A few weeks ago I called my mom to let her know I was coming from London to spend a long weekend with the family in Germany. I was renting a car for the weekend, so if she wanted to go somewhere I could drive her there. Normally there is always something or somewhere my mom wants to see and, sure enough she asked me to take her somewhere close by Stuttgart so she can visit a friend who recently arrived from Somalia.
When I looked up the address of the friend it seemed to be an old people’s home in the middle of nowhere in the German country-side, about an hour’s drive away from Stuttgart. A newly arrived immigrant living in the middle of nowhere in Germany sounded very much like a refugee. When I asked my mom if that friend happened to be a refugee living in a centre for newly arrived refugees she let me know that this was indeed the case. She asked me drop her off there, before I flew back to London, so she could spend a few days with that friend in the refugee home to show her the ropes and translate for her when necessary.
I wasn’t aware that you could just crash in a refugee centre for a few nights, but hey why not? I can’t imagine their living conditions to be much worse than some London flatshares. And I wasn’t wrong. The building was an odd looking, large metal container in the middle of an abandoned and unkempt field, but the rooms inside were clean and almost spacious.
Once we unloaded all the luggage and gifts from the car, Halima[*] my mom’s friend led us through a long hallway to her room. On the way a couple of Syrian refugee women came up to us thinking we were bringing gifts for everybody and my mom let them carry our bags. When we finally got to the room our not-so-little helpers wanted a share of the gifts but my mom instead gave them some candy and then shooed them away. During the awkwardness I pretended to not exist and inspected the room. As mentioned, I found it nicer than the rooms some of my friends in London live in, except that Halima had to share the room with her son. There was also a third person in the room originally but she requested to be transferred to another room because she didn’t want to live with a strange man. Fair enough.
The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable in the room was the lack of security. As the container was literally just dropped somewhere in the middle of nowhere without any protection it seemed to be very easy for anyone trying to do any harm, to just break in through the windows or throw objects inside. I asked Halima if there have been any attacks from members of the far-right so far and if she wasn’t scared to be in such a provincial area where people have never seen foreigners before. Apparently there had been one assault where racists burned a banner hanging outside the centre, but Halima wasn’t too worried because the fire was extinguished rather quickly and wasn’t big enough to do any harm.
Her reassurance calmed me down but it wasn’t long before I realized that Halima and I have a very different understanding of the words “danger” and “fear”. I asked her about her journey to Germany and she said it was very easy without any major challenges. From Turkey she took a boat to Europe with 31 other Somali refugees and it was a calm and quick ride, merely 45 minutes. I have a feeling in Somalia they don’t get to see as many images of drowned refugees as we do over here because the way she described the boat ride, it sounded like she went on a Thames sightseeing river cruise! Once they got to Europe they simply followed the stream of Syrian refugees along and managed to get to Germany fairly easily.
Her son, that she is sharing her room with, is in his 20s and took a separate journey to Germany and even Halima admitted that his route was extremely dangerous and difficult. As he wasn’t able to take a flight to Turkey he had to cross the Sahara to get to Libya and then cross the sea from there. That route is the most infamous as, on it the desert refugees regularly die, get killed, abducted, tortured or all of the above. I remembered watching a documentary about the kidnapping and torture centres they have in the Sinai desert where bandits make a living out of capturing refugees and then demanding ransom from their relatives. To ensure that the relatives of their victims take them seriously they torture the refugees and record their screams for the relatives to hear.
I wondered what would move a person to risk such dangers just to come to Europe, but having Halima sitting right in front of me answered my question.
I slightly remember Halima from my visit to Eel Guduud, a tiny village in the South of Somalia where I went to see my late grandmother before she died. There wasn’t much happening in that village opportunities wise but it was relatively safe and people had all the essentials they needed to live. Well, except for medical care, running water, and electricity, but that’s a different topic. If the living conditions were tolerable beforehand they became unbearable when the region became an Al-Shabaab stronghold.
The Al-Shabaab apparently make up rules as they go and no one can keep up with whatever they decide to deem un-Islamic on any chosen day. There is also no point in trying to quote the Qur’an to them because they don’t seem to follow much of what is said in there either. Halima learned this the hard way as one the of Al-Shabaab goons didn’t like a small stand she started operating and hit her full force on the head with the butt of his AK-47 when she refused to move. Halima was badly hurt but was still fortunate because she received medical treatment from a Turkish charity in Mogadishu. They even flew her to Istanbul for follow up treatment as she still wasn’t healing properly. That way she was able to take the “easy” route to Europe.
I asked her how she feels now and she said she feels much better, almost fully healthy actually except that she still regularly faints. Like everyday. Like several times everyday. I sighed and made a mental note to complain less about the discomforts of commuting on the tube everyday.
My mom lightened the mood by presenting all the gifts she brought to Halima, mainly colourful, flowy, long dresses and perfume – two things that are essential to Somali women. Halima tried on the dresses and informed my mom that she wanted to keep all the gifts to herself and not give any to her former roommates, as was planned originally, because they were mean to her. We were a bit taken aback but then started laughing.
While they tried on the clothes I curled myself up on the bed and watched them with a smile while reminiscing what a beautiful and generous religion and culture we share. Islam teaches us that we are all equal, no matter what skin colour, social standing or wealth we have. It teaches us no matter what blow destiny has dealt us, we should always trust in Allah (SWT) that we can bear this burden and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, either in this life or the next.
I don’t think these two women realize how perfectly they embody these Islamic traits: my mother who treats a refugee woman with so much generosity and kindness while many others have been treating the hordes of refugees coming into Europe as sub-humans not deserving the safety of our countries. Halima whose life seems to be a chain of hardships and sufferings but still prays five times a day to show gratitude and obedience to God while there are many others mad at life for not having what their neighbours have.
I can’t deny I was slightly annoyed at first by making this long journey, but in hindsight I realize what a great opportunity God has given me by being able to help out another Muslim and to get a reminder of what true tawakkul is – “perfect trust in God and reliance on Him alone”. It’s what made Halima not give up hope and it’s something that I needed to be reminded of.
A Jamil recalls the desperate situation of refugees during her trip to Lesvos, Athens and Idomeni for Al-Khair Foundation.
Rachel Twort introduces us to a handful of Rohingyas who have found refuge in the UK.
[*] Name changed as asylum case is currently ongoing
Hannah currently resides in London after having lived in New York, Washington DC and Germany for several years. She is a typical third culture kid who speaks several languages and feels home in different places around the globe. Hannah is interested in the social and racial justice movement; spirituality but also lighter topics such as health,food and beauty trends.You can follow her on Twitter: @hannah140th and Instagramm: uptownhanni