Good friends of ours in Germany have always had an “extended family” with them in their large pastorate houses. Friends, foster children, au pairs of a sort, visitors…. as well as their own children and parish life. Here is what happened recently when they were asked to extend a little further. Names have been changed. There’s lots to learn, and much to encourage.
Short before Christmas we were asked by the local Youth Office whether we might be able to become foster parents to one of the many Unaccompanied Minor Refugees. Pietro (14) from Eritrea (East Africa) has joined our numbers and helps to fill the vast pastorate in Anderswo. To be honest, we had had a lot of misgivings. We had pictured a heavily traumatised young man, with whom it would be near impossible to communicate, and who might even pose a threat to us in our own home. Instead, we already love our happy-go-lucky black boy, whose German is improving by the hour (having started with zero two months ago). Of course, we learn to employ a lot of pantomime during the day, trying to convey everyday procedures, which don’t mean a thing to a boy from a very poor country, who spent his life up to now between ploughing with cows, selling goats, going to school a little, cooking for the family – and then running for his life, hiding, being imprisoned in a camp, and surviving the boat tour across the Mediterranean. Bit by bit, we discover the route he took, the conditions of his life before he decided to run, entirely on his own. Pietro loves jokes and pul-ling our legs. We taught him the word for honey – Honig – , again and again. And then, one day, he asked us (again?!), What is this? We reply, a bit impatient by now, “Honig”. And he says, “Well done!“. What laughter he caused!
Pietro goes to school, with special tuition in German as a foreign language, otherwise trying to simply imitate and merge. I remember a Japanese boy we knew in Ireland – that’s what he must have felt like. No idea, what they are doing, most of the time. His afternoons are better, as another refugee from Serbia has offered to coach him in kick-boxing – and Pietro loves it.
So, you see, refugees are beginning to play a major role in our lives. Last year, it was discussions, it was on TV, but now it’s everyday village life. We have welcomed our new neighbours, lovely young people, students of law from Damascus. Pietro helped us with his knowledge of the Arab language, which he picked up during his stay in Sudan and Libya (originally, he speaks three African languages, Blin, Tigrinya, and Tigre). Twice already we organised “let’s share a meal” in our church hall, inviting the eight or nine families from Albania, Serbia, Syria, Afghanistan, Monte and Negro to cook and eat together. They have no language in common, it was very exciting! Our parents-and-toddlers-group has turned international since we offer a simple German course at the same time. A lot is happening to help with integration, the atmosphere is generally very positive and active at Anderswo and around.