Monday, September 21, 2015

When The Syrians Came to Dinner . . .

They came bearing a gigantic bouquet, so gorgeous it could have graced an altar in a church wedding. They came bearing chocolates and they came bearing wine. And they came bearing stories: the Arab Spring hadn't been great for Syrian Catholics--about 2.6 percent of the total population. Assad was a dictator, but he left them alone, apart from protecting them. Before the protests started, the different religious groups all got along, and Syria was a rich country. 
"We lost everything," said one woman matter-of-factly, counting herself lucky: she and her husband had been able to apply for a visa as soon as they landed at a major German airport, a possibility no longer open to the tidal wave of immigrants coming in. Our city has published no list of when the next group is coming--about 400 are already here and many hundreds more expected--possibly to protect them. At our local tram stop there's a new anti-Nazi sticker on the Plexiglass shelter, and yesterday at the main train station I saw policemen in riot gear surrounding a large group of angry young men in T-shirts with Gothic script. Neither I nor the native speakers standing beside me could understand what the men were shouting, but we heard the rage, distinguished the word "M√ľnchen" (Munich) and assumed the worst--namely that the protesters were letting it be known that they didn't want refugees here in our town the way they were taking over Munich. Things were ugly enough so that I was very glad to be standing on a different platform.
Our Syrian guest and her husband have now been in Germany nearly three years, and in that time she has achieved a level of competence in German that will soon make her employable. Another guest, here for a year, finds German too difficult. He will not be employable anytime soon, although he is willing and able to work, and like many an immigrant, will probably find work using his hands rather than the degree in political science he had nearly finished when he had to flee. I'm lucky, in the sense that I need not have more than passing competence in the language--I can talk to the butcher, the baker, and the pediatrician, but I get to work in English and speak it at home. We had a lovely dinner. To the question of my student who wondered whether we could "take an entire nation into Germany," I'd answer: Listen to Mutti Merkel: Yes, you can. Wir Schaffen das!

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