FRANKFURT AM MAIN
Our hotel is located on a square, across from the train station. On the square coaches, taxis and transit vans continuously come and go. These days it is very busy. Crowds of people from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Africa are on the move carrying suitcases and bags, as well as lugging furniture. This is not an arrival and departure point for holidaymakers; this is a square where a new life begins for many, and where the goodbyes mean farewell for a long time. Hundreds of thousands who this summer have been displaced by war, violence or poverty, some of whom we meet this weekend on the doorstep of our Frankfurt hotel.
The square looks like a multicultural society in miniature. It suits Frankfurt, Horst told me yesterday. The city has been international and open since the 60s. The Frankfurt of today is home to more than one hundred nationalities. Not really surprising that HelpingHand is located right here.
African women are the largest group in HelpingHand. At least half of all people here who are trained as coaches come from Africa, as do almost two-thirds of the people they help; and they are all women. No men. Women with HIV.
Today we are working with Jate, Sonporm, Sanit and Yasmin. Their cradles were in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. Without exception all strong personalities, without exception all women with a violent past. All four were born into a culture where a woman’s role is subordinate to that of her husband or that of the community. All the important decisions in their lives were taken by others. Relationships and marriage, sex, work, immigration; they had nothing to say.
“Pain! It hurt!” She points to different areas of her body. “Pain everywhere.”
All four women have shown tremendous courage to get this far. Courage that one rarely finds on the front page of a newspaper, I realize during one of the conversations, I find here, across the table in a small meeting centre in Frankfurt.
But they are only halfway there. To a greater or lesser extent, to be freed from their past is one thing, finding their place as a full, independent member of German society demands much more of them.
During filming cultural differences caused us to clash regularly. They don’t really understand that we want to hear their story in a just one minute film. When I try to explain the format: short and fast, with lots of information and experiences, all to keep the attention of the Western viewer, I encounter a wall of benevolent incomprehension. It does not matter. We all do our best and we are happy with the results.
When I walk back to my hotel late that night, I look across the square which is still full of people. Thousands of men and women from dozens of countries all hoping to find their place in Germany.