It’s more than Meeting and Eating

Photos and Story by Danica Simonet

My first night in Berlin I attended a nonverbal communication workshop that highlighted how we can transcend cultural barriers without words. I learned that I can connect with others by sensing their emotions, engaging in eye contact, and simply being aware.

I took these skills with me on Monday when I participated in Give Something Back to Berlin’s Open Art Shelter at Tempelhof Airport. At first I was apprehensive, thinking it would be difficult to connect with the children. However, to my surprise, they were willing to share their energy, thoughts, ideas, and playfulness with me. I felt lucky knowing that they were willing to trust me by sharing themselves with me. I realized quickly that these children should not be labeled as “refugees”, but simply “human”.

Mondays became days of working with hands, hearing unique stories, reliving the wonders of childhood, and most importantly, connection. On Tuesday, I realized how much I enjoyed the friends I made: Annuar, Sara, Max and many more. Their openness gave me courage to engage with new, often challenging, stories. Shortly after this, I received a Facebook invitation to an event with a catchy name: ‘Meet N’ Eat’, and I was curious to see if I would meet new friends there as well.

The sun was starting to make its descent as I made my way to the event. It was a quiet Wednesday evening, around 7 pm. I could hear families eating dinner together. Thinking about the importance of sharing meals together, I arrived at the event location. I immediately met Juliane, the organizer, who greeted me with open arms, wondering how I heard about the event. From her greeting and curiosity, it was clear that this event was about being a welcoming spirit.

As I began to look around, I saw all types of people doing their part in making the event happen: preparing food, setting tables, hanging decorations, and making others feel welcome. I could see that this event wasn’t about refugees cooking for locals, or locals cooking for refugees, rather it was about both sides coming together to share a meal.

Every pair of hands was involved and every pair of hands mattered.

People were participating in the art of conversation, embracing each other, and inquiring about how each other’s weeks were going. I felt immediately included into this open, compassionate environment.

As I made an announcement about Liebe Bewegt, our running group for both locals and refugees, many people were enthusiastic about getting involved. Two individuals, Adel and Mohammad, were particularly interested in the group. We couldn’t communicate in English or German, however their desire to get involved was obvious, which led to hand-actions and mini-dramas that enabled us to connect and understand each other.

At one table, an Afghan woman shared her talent of henna tattoos. Creating these tattoos was a way for her to participate in an art form, to demonstrate a piece of her culture and an aspect of who she is. This image of her handiwork is a great example of the beauty behind ‘Meet N’ Eat’. We enjoy our similarities and differences. In these moments, we experience the community built at ‘Meet N’ Eat’.

Before coming to ‘Meet N’ Eat’, I wondered how friendships could be fostered between locals and refugees. At first, it seemed as if the event was simply about sharing food and conversation. While that does happen, the meaning of the event is much deeper. This sharing of food and conversation is an opportunity to learn about one another, about each other’s culture, manners, and traditions. At any ‘Meet N’ Eat’ event, you can see locals trying new ways of eating, and refugees asking about the new world where they now live. Somehow through food and togetherness, different cultures meet and bridges are built.

The spirit of ‘Meet N’ Eat’ is welcoming indeed. It is a spirit that says both sides must not have fear.

A spirit that sings we can get to know each other on a human level because we are not so different.

The next ‘Meet N’ Eat’ event is on this Wednesday at 4pm at Immanuelkirchstrasse 1a. If you live in Berlin, come and join me. It’s a great way to get to know our new neighbours, face to face, one bite of rice at a time.

Danica Simonet is a college student from the US who is volunteering this summer with Brother’s Keeper International. She is passionate about getting to know refugees and hearing their stories. She hopes others will join her in doing the same.