That Collection of Soaps

Putin and the Ukraine are the latest example in a long sad line of history. Another madman invades his neighbors.

The past repeats itself.

We watch the news each night and wonder, will Putin resort to dropping nukes? Or will he let his despot buddy Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko push the button in Belorussia? I watch the maps showing a 50 kilometer long procession of tanks heading inexorably towards Kyiv. The Ukraine is the country on the other side of Poland, which is the country on the other side of – us.

I take walks. I do the daily shopping and welcome my routines. Yesterday morning, coming around the corner I saw stacks and stacks of boxes in the plazza in front of our Town Hall. I went over and checked them out. They looked like supplies, the kind you gather and send as disaster relief or to refugee camps.

Back at home I immediately logged into our town’s Rathaus website. I guessed correctly: our town square is Ground Zero for goods to send east. The Ukrainians need sleeping bags, clothes, shoes, socks, coats, blankets, and food, and bottled water, and toys, and games, and (this one just about did me in) stuffed animals for little children.

The invaded Ukrainians need bandages and medicine and soap and toothbrushes and combs. I have a collection of these items along with pocket sewing kits, all saved in case a house guest spending the night forgot to bring their own from home.

… Or  someone in a war zone who left their house without the time to consider such mundane articles as the bombs began to fall…

I made a package and labeled everything in German and English. This morning on my way to the plaza I stopped at a bakery and bought some Butterbrezeln and belegtes Brotchen (buttered pretzels and sandwiches). The Rathaus website suggested snacks for the volunteers would be appreciated.

This morning at 9:00 workers are loading a giant transport truck. Over a dozen volunteers are packing boxes, sorting items into piles (a large one of sleeping bags). I set my little bag on a long table where a sign hung saying, Medikamenten und Hygiene. Someone directed me to place the bakery items by the coffee machine set up for the volunteers. A huge bag filled with pretzels was already there.

The transport truck in the foreground

And I’m crying as I write this, even as I think in the worst of times some people show their finest qualities.

The truck leaves tomorrow afternoon and is scheduled to arrive on the Polish-Ukrainian border on Monday. The action is organized by the Heck Spedition GmbH and the international YMCA. This is a time  to come together and give aid where we can, in whatever ways we can.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2022.

Here is the information from the Rathaus website.

Hilfstranport für ukrainische Kriegsflüchtlinge

Für einen HIlfstransport nach Medyka an der polnisch-ukrainischen Grenze sammelt die Heck Spedition GmbH, unterstützt durch den CVJM, von Mittwoch bis Freitag, 2. bis 4. März 2022, Schlafsäcke, warme Kleidung, Schuhe, Socken, neue Unterwäsche, Decken, Riegel, Babybedarf, Pampers, Spielsachen, Kuscheltiere, Bürsten, Kämme, Medikamente, Pflaster, Verbände und ähnliches.

Sie können die Sachen zu den folgenden Annahmezeiten auf dem Gerlinger Rathausplatz abgeben:

  • Mittwoch, 02.03.2022, 13.00-19.00 Uhr
  • Donnerstag, 03.03.2022, 09.00-19.00 Uhr
  • Freitag, 04.03.2022, 09.00-15.00 Uhr

Wer den Organisatoren bei Annahme, Sortieren und Verpackung, helfen möchte, kommt einfach zu den Annahmezeiten auf den Rathausplatz. Willkommen sind auch kleine Snacks zur Stärkung der Helferinnen und Helfer.

Der Transport wird am Freitag, 4. März 2022, starten und soll am Montagmorgen am Zielort eintreffen.

Kontakt: Heck Spedition GmbH, Telefonnummer 07156/43580

Wir danken allen Spenderinnen und Spendern sowie allen Helferinnen und Helfern für ihre Unterstützung an den Aktionen!

The Human Dimension. Helping Refugees: Part 4

The Germans have a wry saying. “We sent for guest workers, but Menschen came instead.” Meaning that after WWII, the work force of foreigners who came to Germany turned out to be fellow human beings.

I find myself thinking about that saying. The flow of refugees heading this way is huge and overwhelming, and in some ways I am afraid. I love the security and safety of life here, how clean it is. I’m proud to live in a land with universal health care and great mass transit, wonderful street cafés, and (most important of all) the guarantee of personal freedoms and a firm commitment to human rights.

What does this have to do with the hordes of refugees flooding the country? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing at all. But I hear from some of my friends, “What if Europe becomes Muslim? What if the streets are filled next with women in full burkas? What if we lose our freedoms as Germans bend over backwards to accommodate the newcomers?

They’re nameless, faceless. They’re the others, the ones who constitute a vague but ever-growing threat.

One of my great bonds with the man I married is our desire to explore the world together. We’ve taken vacations in moderate Muslim lands. Every trip was wonderful, filled with people with dreams and hopes like yours and mine. I have a serious disconnect when I try to reconcile the horror of ISIS with the kindness of the friendly people we met in Egypt… Indonesia… Tunisia… Malaysia… Turkey… Singapore. The answer, of course, is they can’t be reconciled. The two have nothing to do with each other.

I’m terrified of the fanaticism that just killed more than 100 people in  Paris. The refugees are terrified, too. The people fleeing to Europe want the same things we do: a civilized place to work, live, and raise their children. A stream of humanity is arriving. People with dreams and hopes, like yours and mine.

Each time I go to massage the refugee M. [1], I’m confronted with my own fear of the unknown foreign.

We have no languages in common. I’m not only working without any knowledge of her history; we can’t even talk.  One of her children remains in the room the entire time to translate into German for her.

These are the hardest sessions I’ve ever attempted.

As a therapist my hands know their work; I’m capable to treat her PTSD symptoms. But the person-to-person connection…. I have to do this solely through touch. The afternoons of therapy have changed my understanding of the human dimension. It’s become more complicated, and much simpler. It’s changed me as well.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of the persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only.

The Town Volunteer Program. Helping Refugees: Part 2

When dangerous months on foot or voyages in unstable boats are your only options, things are bad indeed. Refugees may be met at borders by hostile police or herded in subhuman conditions. Criminal bands now make more money from human trafficking than drugs. Millions are making the exhausting trek, often cheated and robbed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared Germany will take in refugees, particularly those fleeing Syria. This doesn’t begin to meet the challenge of how to integrate all these newcomers. The scramble is on to figure out how to register, and house, and provide for over one million asylum seekers, all arriving at the same time.

My community will receive 300 refugees. Every empty building is being assessed for use as temporary or permanent housing. I live in a 1,200-year-old village – with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Strangers definitely stand out.

I began asking myself questions. What does it mean when an outside crisis brushes up against the everyday? Can I help? If yes, am I prepared for what that entails?

I called the Rathaus (Town Hall). “English is my native language and I’m fluent in German,” I said. “I can translate. We’ve got lots of household goods to donate. I’m a massage therapist: I can offer therapy if someone needs it.”

I was informed that my town has taken in earlier refugees from the former Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and other countries. The town runs a training program for volunteers (how to help the newcomers who suffer from shell shock and/or culture shock, what to expect, etc.). Translating services are in place; the town has more donations for supplies than they can use. But, the offer for medical services… They took my contact information to pass along.

The next morning, I received a phone call from A, the German liaison. [1] “Your offer is like hearing from someone from another planet,” she declared. “For months, a severely traumatized refugee has been requesting massage. How soon can we meet?”

I didn’t know it yet, but there would be no time for the training program.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of all persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only. Part 3 to follow.

Helping Refugees: Part 1

I’ve moved! You’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

After more than a decade, it was back. An insidious, slowly increasing unease, a worried feeling that the world was spinning out of control. For months I’d watched news reports about refugees drowning off the coast in places like Libya or Lampadusa, Italy.

The reports came with more frequency, their tone more urgent. One night I saw the tragic footage of a small child, lifeless where he’d washed up on a beach in Turkey.

That Turkish beach is in Bodrum, and I once set foot there. Two years after I got married we spent a vacation in Turkey. Uwe and I began with the magic of Istanbul. We visited ancient Greek and Roman ruins, took off our shoes at the Blue Mosque, and travelled down the coast as tourists on a local bus line. At rest stops the driver came around with rose water for passengers to wash their hands and faces.

We bought rugs in Bodrum and had them shipped home. I joked about magic carpet rides. We put a wool rug I’d chosen in the center of our living room. Its wavy stripes had reminded me of the ribbon candy my grandparents always gave us when we visited.IMG_7568

Now, when I looked from the television to the floor, I saw waves in a treacherous ocean. I saw the long voyage of those desperately trying to save themselves and their families from wars.

Images of bombs and flight began to haunt my dreams. I had trouble sleeping and for a while I stopped watching the news. It was too close. The borders between frivolous holidays and grim realities had blurred. Actually, they’ve never really existed to begin with.

I was slipping into a spiral of feeling overwhelmed, and helpless, and very sad.

A German friend came for her monthly massage. “I’ve begun volunteering with refugees here,” she said. We talked through much of the session and I asked question after question, curious to know how she came to the decision to help refugees. I began to rethink how to respond to my encroaching depression and what I could do.

I talked it over with Uwe. A few weeks later, I called the Rathaus (Town Hall) to offer my services.

NOTES: Part 2 to follow. Photo Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. Uwe’s images from other trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

For an excellent blog about volunteers and people trying to get through the Chunnel from northern France to England, go to: http://amjamwe.blogspot.pt/