Berlin welcomed us with a rainy, summer embrace. After stuffing our suitcases under our beds, Shane, a graduate of UM and our tour guide/fixer/professor/fairy god father of the trip gave us a tour of our new neighborhood of Neuköln. Berlin is split up into different “neighborhoods,” each having it’s own feeling. Neuköln’s streets are lined with kebab shops, Späti’s (convenience stores that stay open late), hipster burger joints, and a bars.
We spent the first two weeks of the program touring refugee camps and different governmental/nonprofit organizations that play a role in aiding refugees seeking asylum in Germany. We were lectured by different experts of every field, doctors, economists, journalists. Each gave us their perspective of the refugee crisis, allowing us to understand it in a new context.
In return for their help as translators, three men from Afghanistan and one from Syria joined us on these visits and lectures. Talking with them and hearing their feedback about the information that we were hearing from the previous mentioned experts was enlightening, and sometimes uncomfortable. It is one thing to hear about the suffering of others from a lawyer specializing in asylum law, and a completely different thing to hear it from the lips of a man who fled his home in fear of his life.
Tragedy, however, was not the only topic of conversation with these men. I had many long conversations with Anmar, the 35 year old from Syria. Anmar has bright-red long hair and a white scruffy beard. He loves hard metal, beer, sweets, and is one of the most insightful, gentle, straightforward people I have ever met. His English is near perfect, and is working hard on improving his German as quickly as he can. During our breaks we would sit together with a few other students from the program. As he rolled one cigarette after another, we would discuss religion, love, justice, sex, morality, and of course, American pop culture. Anmar is a refugee, a victim of religious persecution. But, Anmar is also a human being… a guy who likes painting houses, watching movies, discussing philosophical concepts over a beer or two. Talking with him helped me realize just how important this reporting trip was. The Missoula to Berlin project’s main aim is to give a human face to the refugee crisis. Read more in the next blog entry to find out what other amazing people I met who did just that.
Above: Visiting a refugee shelter.
Above: Visiting a school where many young refugees take German courses.