Imagine you’re strolling through a shopping street. It’s Saturday morning and a lot of people are purchasing things in the shops. On your arm you carry your one-year-old son. He is fascinated by the many colours, the sounds and the hustle and bustle. Together with him, you’re just gazing at the mighty trees that unfold in the middle of the street. BOOM. Chaos, everything is in ruins, your ears are numb, your vision clouded. Your skin is burning. Muffled cries, panic spreading in your chest. A bomb. Right in front of your feet! Where is your son? A whistle. Your eyes turn black. Hectic. There he is. Your son… Your heart stops. Your son lies there and looks at you. The arms reach for you. Tears. You must take him away from here.
Imagine sitting on the floor of your container, one of 200, together with your son and a friend. The black tea with some sugar is still too hot to drink. Your son is restless and you are annoyed by his nagging. Your friend is trying to start a conversation about the jostling for food, a family moving into the nearby container 65, but you don’t want to talk. You don’t want to think. But the grey corrugated walls, the grey floor always force the same thoughts on you… When your friend says goodbye, you notice that your son is sleeping next to you and your tea is cold.
Imagine standing at a table with different vegetables. Six other people are slicing onions, carrots, eggplants, potatoes, cabbage and peppers with you. You chat about your yesterday-made wooden shelf and the colourful bracelets in different language snippets and tooth and nail. Every now and then you ask the volunteer to get more ingredients from the pantry. You are happy that there will be something really tasty for everyone at lunch today — with your help! A few times you look out the window and see your son. Under the guidance of a supporter, he and other children create laughing faces out of colorful balloons. As the food is being distributed, there is a delirious applause from over 80 people for the kitchen team. Your son sits next to you and proudly shows you his cheerful clay figure.
Three worlds, one earth
Three imaginations that all happen in one way or another on this earth. Three different worlds, so to speak. Steffen and I are just experiencing all three of some. We are two of the voluntary supporters from World Three. At the moment we are at Habibi.Works, an open workshop for people who have fled their homes. Here they can be productive and find a new perspective for their lives. Because the last days, weeks, months and years of these people were often filled with no perspectives. First there was the decision to flee.
Drifting away — the free escape
Holidaymakers, emigrants, long-term travellers and many others flee from their culture, the familiar and everyday life, village boredom, the narrowness of their own country, the city and its stories, a fossilized system, the unfulfilling job, the cold, their own person. Steffen and I have taken these various causes of flight from TV series such as “Die Auswanderer” and the Swiss counterpart “Auf und Davon”, which seem to be very popular at the moment.
People from Germany and other affluent countries “flee” because they can — people from other countries flee because they have to.
What a luxury Steffen and I have in being the owner of a German passport with which we can move freely on this earth in most cases. It is a great privilege for which we did not have to work our way up in any way. We could just, with our own free will, with the feeling of pure freedom and goose bumps out of respect for and from all over the world, pack our backpacks and set off. Awesome! The free flight of the privileged. The goal of these people: a beautiful life.
Would you want to live in world one?
The goal of a beautiful life connects them with those people we actually call “refugees”. But the fundamental difference is the cause of flight. It is not village boredom nor the cold of winter that people we meet in Habibi.Works talk about. No, it’s brutal war; death threats because you believe in another god or love the same sex; economic ruin because the harvest was destroyed due to climate change; torture if you belong to the wrong party; terror; zero opportunities to find decent work; no social or other security… There are many terrible experiences that people have to experience in their home country.
Imagine living in World One. Would you want to stay?
About stagnation and the desire to change one’s life
Steffen and I “flee” exactly the other way round — the “Balkan route” from Z to A. We want to get to know as many people and their stories as possible and get involved in various projects. Our travel codex shows the many different facets which we involve along the way.
So far we have met many people who want to change their lives: mostly young people from Croatia or Serbia who want to go to Germany or Sweden because they see no future in their own country. Mostly they mention politics and/or the economic situation as a reason. They only see stagnation.
Every single story is heartbreaking
In World Two, we encounter a very different kind of standstill. People have been stuck here in northern Greece for over two years. Like in a prison, only instead of the bars there are the grey corrugated walls of the containers, the Greek economy and politics, the borders to the desired countries.
Nearly 1000 refugees are accommodated in Katsikas Camp alone. Many still have families in their home countries, which they must fear for every second. Others have acquaintances in prisons and are afraid of bad news. Others have their lovers in Athens or sisters in Germany. Every single story is heartbreaking. The plaguing minutes pass only hourly. Sluggish days pass by. And always these agonizing thoughts.
What to do? Back home? Trying to cross the borders without papers? Learn the language here and look for a job?
Imagine you would live in World Two. What would you do?
Waiting for a future
Most of the time the answer is: Wait. The refugees sit in the camp and wait. Waiting for a future. But hopelessness is omnipresent. Many European states are sealing themselves off, closing their borders. Right-wing extremism is en vogue again. The media report more on stupid Twitter statements than on the lack of urgently needed on-the-spot help and the fight against the causes of flight at their home countries. The fact many do not want to hear: Europe has a partial fault and responsibility for this situation!
Getting a piece of dignity back
So to world three: The project Habibi.Works in Katsikas. This open workshop was founded in August 2016 by the German association Soup and Socks. For many, coming here means taking the first step towards integration, because in Habibi.Works they come into contact with other cultures and rules. During their waiting period, the fugitives will be given the opportunity to develop and unfold. This “waiting area”, however, is so much more alive than that of doctors: In various areas such as textiles, creative corners, wood and metal workshops, kitchens and media labs, they can contribute their skills and produce useful things. They receive professional support from the international team. Helping them to help themselves.
The people who come here daily between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. come with anticipation and leave with a smile and a new bracelet or wooden shelf. Every day the team realizes that the work here makes sense. Sense for the people who would otherwise only be in World Two. Here they can work self-determined and get a piece of dignity back.
Cure or treat symptoms?
But the hopelessness of World Two unfortunately knows no boundaries, because World Three offers only a treatment of symptoms, but no healing. The questions remain. What to do? World One should be abolished. But without abolishing concentrated political decisions and efforts at European and international level, World One, there will always be World Two and World Three.
From World Two to World Three
We are happy about every single person who also supports other people, especially those in need. Our time here in Habibi Works is for us the lived proof that something can be changed. Only a few committed people have managed to hand over people from World Two to World Three.
Steffen and I have already been here for three weeks. Steffen supports projects in the metal workshop and I in the creative studio. We have extended our time here until the Christmas break. We will definitely continue to support Habibi.Works because we have experienced such heartwarming and beautiful moments so far.
To another three unforgettable weeks!