What’s going on in Germany? A friend wants to know.
“Nothing!” I tell her and feel my body stiffening.
“Are you okay?” She persists.
“Sure!” I shoot back. She chuckles off. A tired transatlantic chuckle.
Everyone knows that something is happening in Germany. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.
Well, except maybe me, which is odd because I actually live in Germany. This post is my attempt to respond to this question. It is my stab at organizing my thoughts and perhaps figure out how to respond better to this question.
The 'small issue' with the Mediterenean
For a long time, stories of people drowning in the Mediterranean were like some boring reruns in the background that no one really cared about: an annoying wrestling match, a bloody kickboxing session, some obscure pseudo reality drama. We occasionally looked, but it wasn’t something that we were too keen on. Occasionally, we kept score but mostly, we wished someone would mute it out or switch it off altogether.
Every week or so, bodies were pulled out, many others disappeared into the abyss of the Mediterranean.
I remember these times very well. Many of these people drowning were Africans. Young African men or at least that is what the press continuously reported. Once in a while, political talk shows took a break from Greece and yes their economy, and discussed the small issue of the Mediterranean. The discussions, barren and abstract somehow escaped the general public. I don’t blame them.
The rose and the wrong question
I am seated in a Café waiting for a friend. She walks in. For a moment I just stare not sure if I am seeing right. Her long hair is gone. Replaced by a glossy asymmetric bob.
“Why?” I moan. I am in awe of people who cut their hair. I am in awe of their faith that it will grow again.
She laughs. She can afford to. Her hair doesn’t take six and a half years to grow to 18cm.
“I saw an African guy yesterday.” She says her eyes widening.
‘Really?’ I want to retort. If I saved a cent every time someone told me about a random African they met, assuming that I somehow knew their mother or their uncle’s green shop around the corner in Abuja, I would easily be on my way to overtaking Bill Gates.
But that isn’t one of these times.
At around 7 am in the morning, she had passed the guy standing next to a fountain in a relatively deserted part of town. At around 5.30 pm on her way back, the guy was still standing at exactly the same spot.
“About how old was this guy?” I ask.
“He stood there the whole day!” she says quietly biting her lip.
Asking Caucasians the age of an African is like asking Africans to tell Caucasians apart. It’s a lost cause.
In the days that follow, I make sure to look around. I make it my secret mission to find the guy. I imagine that a relative or a friend had invited him and failed to pick him up. I imagine him scared and hungry in a place where he neither speaks the language nor knows his way around.
I never find him.
Instead, I bump into a family with two little children. The woman, petite with her dark lush hair hanging loosely over her shoulders hands me a rose. Surprised, I thank her and turn away from the ATM slipping my purse into my bag. The man behind her steps forward and blocks my way.
“The children have nothing to eat!” he says in a tone that is as threatening as it is pleading.
“I don’t have money” I mumble. He glares at me and his eyes say it all. There is a special place in hell for people like you. There is a special place in hell for you.
In the weeks that follow, I struggle to rationalize my action. Giving beggars money keeps them on the streets. Using children as a bait to get money on the streets is cruel.
It doesn’t work.
Consumed by guilt, I tell a group of acquaintances about the incident. They laugh.
“Did they snatch their rose back?” One of them wants to know.
“Did they sing for you?” Another one adds.
It turns out that I had bumped into Romas an ethnic minority that is routinely persecuted in Eastern Europe. This year, masses of them are 'visiting' the west.
Two weeks later, it is a lazy evening and I am at home flipping through channels when my eye catches her. She is dressed in a dark skirt suit, white blouse and stockinged legs that seem endless. With her blond manes severely tied to the back and her carefully drawn eyebrows, she looks like she has spent her whole life preparing for this moment. I pause and watch.
“There are too many foreigners and Muslims. We are beginning to feel like a minority in our own country.” She says. She doesn’t meet anyone’s gaze. She just says it and lets it hung somewhere in the air. I sit up.
“Oh come on!” A male guest counters throwing his hands in the air.
“There are parts of this country that have so many foreigners that our own kids are the minority in schools.” The good lady continues. There are more protests from the other guests. But it’s almost like she doesn’t hear or see them.
This is what I need to do when people annoy me. Just talk through them like they don’t exist.
“What you are saying is not supported by facts. There are currently only about 2.7% foreigners in your native Bundesland” The moderator says.
The lady looks up and regards the moderator for a moment.
“The truth is, there are too many foreigners, too many Muslims.” She reiterates.
Normal folks would at this point punch her in the face. But normal folks would also not get a job to moderate a political talk show.
The moderator breaks into a thin smile that is a sharp contrast to his frozen eyes.
To be continued...