“Rafat, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you paying attention?”
“I didn’t sleep at night.”
“I miss them, you see, my thoughts keep me awake, I miss,” he said in a feeble voice, with an uncertain and sad look, in a mess of English and Arabic, and came up to me in the class of over 30 refugee children.
“I made it from Syria to Germany alone. I have an uncle here, but he lives in another city. My brothers, sisters, father and mother stayed in Syria… I miss them… You see, this is my three-month-old sister…” he started to slide pictures on his mobile phone.
The light in his eyes went out. The fourteen years old boy had found himself in a completely strange world just two months ago. He is one of many.
Unintentionally in the epicenter
I am here too, in this familiar-unfamiliar beautiful city in Germany. How did this happen? I don’t know, it just did…
I am not a refugee here, I came by a special invitation with all privileges it provides, but with a sense of strangeness as well. I received an offer to teach German, as Germany lacks appropriate specialists. Mere minutes are left till my departure. I can feel my heartbeat in every piece of my body. Am I doing the right thing? Who knows…
My students are children who escaped from Syria. I found myself in the epicenter unintentionally and realized that my people were in the same situation a hundred years ago, my grandmothers and grandfathers…
A peaceful and safe city, peaceful and smiling people, everything’s well… As one of my friends noted a day before my flight, this is my first meeting with my Syrian refugee students and their parents, the “potential rapists”. I was still in Armenia when we heard about hundreds of European women raped in Cologne, and refugee rapists. My friends told me to be careful, to wear comfortable shoes so that I can run fast if I’m in danger…
I was greeted at the school gates by a hospitable and friendly woman, who turned out to be the headmistress, Ms di Dio. After she showed me around the school, we learned that the children and their parents arrived. We hurried to meet them. Ms di Dio only said one thing to me:
“Don’t be afraid, you can’t make mistakes. Whatever you do will be right, you’ll be right, you can teach the way you want…”
Thirty children with their parents, and some without … From Syria, Afghanistan, India…
In the end, there was no need for escape shoes, no sign of danger…
People are happy to be safe from the war, happy that their children will grow up in a secure country. Upon seeing me, they thought I was one of them because of my dark eyes and Eastern looks. They started asking me about who I was, where I came from. They told me about Syrian Armenians when they heard I was from Armenia:
“We know your history. You’re a nation that survived massacres and escape too, you will understand us well…”
The language of the heart
On the first day, another German teacher who taught the other class and I estimated out students’ knowledge of German and divided them into classes according to that.
The bell rang. We had to begin the lesson. Fear, delight, person and teacher, everything mixed and tangled.
“Chocolah?” one of the children approached me with a smile and offered me a chocolate bar.
A new page began. Despite the fact that they don’t understand me, despite the fact that Syrian children don’t understand Afghani children and vise versa, we all speak and understand the language of the heart.
This is how I became a teacher, “Frau Petrosyan”. I loved the opportunities that German schools’ way of organizing lessons gives. If children are very tired and can take no more, you’re allowed to take them for a walk, watch a film, play games, etc. It’s easy to come to the end of tether if you teach German for 5 hours per day.
So we went to walk around and enjoy the city. It was a cold, but sunny day. The city was awakening after the long winter, and woke the people too. Some smiled at us, other avoided us in the streets.
My mind took me back again to 1915 in France, the United States… I believe that many people had the same feelings for Armenians as well. It’s a painful situation. But we too had no place to go back to. I can’t say how much I miss Armenia, but I think I will be back some time later.
I have six Mohammeds, three Alis, two Ahmeds, and one Izra in my class…
I am sure they will speak German one day, but will they lose the yearning for their homeland?
Izra finds a moment and shows me photos of his home in Syria while it was still standing.
“Look, Frau Petrosyan, this is the house now. It’s in ruins. There’s nothing left…”
Anush Petrosyan used to work at Mediamax, now she teaches refugee students in Germany.
These views are her own.