Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it
“In the first place, ‘I’ don’t like to be called refugee!” (Arendt, Hannah) I myself use “newcomer” since day 1 here in Germany. I arrived Frankfort Airport on 14 August, 2015. I was wearing white training suit, brand sunglasses, expensive training shoes like rich tourists but the policemen checked my Schengen visa twice just to make sure that it is not a faked one. Then they asked me how much money I have. In a dramatic way, I opened my handbag to show my Dell laptop and dragged my white wallet to declare the 4000 Euro I have. Then I showed them the address of the acquaintance where I would stay on my iPhone. They stared at me suspecting my reason to visit Germany! How come I am here as a tourist! The idea of fleeing was not on my agenda but “Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think.” (Arendt, Hannah)
My plan was to go to Bremen to study Social Science and to volunteer with the communities to advocate my idea about the misconception between what is called Refugee Crisis and crisis of responsibility and refugee industry. Let me admit that there was no enough time to search about University of Bremen so I took what is on the website for granted and I am ‘mad and optimist’ to believe that my family history and education background will open doors!
Then my life has changed dramatically and I was not in charge anymore so I had to go with the flow. From Eschwege to Friedland Transit Camp where I started my European normal life which granted me the honor to represent Museum Friedland.
I am lucky that I have a career I love and the chance to get up every morning with a goal to achieve, a coffee to drink and a supportive German husband. Is it luck, destiny, or prepared mind which brought me here? I will share perspectives with you then you help me to decide!
In fact, Europe, the world and I were surprised by the refugee influx! Formal media, Facebook and YouTube are full with personal stories about people who were saved and people who are not. Stories about smugglers, killers and causalities on the Mediterranean shores. People who are in camps near borders or in the street with homeless. Researches, reports, statistics, political speeches and, and, and! We were bombed by stories which presented in the same thrilling dramatic provocative hair-raising way. But deep inside, we felt/feel that something is vague and smells fishy! Such feeling is not tangible but we have butterflies in our stomach! Arriana and the group tried to freeze the moment and to bring stories from Friedland transit camp to you today to put faces to numbers! After meeting people there, they agree with me that defining who is a refugee or asylum seeker or migrant is not enough. The movement of refugees to Europe and in Europe is far faster than the movement of researches of the prestigious institutes or universities. It is worth mentioning here that internet access and smart technological applications give different dimensions to the story of refugees. Let’s start by pointing out who is ‘today refugee’!
“A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees.”(Arendt, Hannah)
We are people who “lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in the world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, and the unaffected expression of feelings….once (we) were somebodies about whom people cared, we were loved by friends, and even known by landlords as paying our rent regularly. Once we could buy our food and (use the public transport) without being told we were undesirable.” (Arendt) Refugees’ story has three chapters as Museum Friedland Logo summarizes it: Farwell, Arrival, New Beginnings. These three chapters are not only words and photos on Facebook accounts or Youtube videos! They are families staying there far at homes waiting for Godot. They are the people who shared the same rubber boat or hold you crossing the Libyan Desert on that overloaded track. They are the smugglers and their guns and stinky sweat on your raped body. They are the border guards, the prisons guards, the journalists, the volunteers and others refugees we met on our way to Europe. They are officers, translators and social workers we meet at transit camps. They are the people who speak different language and have different colored skin we meet at language classes and migration offices. They are policemen, nurses, salespersons, bank and insurance staff who introduce the new ambiguous social solidarity system while we – refugees - are still fighting to learn the simple words of the new European language. These three stages are the students who are interested to know our stories to do their researches to graduate their universities, or project staff and volunteers who are involved in integration projects online or face-to-face ones. You are all part of our story! You are part of the social framework which help refugees to integrate. We need to talk about ‘Integration’ more to define it and to bring mutual understanding about it. There is an interesting Online Course under the title “Rethinking Us & Them: Integration and Diversity in Europe.”
Arriana and the team asked me a clever question: “Which is the social framework in which they (want to) integrate?” To answer this question we should remember that “Man is a social animal and life is not easy for him when social ties are cut off.” (Arendt) Therefore, refugees need friendly social framework to integrate and make life. It is so vital to know that host-guest relationship will not work. Integration is not top-bottom procedure. It is a process of two-way street and long term process where we all act productively while policy makers are busy planning a well-managed immigration policy. For instance, the German Integration Act is the first step and the Federal Minister of the Interior highlighted the fact that many refugees had already taken advantages of the opportunities available to them but this ‘many’ is not enough! There are another ‘many’ refugees and non-refugees who need to integrate and learn diversity to know that the link between terrorist attacks and refugee influx is not logic and the recent terrorist profiles show that the terrorists were born and raised up in Europe. Monitoring system will not find an answer to “Why people who have spent years in a country…decided to take up arms against it?” (Dr. Sarah Leonard) but political social cultural – not military – interventions will! There are many reports and studies but what Arriana and the team is doing is more active and practical. They gave meaning to people lives and they helped them to feel ‘human’! They went to their Zimmers in Friedland Transit Camp with patterns in the chaotic world they live in and some problem-solving tools and a real feeling that they are controlling their lives. I am not sure if there are studies about why people need to tell their stories but my personal observation prove it. Giving refugees a chance to tell their stories build a good rapport and help to integrate better with the locals in the new cities. How to listen to stories should be one of the group assignment of today! Or here I am, take the chance and start!
Let me sum up, in the era of globalization and the world delicate political situation, being in the refugees’ shoes need different approach, more humanitarian approach make us all in each other’s’ shoes because citizenship is an attitude not a nationality.