On Tuesday I’ve spent my first day volunteering at the refugee center in Mödling, 20 minutes train ride from Vienna and 5 minutes walk from where I’m staying. No, it’s not such a terrible place, where people have to queue for hours in cold and rain to get registered. It’s a center, not a camp. A place, where the refugees applying for the asylum in Austria live. Refugees that have already managed to reach in here, have a warm place to stay, a bed to sleep in and the food provided. Altogether ca. 120 people.
A friend of mine – a doctor wrote me recently in an e-mail that the main thing that he has learnt during his studies was „to observe”. And I also have this need deeply inside me „to observe”. I believe that seeing things closely gives a completely different perspective that seeing things from far away – which is one of the reasons why I really wanted to get involved in the volunteering. I’ve spent hours and days after my arrival to Vienna searching for the information about how to get involved, writing e-mails to unknown people and asking the ones I’ve already known about whether they know about any opportunity. This is how I eventually ended up where I currently am.
The Golden Rule says: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated. It can be found in all religions, including Christianity – the culture I grew up in. This is not the first time I’m trying to write a text about the refugess. The first time happened almost two months ago, on exactly 7th of September (still have a draft of that text). It was a day, when many people on my Facebook were sharing the video about a Syrian refugee – a middle-aged man, former football player and recent local football team trainer – running in the crowd of other refugees towards the border, holding a child in his hand. He was tripped by a young Hungarian camerawoman:
I remember that this video made me feel very very sad and that I only had this one question mark in my head: what if that was my father, not a complete stranger, forced to flee the country to escape the war and somebody behaved like this towards him? What if Poland was in a state of war (it happened in Poland a couple of times in the past already, right?) and it was my family escaping to save their lives? What if that was my friend? My relative? Not an anonymous person in the crowd of unknown faces, but someone that is close to me. I felt relieved when I saw the smiling picture of Osama last Friday. I’m happy he is safe.
I spent seven hours sorting clothes today, together with another volunteer – Sara. Our job was to separate female coats, male jackets, pair the shoes and order them by the size, divide baby & kids clothes, sort socks, hats and gloves. There were two Afghan guys helping us: Mustafa and – let’s say – M. because I forgot the other name, I’m so bad in remembering. M. told us that he decided to flee Kabul after his whole family got killed. He didn’t want and actually couldn’t stay there any longer – as he didn’t want to get killed as well.
I don’t know, maybe he was lying, maybe he is an economic migrat only, as a big part of the Polish society is suggesting. Well, maybe that’s truth. And maybe it would actually be so much better then, becasue I don’t even want to imagine such a situation like the one he was talking about. I can’t imagine how you can survive having your whole family killed. There are things which even my quite well trained imagination is not able to face and this is one of them.
At the end of the day we were really tired with Sara. We packed our stuff and went to the exit. When we were just about to leave, that moment exactly we’ve heard a tentative knocking to the doors. I sighed and look at Sara with the look at my eyes saying „who else?”. I really already wanted to go home – but to be able to do that I needed to open the doors. So I did. I saw an extremely shy older man in his fifties, maybe sixties, standing over there. He was pointing at his feet, explaining with this gesture that he needed shoes. I followed his finger with my eyes, looked down and noticed bare feet dressed in the pinky glittery flip-flops only. I let him in. I kept watching Sara patiently looking for the winter shoes of his size. Pointing at different body parts we asked if he needed anything else – he got trousers, winter jacket, hat, gloves and a scarf. He thanked at the end. With his eyes. I felt ashamed to see this gratitude in his eyes – I don’t remember the last time somebody was looking at me like this. I felt ashamed that one can be so grateful for a few second-hand clothes. I’m a bit scared to think about the story this man holds within, I will probably never get to know.
I know. You cannot be emotional in such situation, you should do your job in a systemic way, all-encompassing. The solution needs to be found. After all this problem disrupted our peaceful and quiet lives, suddenly appearing at our front doors, knocking strong – tenaciously and emphatically. But I will let myself to stay emotional for a while. I will let myself to see this problem having the face of Mustafa from Afghanistan, gentle smile of Osama from Syria and the eyes of an anonymous man, gifted with the shoes.
Day 50 (3 November 2015)
Mödling / Vienna, 5 November 2015