Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A big waiting

I'm in the office at an asylum seekers' shelter with Gordon the manager, getting acclimatised to the place and letting people see my face, know my name. It's the very early steps of my poetry project here in Berlin, collaborating with asylum seekers. 
The shelter is in Spandau, a district in the west of the city, right at the end of the tube ("u-bahn") line. It's a simple, stark building, semi-industrial. All afternoon there's a steady trickle of folk coming through, mostly residents of the hostel. Many of them have fled war zones in the Middle East. 

During the afternoon, I have mini-conversations with his many visitors. Every single person I speak with is at pains to put me at my ease and be helpful, if they can. This is a place, it seems, where there is great appreciation for social niceties, those little tokens of gentleness. Gordon is the go-to person for phone calls to the doctor, permission to use the communal washing machine, photocopying extraordinaire, discussions about the curiosity of surnames in different culture, and much more. He juggles many people's needs with good humour and quiet calm. I ask him about people’s lives here:


"Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. For the people living in here it's a big waiting. First you wait for your money. It's not enough so then you wait for next months money because money for this month has gone. You wait for your asylum case to be finished so then you can work. You wait for school, to get language lessons. You wait for your family to come, and after your family is here, you all wait for a flat. It's how it is before asylum is granted. You are damned to do nothing. Waiting to take steps. You just wait, wait, wait for your case to be finished.

"Barbara who ran the Kunstasyl art project here - and perhaps you too - show that things can still be done. Even if they are little things, on little pieces of paper. Even if you are waiting, you are still a person, you have your own thoughts. There is hope here... For these people I have lots of hope.

"In Berlin there is a culture to help refugees. I thought that it would be a fast-burning fire of enthusiasm but it still goes on. This is good! Many people work to help refugees for free. For instance, they help to find flats... Yes there are people in Berlin who don't care. And yes there are the ones who are against refugees. But I don't know anyone personally who speaks against them. There's still a culture here of welcome. That is the view from my little window."

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across borders and boundaries. 

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