Her great hazel eyes stare back at me, as I stroke her soft olive cheek, and tuck a wee carton into her tiny hands and say "halib" (milk in Arabic). Three lads then run off with the pram and baby, dirty bare feet slapping on the floor. Many of the kids in here are in the "baby borrowing" business, where they claim a random kid to be a sibling in a bid to squeeze more supplies from you. They are smart- and cute- how can I say no?
A couple of months back I started working at Templehof in Berlin, one of the biggest official refugee camps in Europe. An old airport built in the 1920s and reconstructed by the Nazi's in the 1930s, it now houses around 3,000 asylum seekers.
Pakistanis, Iraqis, Uzbeks, Syrians, Eritreans, Afghanis, Iranians, Kurds, Moldavians, Albanians, Yemenis, all live together side by side in vast old metal aeroplane hangars. Inside these hangars, around 500 people fit into make-shift bedrooms, eight at a time. With paper thin walls and no ceiling or doors- only curtains for privacy- people are stacked in bunks, all mixed together, families and single men. The lights never go out, even at night. Rest is a dream that happened years ago back in the fields of Syria or Kurdistan.
My work is in the kitchen. Three thousand meals served three times a day. Plus, the hundreds of packed lunches for kids going to school. That's around 12,000 meals daily.
From this mammoth nonstop daily operation, the effort that the German government is going to in order to ensure these people have their essential needs met, and a chance to claim asylum, is starkly apparent. Few other governments in the world would choose to do such an altruistic thing, and have the necessary leadership to put it into action.
However, two other equally glaring issues also stand out:
1) The feeding of factory food to factory people,
2) The extravagant use of plastic.
Factory food to factory people
Mangled body parts of factory animals arrive in the thousands daily. Crates and crates of dirt cheap chicken legs, and processed beef, butchered from animals whose brutal lives were cut too short. Which are served to the refugees of Templehof: human lives crammed into vast echoing halls. Individualised by their numbers, their hobbies are waiting and form filling, their voices, stories and dreams sucked dry. Their minds tormented by their past and made stagnant by their present. Factory animals forced fed to factory people. All devoid of nutrition or love.
The extravagant use of plastic
Processed food served on plastic plates with plastic cutlery; thrown into the bins in the tens of thousands daily. Water arriving in plastic bottles, drank from plastic cups, disposed of in even greater quantities. I wonder if anyone stopped to consider that the wars we started were largely to do with oil, in order to create this crappy disposable culture that we so desire? In turn creating displaced people in the millions, who are fleeing to Europe, where we serve them food on these crappy plastic plates, sculpted from our oil habit: The primary reason their lands are now rotten with violence and corruption and run red with blood.
It is at meal times that we have the only real chance to interact with the refugees. Though we have often 500 people to serve in two hours, which makes this tough and tiring. Despite this, many of the workers still manage to bring love and humanity and shine some light on the people here.
However, most people who work in the kitchen are only there for the money, with little to no understanding of the magnitude of the situation here, or the realities and faces of the people they are serving. Some of these works are the source of the difficulties. Who can really justify getting pissy with an old Syrian grandma who wants some milk even though it's only meant for kids?
And as more people that are squeezed in to Templehof, the space for giving recognition and worth to the individual is squeezed out. What about that beautiful slight Iraqi woman from Baghdad, with her five children, soft but defiant, with her great honey eyes? Or the troupe of women from Iran, so beautiful, so elegant, and yet appearing so very defeated by life. Or the young, intelligent men whom for any possible life opportunity is put on hold. To the army of children who have a nightly sleep over of hundreds of people; many of whom don't even know what country they are in, let alone where the rest of their family is.
Meal times begin on the dot. Some rush in hungry, or at least for the sake of having something to do. Others trickle in slowly, unexcited by life or the plates of food that await them. Two hours later, meal times end on the dot. Regardless of which single father of three or old couple didn't make it in time, for some reason which is none of my business.
At least in these short hours, a glance, a smile, a short exchange, can offer something to these individuals violently forced into foreign lands. As well as providing them with some humanity, inshallah.
And in return, their smiles and short exchanges have brought me years worth of lessons in perspective, humbleness and gratitude.
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