“Many Countries – One World”: How Flight Was Explained to Students
By Ekaterina Vasileva
On 28th of April 2016 in the exhibition rooms of “7x jung” something magical took place. Dozens of German high-school students gathered to ask questions that are highly topical in the modern European society: What is a refugee? How do people survive being forced to leave their own homes behind? Who helps them? How might cultural differences affect everyday life in the countries they are fleeing to? What kind of phenomenon is a migration?
Ten experts were invited by the Max Weber Foundation and the Forum Transregionale Studien in cooperation with the Zentrum Moderner Orient and the Landeszentrale für Politische Bildung Berlin to participate in the WeberWorldCafé “Refugees in the City” in order to answer these questions. Their expertise on this topic was extensive; their readiness to share their knowledge and insights literally left no questions unanswered. The participants took part in four consequent sessions and joined a new table every 30 minutes – and a series of lively discussions began.
My first conversation was with the literary and cultural studies scholar Ela Gezen. She talked about her experience with the modern German-Turkish culture with such passion and vast knowledge that the 30 minutes were regrettably not enough to hear it all. Despite of the short time available, she made her main points quite clear: The exceptional personality of artistic people allows them to overcome the difficulties of adaptation through art, and the Turkish artists in Germany may serve as a very prominent example. The emphasis in this discussion laid on music – how the Turkish sound found its way into Western culture and eventually became popular in Europe. Ela Gezen told the story how Turks, when they found themselves marginalized into a subculture, they, especially the young people adapted the fierce self-expressive style of rap music to voice their frustration and anger while simultaneously adopting familiar tunes from Turkish folk music. The new style they created in the process, called “RnBesk” (a neologism, combining the words “RnB” and “arabesque”, a popular middle-Eastern style of music), conquered the market of popular music in Germany quickly.
The second round featured as a host an amazing Sanaa Alimia who explored the life of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and conducted many interviews with the people on-site, who felt lost, broken and did not know whether they could ever return to their homeland. The key word to describe their position, as Sanaa pointed out, is dehumanized. When you are displaced, lost your land, your family, this also means a part of your personal identification is gone – not just literally, in form of lost documents, but also in the sense that the perception of refugees by other people is often as less than human. Refugees are commonly referred to as difficult to understand, uncommunicative, and dependent on help but without proper language knowledge. This image is symptomatic for a central problem – when people do not share a common language, they cannot understand each other, thereby creating additional barriers, even if somebody is willing to give help.
During the third round I sat down at Marwa El Chab’s and Reinhard Fischer’s table, who talked about the education of refugee children in Lebanon and Germany. Marwa’s mother launched a program in Lebanon to help children of refugees from Syria adjust to the local school system. Her program includes language courses and tries to provide a sense of community. For children it is especially hard to understand and process what their new status as refugees might mean for them, since they still have their whole lives ahead of them. Most of the children want to continue living it in their motherland, being refugees however, means they cannot be sure if they will ever return there.
The fourth table was hosted with urban and cultural geographer Miriam Stock and her friend Ziad from Syria who were passionately talking about falafel in particular and the effect migration has on culinary traditions and national cuisines more in general. It was quite fascinating to see how much one can deduce from a single settlement pattern – for example, a map of all falafel shops in the city center enabled the geographer to pinpoint the most welcoming places for migrants and their food in Berlin.
The organizer of this event, Gesche Schifferdecker, stressed how vital and necessary the students’ participation and engagement with topics like migration and integration is, because they are going to be the people who will shape society in the next few decades. The youth needs the opportunity to ask questions and deserves all-embracing answers. She further made the point that it is extremely important to remember that Germany is not the only country to receive refugees and the experience of other migration recipients should be taken into account and examined with great care. For this reason, meetings such as the WeberWorldCafé have a great significance in the light of the recent events. Only, when as many aspects as possible are covered, we can hope that the solutions found to solve the crisis are as pervasive and integral as the global dimensions of this problem require them to be.
All in all, there was a terrible lack of time to discuss matters at length and really go deeper and ask more questions. The hosts on the tables really seemed to have an incredibly vast knowledge on the subject. Nevertheless, the participants had the opportunity to taste a little bit of this brave new world, where people are helping other people – overcoming all the possible linguistic, cultural, political, and economical obstacles. Some of these people dream of a world that is an egalitarian utopia, where everybody understands the necessity of accepting anyone who needs help, no matter how strange, scared, or “other” they are. Starting from under the hospitable roof of the WeberWorldCafé, it is worth to try creating this world, even if it is just for one day.
Ekaterina Vasilyeva studied international journalism and Arabic language in the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and is now a graduate student in the master program of World History of Science, Technology and Culture at TU Berlin. Ekaterina has a deep interest in the Middle East region and its perception in the Western world.