Photos/Text: Anna Pantelia
Sept, 5th 2016: The train approaches the station in Fulda, a small city of 67,000 people 100 kilometres north-east of Frankfurt. Rahim* is waiting for me on the platform. I get my bags and quickly disembark. I first met Rahim* the same day a year ago on Lesvos island where he and his pregnant wife were stranded for more than three weeks before they were able to continue on their journey to Germany.
“My wife is in the hospital, she had a baby last night,” he told me.
He looked exhausted under the Mediterranean sun. After we took the ride to Moria camp and he packed their few belongings we headed to the hospital. Even though all the signs in the hospital were in Greek, Rahim* knew the shortcuts to get to his wife’s room.
Rahim* holds his newborn daughter, Mitra, in Lesbos’s public hospital. Sept 5th, 2015
Aliya* was lying down in her black dress with a black hijab covering her hair, looking like a modern mother Mary. The c-section pain had kept her bed-bound for a week.
“Wait, I am going to bring my daughter” Rahim* said excitedly. After a few minutes he opened the door, dragging a small plastic trailer with a newborn baby covered in a blue blanket. He raised her to his chest like a little treasure. “She is my princess”, he said. Ten days later the couple decided to continue their journey to central Europe.
Rahim* and his newborn daughter, Mitra, in Lesbos’s public hospital. Sept 5th, 2015
“It was really hard for us and Mitra was getting sick all the time, it was very cold. At least it didn’t take long until we reached our destination. In few days we were in Germany and we were lucky, we stayed in a camp only for 20 days and then we moved to a hotel. Other people who came the same time with us still live in the camps”, he says between sips of black-coffee at the coffee shop near the station. I can see groups Arab-looking men and women pass by. It seems a small refugee community has started to emerge.
After a while Rahim’s* uncle and few friends came to pick us up with a mini van. We went to pick up some second hand furniture that Rahim* bought from an elderly German couple for his new apartment. For eleven months they have live in an old hotel in Weyhers, a tiny village of 1100 people south-east of Fulda, but at the end of the month they will have their own apartment.
A general view of the main road that connects Fulda with Weyhers (left) Rahim*, his uncle and some friends carrying the second hand furnitures that Rahim* bought for his new appartment. Sept 5th, 2016
After a short drive through the green forests of Hessen, we arrived at Rahim’s* new apartment. “I had to work a lot on it, It’s old but quite big, I hope we will move as soon as possible even though I know Aliya* doesn’t really want to. She is afraid she will be alone” he tells me and takes a deep breath before he starts to unload the van. With the help of his friends and his uncle the furniture is temporarily stored in the cellar and we are back in the van heading to the hotel. I can’t wait to see Mitra, how she has grown and what she looks today.
In Weyhers, there are not many shops, it seems more like a verdant, quiet residential area. We stop by the nearest market to buy Mitra’s birthday cake. The sky is slowly turning grey and large clouds are moving towards the small German village. Rain patters on the puddles. We arrived at the hotel, the main door is wide open. It is quiet and calm. The floor carpet looks a decade too old with an old fashioned pattern of flowers interrupted by threadbare patches of brown shades similar to the wall’s colour. On the left side of the entrance there is a big kitchen with a big stainless steel bench in the middle, while on the right side there is a small lounge with two big, worn out suede couches and big windows letting some sunlight into the empty room. No one is around, so we go up the stairs quickly. The moment we open the old wooden door that separates the corridors a baby popped up from a room and crawled quickly towards us. It was Mitra! I grabbed her from the floor hugged her and walk into the room.
Aliya* welcomed us with her warm smile and rushed to prepare some Afghan tea. The room was small for a family with children but filled with happiness and love. “I am very lucky man. I have a great family, a great wife and good friends” Rahim* says proudly and then points towards the window where there was a cradle. I walked close to it and I saw a newborn baby covered with a colourful blanket sleeping; it is Rahim’s* son. “He’s only 10 days old, when Mitra was 10 days old we were on the road” he recalls.
Rahim* and his 1 year-old daughter, Mitra, in the hotel room in Weyhers, Germany where they live for 11 months (top) The 10 year-old son of Rahim* sleeps in the wooden cradle (down). Sept 5th, 2016
The birthday cake arrives, and Aliya* lights the candle and Mitra’s dark eyes are suddenly aglow. After the “Happy Birthday” song Mitra blew out the candles marking a new year of her new life in Germany.
Rahim* and his daughter Mitra before she blew out her birthday candle. Sept 5th, 2016
It was already 9pm and Rahim* started to prepare dinner. “In Afghanistan women who have recently given birth should stay at home without doing any kind of work for 40 days” Aliya* tells me in jest. The kitchen is full of people, mainly from Syria and Ethiopia. Everyone is preparing dinner while children are walking around trying to keep themselves entertained. Ramesh prepared everything put the old-style Afghan pressure cooker on the hob and came upstairs. Aliya* tells me about the difficulties that a new refugee mother like her faces: “ I am afraid I will be very lonely when we move to the new apartment, Ramesh is going to the courses and to arrange everything we need for he new house. Here, I have someone to speak, to spend some time” she tells me.
Rahim* unlocks his fridge in the communal kitchen of the hotel (left) The communal lounge of the hotel (right) . Sept 5th, 2016
Safia, Aliya’s* friend from Ethiopia shares the same thoughts. She is a young mother of three children and came alone to Europe. “ My husband and my children are in Saudi Arabia and I wait until they will be able to come here. The problem is that in Saudi Arabia I don’t have the same rights as a man and I can’t work. I don’t want a life like this neither for me nor for my children. I feel very alone here but I know it’s for good” she confesses.
It is close to midnight and the family is getting ready to sleep. It’s time for me to bid farewell to the family. I still recall the moments I left the hospital in Lesbos, even though Mitra’s life started in the most difficult and dangerous way I knew she will have a a bright and successful future. Today, I leave the hotel with a feeling of relief knowing that Rahim* and Aliya* are now safe and planning their new start in Germany with two wonderful children.
Rahim* hugs his daughter Mitra during her birthday (top) Mitra sits in family’s bed with her toys (down) . Sept 5th, 2016
* Names have been changed to protect family’s identity