Missing the one left behind
Stephanie (34), her husband Olaf (44), and their two children, Kevin (13 – who did not wish to be pictured), Oscar (1), host Bhzad, a refugee from Syria, in Berlin Lichtenberg, Germany.
Bhzad, a computer engineer from Damascus, loves to be out in nature, climbing in the mountains or hiking in the woods. Before the war started in Syria he and friends would regularly organise group trips together. It was on one such trip to the mountains, where they camped beside a lake for a week, that he met Sara, his future wife.
“Every morning we saw each other again and fell more in love,” he says. But when it became too dangerous to stay in Syria, he was forced to leave her behind.
When Bhzad arrived in Berlin, he found he had no place to stay and spent the first two nights sleeping outdoors. Then, following his registration, came a spell at a hostel. But when the owners threw him and others out whilst keeping their documents, he found himself once more without a place to stay.
This is when Stephanie and her family stepped in, offering him a room in their home in early November 2015. Stephanie says, that some hostel owners kick people out whilst holding on to their documents, so that they can continue to collect money from the state, whilst also taking in new people. “It’s crazy that some people are giving everything they have to help whilst others are making a lot of money from this situation” she says.
It is so sad to see him missing his wife and family back home.
Stephanie and her family had been providing short-term emergency accommodation for refugee families since August. But when she heard about Bhzad through the volunteer networks she’s involved with, Stephanie thought “he really needs to arrive finally and have a place to rest. The house is large enough and we have a small guest room, in which he’ll be comfortable.”
Stephanie says, “Bzad has been very easy to live with. He speaks English and is taking German classes, so we can communicate easily. He helps in the house and his gentle and quiet nature make him a pleasant addition to family life. It is so sad to see him missing his wife and family back home.”
For Olaf, who speaks only a little English, it was harder at first. He admits that in the beginning he was a little reticent about opening his home to a stranger over the long term, but now the two get along well and laugh easily together. Their son Kevin (13), helps Bhzad with his German practice when he gets home from school and is also teaching him to play the recorder.
Stephanie encourages Bhzad’s friends to visit. They cook food together, and after the children have gone to bed, stay up late talking, and playing games around the table. “I really enjoy these times,” she says.
Olaf says that through volunteering their lives have been completely turned upside down, but in a good way. Stephanie agrees. “Our circle of friends has changed. We spend time with other likeminded people we’ve met through the volunteer networks in the last few months. We feel like we have so much more in common. Some of our old friends don’t understand what we are doing.”
“On TV people only see Islam in a bad way – but we live it very differently. We want to live with freedom and in peace.”
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Sarah Böttcher
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR and Nadine Alfa.