Germany: Refugees and I

WARNING: The following story will begin with some nasty events, but will end on a brighter note.

In a small town neither too near to nor too far from Göttingen live a Chinese lady, her German husband and their child. I visited the lady once. The town was very quiet. Walking on the streets made us feel so young and naive, since all the people we met seemed to be as old and historic as the town itself. She told me that a few factories there had been closed down due to a lack of labour force. The kindergarten her child attended had irregular opening hours (I did not ask if this had anything to do with the lack of teaching staff). Recently, refugees have been assigned by the government to this town. I thought that the people in the town would be really happy about the new vibe, energy and future brought into this place. I was wrong. She came to me with a list of complaints she and her neighbours had accummulated against the refugees. I asked if they had tried to convey their expectations nicely to the refugees. There was an awkward silence. Then she told me that her child had come home one day with a German song, which she summarized as follows: “Deutschland geht unter wegen ‘herzliches Willkommens.'” I was appalled and wanted to know where her six-year-old child had learned that song. Both the mother and child would not tell me. I tried to search for it online, only to discover this terrible blog: http://petraraab.blogspot.de/2015/07/deutschland-geht-unter.html (What’s wrong with this person?!) and another shocking video: https://www.facebook.com/569638976464964/videos/653138404781687/ (The video has either been removed or is hidden from public viewing, but I watched it once, and let’s just say that too much patriotism always sounds dangerous to me). A few days after the conversation with her, I heard from the radio that Henriette Reker, a pro-refugee politician had been attacked and heavily injured by a radically right wing perpetrator (http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2015-10/henriette-reker-wahl-koeln). So sad, but glad that Reker did win the election at the end of the day.

In Göttingen, for nearly four months, several other university students and I have volunteered to teach the refugees some elementary German.

One day, I came into my class. An eleven-year-old girl from a refugee country in the Middle East, who had just begun to learn the German alphabets, greeted me with the following sentence, written on the blackboard in her own shaky handwriting: “Herzlich Willkommen in Deutschland.” I bet that this is the sentence she has seen most often after her arrival in Germany. Do you still remember the following video?

I told her that she had written very well, and she gave me one of the brightest smiles I have ever seen. Then I remembered the song learned by the six-year-old child. I did not dare to dash her smile with the fact that people might change their minds pretty quickly.

Another day, during the lesson, I asked my students to introduce themselves in German. One by one, they all voluntarily ended their small speeches with the clause: “Ich liebe Deutschland.”

Still another day, after class, another political refugee came up and shared with me not only his yearning to go back to his home country, but also his eagerness to contribute to the German society while he’s there. He told me that he’s grateful that the German government was open enough to receive him and even invited him to speak about his experience in public.

There were days when Göttingen became rainy. Having been wet from head to toe, some students still came into the classrom with a smile on their faces. I saw them carefully take out their lecture notes from the inner pockets of their wet jackets. They would rather stay wet than ruin the lecture notes! (If I were they, I would definitely use the lecture notes to cover me from the rain ;p)

All these small but touching moments led to the final day of the class. Last Thursday, after a short language test, we had an “Abschlussfeier” at my place. My husband and several friends living in the same flat were also there to celebrate with the refugees. Look, the former have decorated the room beautifully to welcome the latter! 🙂

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For this special occassion, I baked a delicious Schmandtorte, the recipe of which I had learned from a former German flatmate. However, I completely forgot to take the cake out of the fridge afterwards, since my husband and our friends surprised us with a table full of delicious dishes they had prepared! There were some more dishes on two smaller tables:

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Really grateful for the eye-opening conversation we had at the dinner table. Maybe I taught the refugees some German, but they have taught me mental toughness despite physical circumstances. Regardless of the differences in our external conditions, what binds us together is perhaps our desire for peace, justice and joy in our world. Can you recognize all these words on the paper screaming out “peace,” “love,” “happiness,” and “freedom” in Arabic, Balochi, Chinese, English, Farsi, German, Hebrew, Hindi and Malay?

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It is sad to hear that the right and wrong, good and bad, life and death of powerless people or nations are often determined or even toyed by the more politically, economically and militarily powerful groups or nations in the world. My husband and I are confused about the stituations and are really not good at comforting people. The only thing we did do was to share the following biblical passage on the Christmas cards we gave to our guests. The passage has comforted us in bleak moments:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3-10)

May the blessings come soon.

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Postscript:

All the news and stories about the refugees I have heard so far remind me of the polarized attitudes (the very good and the very bad) I have received during my stay in Germany. Given my experience, I definitely have more sympathy for the refugees. If I, a foreign guest in Germany, whose German is not as good as the natives, can even help out a tiny bit, how much more many of you can do for the refugees?

Here are some resources that might help integrate the refugees into our society:

 

 

Announcement: Saying Hello to a New Semester!

Hallo zusammen!

To all students at the University of Göttingen, I volunteer to teach Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations (chapters 25-32) in this coming semester (WiSe 2014/2015). For more details, you can check out this link on UniVZ.

The "official" German ad about my course that I have written and stuck on the notice boards of the theological faculty :)

The “official” German ad about my course that I have written and stuck on the notice boards of the theological faculty 🙂

Yes, it is about my recently defended thesis 🙂

For practical reason, the classes will be cancelled if there are no more than five students for each class in the first two weeks… How cruel! ;-p

So I’m going to do a bit of promotion about this course. This promotion is also to assure you that die Übungsleiterin is NOT an alien monster, a runaway fugitive or a bloody murderer. In what follows, I will introduce myself and the genesis of my interest in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations. This introduction is going to act like a CV, except that it is going to be in the form of a narrative, and except that it is going to be very long, like in a series! Anyway, Adam Fletcher’s hilarious How to be German/Wie Man Deutscher wird has already told us, a German CV has to be “a giant document, death by minutiae.” I am just trying to fit into this flow of German tradition.

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A fun little book that is one of the “Spiegel” bestsellers.

“Wait,” you will ask. “Shouldn’t your scholarship be separated from your personal life? Why should we bother to understand your past in order to understand your work? After all, it has to be totally objective, isn’t it?”

“Sorry,” I will stare at you puzzlingly. “I don’t understand your question. What does objectivity really mean to you?” Once I watched a BBC programme about interior design. Depending on the colour, lighting, texture, pattern and furniture arrangement in a single room, our eyes can actually be brought to perceive the dimensions of the same room in different terms. In an analogous way, depending on our external experience and lived environments, we are disposed to perceive the biblical texts in different ways. The way we gather the textual evidence and the way we make up a set of criteria to evaluate our evidence all reflect subjectivity. What makes true scholars different from the other amateurs, in my opinion, is their willingness to explore, gather, discuss, argue and criticise the opinions of the others or even of themselves. That means, a scholar’s work represents not a total objectivity but rather a more informed subjectivity. To say one’s position as totally devoid of personal Tendenz, it seems to me, is a rather presumptive claim.

So, if you are interested in my viewpoint on Ezekiel 25-32, why don’t you spend some time to get to know the behind-the-scene stories? I will try to be transparent and honest as much as possible. Hopefully I can show you why I just can’t get enough of Ezekiel 25-32, even after four and a half years since I have written down my doctoral research proposal. This is also a reply to all those people I have kept bumping into in the previous years, who have remarked: Why can’t you just focus on the famous visions of Ezekiel? How do the Oracles against Nations have to do with anything?

Just one more thing about the structure of the following series. The reason that I am drawn to Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations is due to the fascinating concept of “nations.” My perspectives to the texts are indelibly shaped by my study and living experience in several nations that I have stayed in for a relatively longer period (at least for more than six months). In what follows, I will divide and categorize my stories chronologically, covering Malaysia, Australia, Israel/Middle East and Germany. Just bear in mind, I am not going to tackle the comprehensive history of each nation, which belongs to the task of professional historians. Even though some “official” historical events might shed light on my experience, the stories predominantly remain my own first-hand encounters and reflections.

Here come my stories…

Presentation: Göttingen-Lausanne Graduate Meeting

Recently attended an awesomely-packed graduate meeting in Lausanne!

Here were some of the highlights:

– We visited the glyptic collections in Fribourg University, Switzerland. At the end, all of us were given the opportunity to buy some books in the OBO (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis) Series at a really cheap price (up to 90% discount, the first book was free)

– We had to present, listen to, and comment on different papers. There was only 5-hour sleep per night (I usually need 10 hour sleep)! Still, I quite enjoyed that existential feeling — ‘I talk, therefore I exist’

– Dinner conversations in French, German and English while the Euro Football match (Germany vs. Greece) was on. I wondered if the world was always that small and hybrid…

– BBQ at one professor’s home (now I really believe in the Swiss hospitality). We drank the aperol on a balcony that overlooked Lake Geneva under the glow of the sunset! C’est la vie!

– We strolled along Léman beach, jumped into the sapphire-like water and bathed under the sun! Well, I am not a good swimmer, when I jumped into the water, my colleague just accompanied me anxiously as I swam bravely back to the shore..wahaha xD

To describe all the above experience in one phrase: C’est magnifique! 🙂

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This was where I jumped into the water! Not from the tall springing board. There was a lower springing board just beside the taller one..THAT was where I jumped from ;p

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Really love the water and mountains here in Lausanne!