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A Saturday with Refugee Families in Luxembourg

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A Saturday with the refugees

This morning I got the address to someone “up north” in the country who had furniture they were willing to give away. I had a match with a refugee family in Dudelange who needed these items. The drive was sunny and peaceful, I felt good about the mission, even if – in all honesty – I had a slight inner conflict about spending my only free time on helping others, again. My own list of things that I need to take care of is pretty long. I ask myself; which has a bigger impact: me cleaning my home or me helping people in need? The answer is: my home will always be messy.

It was a longer drive than I expected, so I got to listen to a whole DVD on how to improve my speaking skills, making great use of that time – combining purpose with passion. Just as the GPS-lady said “you have reached your destination” I saw a man waving by a garage. It was a Turkish family who had several pieces of furniture to give away. We discussed what was most urgent for the refugee family, and what would fit in the car. The first item we carried was a large set of drawers in massive wood. Without exaggerating, it was one of the heaviest things I’ve EVER carried. And just for the record, he was a well-built man, and I am a very strong woman. Both the Turkish man and I had red faces and wet foreheads when we arrived at the bottom of the stairs, breathing heavily.

We could fit in a few more smaller pieces of furniture, some bags of kitchen equipment and baby items, before the car was filled to the brim. We had a glass of water and shook hands for humanity before I drove off.

Next stop was to pick up my friend Jawid. He’s the one who has direct contact with different refugee families, and is an important piece of this puzzle.

Pieces of a puzzle, coming together from all corners of the planet, creating a beautiful vision of humanity.

We did a quick drop-off of the kitchen equipment and small tables with an Afghanistan family at a refugee center we’ve visited several times. Quick hugs and grateful smiles, and several invitations to come up for a cup of tea. But we had to continue the journey.

Our final destination was at another refugee center. I drove the car all the way up to the main entrance, but was immediately told by a security guard that I couldn’t park there. I very politely explained that we were just dropping off a piece of furniture to a family and that I would move the car in a minute. The guard insisted, I had to move the car now – and – I could NOT leave any furniture.

For a moment I felt like putting up a fight. I very nicely explained that I had been driving for a while, doing this only to help, and this family really need this. The family had come out and were excited to see the large chest of drawers. But the guard shrugged and said “that makes no difference, there’s nothing I can do, we have rules”. Bah…. First of all, I love rules. I’m Swedish; we love rules, and take pride in following them. But, there has to be SOME rhyme and reason in life. Some say that rules are made to be broken. I don’t know about that. But I do know this; I could not take this unpleasant little prick’s NO for an answer. I asked if I could speak to his superior. Nope, they don’t work on Saturdays, of course. I asked if there was someone else I could call. Nope. He walked back into his office.

After the long drive, the brutal weight-lifting, sweat that had dried up, a family waiting for something that would help them organize their personal belongings in drawers (instead of keeping it in plastic bags), and the fact that I could not drive home with my car still loaded (it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to lift that thing out on my own) and I have to be able to drive my childen to school every day – I needed a happy ending!

Posted on the wall in the entrance was several notes with information. I read them all. Everything had office hours Monday to Friday. Nothing was open on Saturday. Then I found a number! I called and spoke to someone who must be family to the unfriendly security guard. He said no and wanted to end the conversation. I asked “can I speak to someone else please”. He snorted and put me on hold.

A voice spoke. The line was breaking up so I wasn’t sure if it was the same person, or someone else. But then I could hear that it was someone responsible for immigration questions. I felt like crying, and again explained that all we wanted to do was to help. I said “all I ask of you is that you give your approval for this to the security guard, help me help them, please”. He asked me to pass the phone to the guard and give my passport number and name. We got a yes!

This time it was Jawid and the father of the refugee family who got the tough task of carrying the furniture up the stairs. One thing is for certain; in spite of all the effort and challenges – it was worth it.

Breaking bread with a refugee family
Breaking bread with a refugee family

The family had been expecting us and wanted to invite us for lunch. We could only accept. Again, I was having a meal with a family from a very different culture, different food, different tastes and different way of eating. We all sit on the floor, with our legs crossed in front of us and all the food placed on platters in the middle. Everyone shares; bread, rice, chicken, olives and salad.

We spoke for several hours about their situation. I asked the father how he feels about the future. It was very difficult to see this grown man sharing how he feels, unable to hold his tears back. He had to leave his elder mother in Afghanistan, she’s too old to travel, and is now alone and unprotected in their old home. They can only talk for a couple of minutes every month when he’s saved up money to call her. Guilt, sadness, fear, worry… His biggest fear is to be sent back to Afghanistan, where he’s unable to protect his children, and it would mean the end of life for him. I kept my promise to myself and looked at him, with all my strength and courage, as he shared his biggest fears with tears covering his face.

The mother in the family has been trying to learn English and we could communicate with the help of Jawid. I asked what specific things she needs for herself and her sons, and took note of everything. I asked how they lived before they had to escape. She described their big house, with a nice garden where she cultivated their own vegetables, a dog and sheep walking freely around the house. Sitting in this square room, with only a large bed and a small table in a corner and knowing what they had to leave, I felt ashamed for mankind, capable of doing so much damage.

We spoke about how they spend their days. In conclusion there is only one thing they do: they worry. Imagine living with extreme fear of a deportation decision, not knowing what will happen to you and your children, with no rights and a very uncertain future, depending fully on a government decision, and you can do nothing but wait. And of course, at the same time, they have the temporary relief of being in security and getting food every day. Afghanistan is so unsafe at this point that being deported represents nothing else than a death row penalty with immediate execution. Imagine what it would do to your spirit to live like that for month after month after month.

When it was time to leave, the mother said “it makes me very happy that you come here and that you talk to me”. To look into the eyes of another person, and see how sincere they are when they tell you that the simple act of you coming and “just talking” to them made a difference in their life – this must be one of the most powerful moments you can experience.

It fills the heart. It strengthens the soul. It brings hope to humanity. It makes you happy!

I wish more people would do this – to physically go and visit people who’ve lost everything, who’ve had to give up all they have, leave family behind – for the chance to survive and see their children grow up.

To everyone who’s helping me help them – thank you for making a difference!

So many feelings: gratefulness, happiness, shyness, joy, pride, understanding… and un uncertain future.

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