The buzzer went off, and whoever it was, held it down for a good few seconds too long. I ran across the living room and swung a sweater around my shoulders before pressing the button to hear who it was. UPS, he said. I pushed the other button to let the him into the building. I opened the door and stood in the doorway, waiting for him to come up the set of the stairs. He called out, hallo? Hallo? And I said (in German), hi, I’m up here. So he grumbled and began the short climb up the stairs with a small package in hand until he saw me. He stopped dead in his tracks and made a face I can only describe as absolute loathing.
He rolled his eyes. I tried to shove it aside mentally. Yes, this interaction was worse than some, but not entirely uncommon. I smiled politely. He continued up the stairs until he stood in front of me. He shoved the electronic signature device toward me. I unhooked the little pen and signed my name. He wouldn’t even touch me. He looked pained to be standing so close. I took deep breaths. He placed the package on the floor in the middle of the cold and pebbly hallway, and left in silence. I waited for him to leave before I collected it. I was shaken.
Do you know what my offense was? I do. My brown skin. It’s not always my skin, sometimes it’s just a German thing or another. But this was about my brown skin. Turbulent times in Germany, you know? I know that I don’t “look” like a refugee, but I still look like a foreigner and it’s not a great time to be foreign when the AfD is preaching about home being home for Germans.
Not all Germans feel this way. Believe me when I say that in some ways, I’m welcome here. But this was not an isolated incident either. And if this is my experience, imagine how the refugees feel? Some of these people truly despise them, us. They see us as taking over their country and pushing the Germans out of the majority. They think we are taking their jobs, using their services, eating their food, taking their apartments and homes and making it our own. Their afraid of what we are going to do to their way of life.
The refugees offense? Escaping terrible situations in their home country and trying to live their lives in safety and peace. They came to protect their families, themselves.
I went to the Ausländeramt in November. It was packed with people who didn’t look like me, but didn’t look like the Germans either. More than a few Syrians. I’m married to a German, it’s supposed to be easy to get a VISA, I mean what are they going to do? Boot me out of the country? I’ve got a German American kid here. Besides, I’ve always gotten 3 year VISAs, I have my German language certificate from class. I’ve lived here for 6 years.
But it didn’t work out that way. My husband and I went in to our appointment, and you could tell from the beginning, they were fed up. This didn’t bode well. My VISA expired months before, and then it got stolen at a hospital in Brooklyn while I was there with my flu- dehydrated daughter. It was stolen out of our room. The only thing in there was two dollars and this German resident card. As it was expired, I thought it wouldn’t matter. Strike 1.
Strike 2: not looking German. The guy looked at me and I just knew, this wasn’t going to go well. He listened to my German, I was nervous, and I made stupid mistakes. To be fair, when I’m nervous in my native language, I also stammer and make mistakes. It didn’t matter anyway. He gave me a 1-year VISA, and I am required to take an integration course. It doesn’t matter that I took German classes here. It doesn’t matter that I’ve lived here for 6 years. As he said, “it’s not for us that you must take this course, it’s so that you will learn to fit into our society.” I scoffed at that. I know my face was red and I wanted to get out of there.
What he didn’t say about the course: it’ll cost us 1200€, and it’s about 300 hours, full-time. If I’m lucky and I do well, I will get half of that money back. But the hours? I’ll lose loads of time with my daughter. We’ll have to increase her hours at kindergarten, we will have to pay more, I won’t be able to write anymore, and it’ll be like a full-time job where I don’t get paid and I learn things I already know. Oh yes, it’ll be great for my language skills, but here’s the thing: I don’t learn well in classes. My learning style is best one on one, or small groups. But that doesn’t matter.
Now I ask again: imagine how the refugees feel?
For all my complaints, what is required of me is very little of what is required of them. I have a German husband to help me navigate, how do they do it? I came here for love. They came here to escape war, to save their children and their own lives. I have everything I need, things from home. What do they have?
I’m still waiting on the info to join an integration course, the guy said it’d come in the mail in December but I haven’t seen it yet. He said there will be consequences if I don’t do it. I haven’t decided what I’ll do.
I don’t want to go home just yet. Trump is President. Healthcare. Chaos. But I don’t want to stay here either. I have a feeling that Brexit was the beginning of casting out the others that don’t match the majority. Now Trump, maybe Marine Le Pen, Wilders, Frauke Petry here….. these times aren’t the best. If they don’t want me here, where do they want me? You can only take so many interactions where people tell you to go back to your own country, or your very presence infuriates someone else. Sometimes that crushes you. It makes you feel like maybe you are better off somewhere else. I mean, no one has ever asked me what it’s like to live in Germany as a biracial black American woman. No one has ever asked me what it’s like to continually ignore my culture, my “me-ness”, because it’s not respected here. Sometimes I oscillate between feeling like I’m an eyesore and feeling that I don’t exist.
If my husband is in the room, every doctor I’ve seen will cast me aside and speak about my results or health with him, despite knowing perfect English, despite it being my business. Even at the hospital, giving birth to our daughter, no one spoke to me. They spoke to him.
It’s hard not to be bitter. But at the same time, grateful because they definitely took my health in consideration, because our insurance covered everything, and their compassion for our daughter, those NICU nurses were… angels.
I can’t make people stop fearing me, or loathing me. But I have decided that I won’t be ignored, not anymore. And I’ve decided that I need to search for a home where my skin color is accepted, where it’s ok to be me, and my child can see diversity. I don’t know where that is yet. I just know it’s not at home right now, and it’s not here either.
If this post seems jumbled and full of complaints, bear with me. I’m working it out.
Thanks for reading!