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The Charming Mountain Goat… is grazing in Berlin II

March 2nd, 2009 · No Comments · Berlin, Charming Mountain Goat, Travel Writing

Mary and Mohammed are from Sierre Leone, which they both fled at different times. They are shy, but despite that Mary hugs me like an old friend, with a warmth that seldom exists between women in the West. Her husband shakes hands shyly, but his eyes shine and his smile is big. Their three children are aged 17, nine and three years old.

Mohammed first fled their war torn home country with their eldest son, not knowing if he would see his wife and his youngest son again.

Nine-year old Jean-Paul explains that he was born in Sierra Leone, lived in Kenya, started school in Ghana and has now settled in Berlin. “Meine Mama said we had to leave because there was war,” he says quietly and matter-of-factly. It is strange to hear these words spoken in this bright big German apartment building. Jean-Paul speaks and understands English, but he expresses these things in beautiful German with the distinct melody of the Berlin accent. He is lively and cheeky: “Yes, my name is French. I was named after the Pope, I think.”

His little sister hugs him earnestly and closely when he returns home with us and he talks to her softly in German. To all intends and purposes they are an African family, settled and established in Germany’s capital. Their warmth and smiles are ever present, whether Mary talks about her family who remains in Sierra Leone or explains that she is taking part in an “Umschulung” to be retrained for the restaurant business.

She says that the children only speak German now, not English, nor the two different languages that are their mother’s and their father’s native tongue spoken by their respective tribes.

Their home is humble, clean and homey, but this distinct German life of a Berliner is a mantle and although it is worn with a smile it sits uncomfortably and doesn’t fit. It is a burden, but they all make it look non-burdensome by the way they have pulled together and the love and concern they show to each other.

We leave many things unsaid and instead hug closely again upon leaving.

And I think of our former anonymous suburban neighbours in England who staked their claim to having it all in life – THIS life and NOW! The career, the self-fulfilment, the 2.5 children and their nanny, annual ski holidays, the House of Fraser store card, the latest German company car, the latest IT gadget, the ideal weight. Who by chance had a better start in life; believe it to be their own achievement and feel mightily superior as a result, those who know all about their rights, but very little about their responsibilities. And I ponder for a long time who has truly made a success of their life.


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