It was a special thing.
One of those things that makes life’s colors so much more vibrant and deeper.
Sitting next to a parentless, Somali refugee boy by the age of 17, in a boys’ home, in Austria, so you can teach him German.
He laughed as I sassed him for trying to read too fast and made him repeat the sentence again.
H* chewed on the eraser of his pencil as we chugged through his little work book. His skin had a warmth that originates from that part of the world, and his big eyes held a story that came from there, too.
Guys, I never want to leave. I found what I want to do and all I want is to keep doing it. After figuring out my own internship here in Austria with the Red Cross, I was led by some weird way of being in the right place at the right time to Eva, a Bulgarian woman who lives in Vienna. Now, some background. The word for ‘boys’ and ‘youth’ are extraordinarily similar in the German language. So, I thought they were sending me to a youth home. Teenage girls?? I could do that. Been there. Done that. Four younger sisters, yo. Bring it.
But turns out, as I met with Eva, it was actually a ‘boys’ home. I was terrified. Boys under ten I am totally in tune with, but as soon as they cross that weird 12yo stage I am at a loss. This home is a place for fifteen boys ages 12-18 who are refugees come here without parents. I was scared they wouldn’t like me just as much as I was scared of making any sort of positive impact at all.
But also on that day, Eva had me go into the main room with H*, and work on German, and I walked away with tears in my eyes just because it was right.
And oh, I want sons someday, too. Turns out boys are stinky, but they are also a ton of fun.
The next time I went over there I met M*, a famous Afghani UFC fighter who is 17; K*, also Afghani and who just smiled a lot; MJ*, a Syrian who was 17; and, AL*, also Afghani with hair always tied up in some sort of headband.
K* shook my hand and I could tell right away he was a bit different than the rest.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Seventeen or eighteen,” he gestured with his hands in unsurety.
“You don’t know?”
“No,” his face fell, “I don’t have any papers and my parents didn’t go to school so they didn’t know either.”
“Oh, is your family still in Afghanistan?”
“I don’t know.”
It was as if an anvil had been thrown into my chest at breakneck speeds. I wanted to hold him and give him everything I could, but I could only look him in the eyes and let him know there was someone there, right then, and kindness existed. MJ* was weary as he followed along the beloved AL* around, I could tell that he was the leader. He didn’t smile at me, in fact, he didn’t even acknowledge my existence. All the others would walk by and shake my hand, but he would not. Eventually, I coaxed K*, M*, and MJ* from their rooms to go play soccer. They pointed to the clouds, warning me that it could rain, but I shoved them out the door, yelling, “Es ist mir egal!!” Which, having no good translation into English is the German equivalent of ‘I don’t care’, but directly translated, it means literally ‘It is to me nothing’.
We walked and dribbled the ball down the quiet streets and eventually down a cobblestone path, when suddenly, and heavens to betsy I mean SUDDENLY, a golf ball sized hail whacked me in the back of the head. It started pouring down rain, just dumping water. I was hiding under a tree when K* laughed and poked fun at my not being able to take the rain, shouting, “Hey! Es ist dir egal!?” (I though it was to you nothing if it rainned?!)
“Es IST mir egal!” I yelled back as I kicked off my shoes, and ran into the storm. A beautiful, warm, stringy rain kind of storm and I played soccer, on a cobblestone plaza, with three boys without parents seeking refuge from their own stormy homes.
I kicked that ball and I danced my little heart out, and in that moment, as we all shouted at the sky, “Es ist mir egal!!” I felt like we were screaming at that storm, at all the storms, a declaration of freedom and grit, “Hey!! To me, you are nothing!!”
I walked away that day sopping wet in melted hail, fourty showers worth of rain, and a hot face of tears due to the pure gratitude for coming into contact with these young, resilient, eternal souls.
And, guys, spoiler alert: It just keeps getting better.
*For the safety of some of my dudes the names are being kept private.