I know at first glance, I may look like a Helga. But, despite popular belief, I am not, in fact, German. Nor do I speak German.
I actually don’t speak any other languages. I know a little Spanish and I managed to order us water at a restaurant in Korean, (a feat I was pretty proud of) and that’s about it.
So navigating Germany is a little bit of a task for me. There is almost nothing written in English. We went to a museum yesterday and about 85% of it was only in German. This is rare around the world. I’ve been to a lot of places and almost everywhere has things written in the native language and English. But, not here.
We have a friend who lives in a smaller town outside of Stuttgart, so we decided to take a train to see her. Navigating town is a little difficult, but navigating the train system is hard. We managed to buy our tickets at a kiosk but didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be a direct train to where we needed to go. So, I found an information desk and the guy seemed to know what I needed and printed me out a schedule. All in German.
Five transfers at train stations out in the middle of nowhere in Germany. And, it’s the slow trains, which equals about 40 mph. On the bright side, it provides ample time to take in scenes from the German countryside.
At every stop to transfer, we have about a fifteen to thirty minute wait until our next train arrives. I noticed a couple of guys who seemed a little lost (join the club) and they approached us and said hello. They also had a schedule printed out in German and I could tell they weren’t natives either. Jake explained the schedule to them and told them we would be taking the same train and they could wait with us.
After listening to them talk for a minute, I realized they were speaking Arabic. I forgot to mention that I also know a teaspoonful of Arabic. Which means I know enough to say hi, my name is Brittney, how are you?
When the train finally arrived, they boarded behind us and sat down with us. So, I tried out my Arabic skills and found out their names were Mahmood and Mahmood. And neither of them knew much English or German.
So, let me explain this. They both know Arabic. Mahmood 1 knows some English and a little German. Mahmood 2 knows almost no English or German. Jakes knows English and some German (he took two years in high school) and I know English and a tiny bit of Arabic.
But, of course, I was curious so I toiled on. They weren’t related, as far as I could tell. I was able to ask if they were father and son, which they weren’t. They were both from Syria and came here as refugees. Mahmood 1 has a family (two boys, ages 16 and 10, and one daughter, 4 years old named Houda) currently living in Jordan. He’s from a town in Syria (Daraa) that some of the other refugees I met in Jordan were from. He worked doing tile and plaster in Jordan then came to Germany and hopes for his family to join him here.
Mahmood 2 was 20 years old and studies German twice a week. He was from a different Syrian town I didn’t recognize and lived in a refugee camp. He’s been here for five years and has no family here. Can you imagine having to leave your home country at 15 years old and go strike out a life in a foreign country, with your family relying on you to bring them out too? That’s a lot of weight to carry.
As we approached our station, we said our goodbyes, in various languages, and departed. But, I can’t help thinking how quick we are to judge. I could’ve been scared of these two guys. I could easily have ignored the fact that I knew they needed help. I could’ve even used the language barrier as a good (and very valid) excuse. But, aren’t we called to love all people? To be a light to the nations? How can we do that if we refuse to look past ourselves and into the lives of others?
I didn’t impart any wisdom to these two guys. I didn’t share my beliefs with them. But, I did express concern. I did take a minute to hear their story, to ask who they were and where they were from. It wasn’t a great task. It was small. But, there’s a quote that says something like we should do small things with great love.
And, I think that can speak for itself.