Friday, January 23, 2015

Christmas with Eritrea

This is a long one - feel free to skip to the pictures and videos!

For almost a year, I've been volunteering with a group of mostly male refugees from Eritrea. Before I met them, I didn't even know there was a country called Eritrea. I had to turn to Google to learn more about the country, customs, people, and why one would give up all of that to flee towards a new life.

Turns out there are quite a number of good reasons, also these good reasons, especially for men. If you have a lot of time, here is a remarkable essay with historical and current data as well as personal viewpoints and experiences of what refugees undertake for a safe life with freedoms.

Over the past six months, I've slowly built up and been welcomed into a group of other volunteers who support this group as well as others. Including one amazing woman with Eritrean parents who grew up here and knows both sides and language.

Since I've gone back to work, I sadly haven't been able to spend as much time with my friends. Getting to know them all personally is a challenge due to the language gaps as well as the cultural gaps (on top of the time and stress gaps we all face, including that my house is constantly dealing with some sort of kindergarten virus/cough/stomach bug). It is most certainly a goal of mine.

Just spending an hour with them once a week - if we are lucky - is a joy for my soul. We exchange foods and stories as best we can. They ask questions and I ask questions and together we somehow make a bridge of friendship.

So when I learned that they were excited about Christmas - for the most devout celebrated on January 7 - I decided to finally host a party for us all, including the other volunteers that are very involved.

First we just all got around and made space for each person.

In advance of our party, I spent a few weeks contacting individuals about donations. My buddies have a lot of basic needs (and aren't allowed to work), so I was hoping to also make them sort of "wish list" possible. In the end, people overwhelmed my expectations -- a  butcher even donated all the meat! -- and we ended up with a wonderful pool of donations to surprise each person in our group with something that they needed and wanted (mostly warm clothing).

Our wonderful German-Eritrean angel took over collecting the wishes, organizing the budget, and then buying all their Christmas wishes. She even wrapped the gifts! She. Is. Amazing.

Our Angel right there in the middle
Using the donated meat, my friends prepared Eritrean foods for us to all share. It was super super super yummy! 

These are three seriously talented cooks.
So yummy, yummy, yummy, yummy foods!

While we were eating, the kids started to play with each other. Costumes, legos, and loud laughter were included. 

After we ate, we talked.

We prayed&sang. The song below is one of the Christian faith's prayer for Christmas and for giving thanks. Not everyone singing along or in the room is that type of Christian. As one of the men said after the singing was over, "We are one people with different faiths, living peacefully."


The wonderful German teacher right there in the middle.

This couple is remarkable. I couldn't tell you what they don't do.
Living proof that we can move mountains.

Then we danced. We picked up the feet pretty quickly - as did they kids - but I don't think any of us had an easy time with the shoulders! With the kids right in the middle, like they want to be.


Honestly, this was THE highlight of the evening for me. Not just because I love dancing. It was remarkable for me to see some of these men and women relax and show little glimmers of free joy.
These people who were forced by a situation in which giving up everything and assuming great danger and, sadly, many traumatic fleeing experiences so that they could have a chance at a safe future with basic freedoms and opportunities made sense. In fact, was their only options. I saw them smile. Laugh. Joke with each other and me. I saw them stand up and dance. I got to be a part of a celebration.

This volunteer gig is a actually quite selfish because what 'they' say really is true: she who gives, gets the most.

THANK YOU to the wonderful people who chose to sponsor the party and the gifts. THANK YOU. Those smiles, that joy: you made that possible.

Thank you to the wonderful group of individuals who chose to donate, making these moments of joy possible. Thank you for making it possible for each person's smallest wish come true. Your gifts were very appreciated and they make a difference.

Thank you to the amazing volunteers who share in being an active part of stretching our culture so that we become enriched from our newest members, our friends, our future. Thank you for being on the ground, active, raw, open. I'm honored to know and volunteer with you.

And to my Eritrean friends, thank you for being open to the craziness that is me and my family. Thank you for welcoming me and opening my eyes to a part of the world I didn't know. Thank you for making Germany that much more interesting.


1 comment:

Jackelyn Birchfield said...

How fun! I wish I could have been there to help them all, too. I love meeting people from other cultures and learning new things. How lucky you are to have been a part of this! :) ~Jackie in Ohio

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