This is the lunch I had today, in a Saturday cafe set up by a refugees welcome committee (one of the many) in Berlin. When I ordered, a smiling Syrian woman plump and beautiful in her brown scarf came out to me carrying this bowl: a dish I had never eaten before, and when I was done she came back for the plate and hovered anxiously, asking in English, “Did you like it?” I told her I liked it, and we smiled at each other. The food was noodles cooked with brown lentils, tamarind, lemon peel and pomegranate. It cost five euros, around eight Australian or American dollars.
I was thinking of my lunch as I read a stranger’s post lambasting Muslims as universal terrorists and lauding Trump’s ban. Or as someone the other day brilliantly dubbed him: Crybaby-in-chief. Today I decided I would start calling him POUTUS, for his glorious petulance. I thought at first he was more of a misogynist, but now I feel sure pouting is his real superpower.
This cafe was crowded and buzzy and I had come to concentrate and write. Much of the conversation was in German, which allowed me to tune it out and focus on my page. They played lazy, sunny, splashy sitar music. I stayed for three hours. Run on Saturdays to raise money to help house new arrivals, this is just one form of the pragmatic welcome given Muslims from Syria who have turned up here at Angela Merkel’s noble instigation, now comprising about one German in one hundred, and welcomed with Refugees Welcome stickers and t-shirts all over Berlin. I wish I could organise a roadshow of new arrivals who were not too traumatised to perform and travel, taking them through the so-called flyover states in the US where Trump has been hailed a saviour. I feel sure if people could just sit down with a Syrian person, or a Moroccan person like the many interesting and cultured individuals we got to know over Christmas this year, staying in Fez, the hatred that masks fear would begin to dissolve in curiosity, conversation, and ken.