. I was captivated by their stories, but while I was deeply interested in their past, something in me quickly latched on to their present. The novelty of where these people had come from faded quickly, and what I fell most in love with was the part of their story with me in it. 

The part where the children call out my name in excitement when they see me walking down the path and throw their arms around my legs and belly, nearly bowling me over in squeals of delight.  The part where we play endlessly in the summer sun, digging holes in the sand, swinging as high as we can, tumbling over and over to “ring around the rosy,” reading books, jumping rope, having make-believe picnics, and playing little American hand games to songs the kids don’t understand but can’t get enough of.   

The part where young teenage boys ask if we can make our English lesson two hours instead of one every summer afternoon as they eagerly devour new knowledge, and when I finally beat them in a game of table football.  The part where German lessons turn into a chance for me to greedily pry into the details of one man’s childhood in Syria and leave me buckled over in delighted laughter.  

The part where adults gather on Tuesday evenings and sip tea and coffee as we chat about food and languages and families and the nightmare of finding housing and the nuances of Berlin, and one little girl wants to hear whatever stories I can tell her, especially the spooky ones.  

It’s the part where I bake chocolate chip cookies to share, and they are too sweet for the taste of the adults, while the children beg for more, and one tiny boy with huge chunky cheeks manages to devour ten of them as he toddles through the room with warm brown chocolate smeared all over his face.  It’s the part where I’m invited into a container home for “tea” and hours later am finally sent away stuffed full of food and kindness.  

It’s the part where once new faces become dear, dear friends, greeted each day with kisses on the cheek and a warm embrace.  

It’s the part where I sit on the front porch of one of those dear new friends as we eat and talk and laugh and cry and enjoy the beauty of the flowers she and her husband have planted and tended around the little place they have lovingly made their home, thousands of miles away from the life they once knew, as the sunlight fades and the warm summer sky softens to a deep night-blue, and I never ever want this part of the story to end.  It is the part of the story where I am blessed, lifted, changed by the stunning humanity of people who have suffered much, and yet freely offer what warmth and love and kindness they so divinely possess. It’s the part where strangers open their hearts to one another and realize that we are all sisters and brothers, made of quite the same stuff – of love most of all.  

I came to Berlin hoping I could help refugees in some way, and in a beautiful, humbling turn of the story, I have found that they have helped me – they have inspired me with their resilience, lifted me with their kindness, and taught me more of what it means to be a part of this great human race. My perspective of Berlin is perhaps quite an unconventional one. When most people think of Berlin, they think of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall, of graffiti or museums and a fascinating history. When I picture Berlin, I picture a little village of container homes full of people I have loved and who have loved me in return. And so, when I think of Berlin, I think of home.  

Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

About the author

Ava Mirkovic, Ehrenamtskoordinatorin in der Gemeinschaftsunterkunft Quittenweg. Sehr interessiert an Dialog sowie voneinander und übereinander Lernen. Erfahrung mit Anwendung von unterschiedlichen Medien und Formate.

Ava Mirkovic, volunteer coordinator at the community accommodation Quittenweg., is very interested in dialogue and learning from and about each other. She has experience with the use of different media and formats and is open to creative ideas.



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