People in a Camp: Stories within a German Refugee Camp

Only a fifteen minute drive and we reach it.

The road’s winding corners lead us to a farm road where a plastic barricade has been pushed to the side. We drive along slowly, passing the wide open farmland that now surrounds us. Here we are, in the center of this nothingness, the center of so many people’s dreams.

Today no children are playing outside, running around and riding their bikes. It’s a very cold and gray day. Today, we have to enter one of the temporary buildings in order to find someone. I don’t see any security guards this time. Entering through the front door, I enter the unfamiliar smell of Middle-Eastern cooking coming from the community kitchen and the heavy cloud of cigarette smoke.

Down the hallway to the left, last door on the right is my destination.

I knock softly to be welcomed in by a sweet mother I’ve gotten to know. She, her husband, and her four daughters made the long journey to Germany from Kosovo, while pregnant. She has since had her fifth daughter in a nearby German hospital. Her second to youngest now screams whenever buckled in a car seat, an experience too reminiscent of the long hours she passed in her father’s backpack when her family walked by foot to reach their new temporary home.

Two small rooms off the common hall comprise the home of this family of seven. The girls who are old enough attend German school but for the parents, the days at this refugee camp pass by painfully slow. I’ve grown closest to Suela, the eldest daughter. With her, I can communicate in German. Even though I’ve been in Germany longer, her time in the language has been far more productive. She is patient with me when I ask her to repeat things and hugs me even though she forgets my name sometimes.

Today, my friends and I come bearing a box of nail polish. It may as well have been a treasure box for this room of girls. Almost as soon as I sit down, Suela and her friend Yvonna have already chosen the colors they want. I hold out my hand to take the bottles of polish so I can paint their nails, but they’re faster than me and grab my hands first. Each of them holding a hand, plop them on my jeans and immediately begin painting my nails. One hand pink, the other orange. An unexpected masterpiece right in front of me.

I thank them and applaud their efforts while they instantly get to work on their own nails. In only a minute, they then reveal their hands as well. The three of us hold them out together, revealing a matching work of art.

We enjoy coffee while the baby also expresses interest in the rainbow of polish colors. Into her mouth the bottles go. “Zucker?” “Milch?” I braid Suela’s hair. The mom paints baby’s nails. German, English, and Albanian are spoken throughout our conversation. Cultural barriers broken beautifully through the universal instincts of femininity.

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