Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Guy on the U

After taking the u-bahn for the first time to get to church on my first Sunday here, I also had to take it to get back to my apartment. I had gone to lunch with the pastor and his family after church, and I had a pizza box with my leftovers that I carried with me, which I think must have been what was getting me several strange looks on the u-bahn.

When I was about half way there, a man sitting in the car just across from me looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back, and he asked, "Do you speak English?" The question brought me a strange relief, maybe because I had been having a bit of difficulty navigating Berlin in English, only knowing a handful of German words. I answered, "yes," and he proceeded to ask me where I was from and how long I had been living in Berlin. Our short conversation before he exited the train led to me giving him my name as it appears on facebook so we could connect. Now, I'm not usually one to give a total stranger any information about me, but what can I say? I was kind of desperate to make friends since I'm in this city alone, and I felt like facebook was a safe enough way to connect.

And we did connect. We decided to meet at 2pm the following Friday, May 27, to go get coffee or something. When we met up, we got on the train and he asked me about what I was doing in Berlin. After telling him that I'm here to research about refugees, he stopped me and said that I have to meet his friend who is with Singa Deutschland. Instead of going to get coffee, we got off the train, got on another train, and went to Kottbusser Tor. When we got off the train, he began walking briskly as I took two steps for every one of his to keep up. We ended up at Betahaus, where I was able to meet the founder of Singa and set up a time to interview her. I was also able to go to Singa's Livingroom Storytelling event last Thursday, which I think was a great way to get to know some people and seems to be a wonderful part of Singa's work.

The Livingroom Storytelling events are open for usually fewer than 15 people (this includes "newcomers" and "locals") and have some topic that they work around. I was told that one past topic was the meaning of your name. Thursday, June 2, the topic was your earliest memory. So the topics do not focus on some aspect of "the refugee experience," but instead seem to be centered on the human experience more generally. Personally, I think this is so great. In my studies, I've come across the term "the refugee experience" over and over. As academics, it's a phrase that indicates the experience of being in conflict or instability, the experience of fleeing, the experience of being in camps, the experience of being in transit, and the experience of resettlement. "The refugee experience" refers to all that in a neat, three-word phrase. I think Singa's work really challenges this, though. Singa sees refugees as people, which is not necessarily the case for all organizations. That's part of why Singa refers to the people volunteering in and benefiting from their work as "newcomers" and "locals." It doesn't have the connotation of legal status - rather, it just indicates whether you're new in Berlin or not. I really appreciate this terminology, and I feel like it's really useful.

Note: Photo above from Singa's Livingroom Storytelling Facebook event.

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