Another Evening at the Foyer Selah
Foyer Selah is a refugee center in Brussels. This place is home to over 90 refugees while they wait for their papers to move into an official address in Belgium. The place also offers language courses and assists the refugees with information that can make their stay more pleasant. It accommodates families, adults and children from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and many other countries.
The first time I visited Foyer Selah was back in February last year, I have been travelling a lot since then and I haven’t been there for a while. I saw my friend Nima’s post on Facebook (Thank you Nima!) about the refugees he met in North France. This made me think about Foyer Selah again. It has been part of something I have been consciously working on, letting people inspire me.
I was lucky that the weekly visits to Foyer Selah was back on and it was happening the next day. I took the train to Brussels, met Paulina who organises these visits and the other volunteers who were there.
It was the first day for many and we talked on our way to Foyer Selah. We were greeted by a very lively kid, I found out later that his name was Abdullah and was from Iraq, he introduced himself to everyone with so much life that I almost thought that he knew us all from before. I could not speak French, But most of the volunteers spoke French there and it was a little difficult to express what I wanted to say but it has always been fun nevertheless. There was an older man, he asked if I was from India, He greeted all of us and looked very happy to see us. We got our games and headed to the play room.
I got introduced to the other volunteers and just when we started to get talking, we heard Omar and Abdullah ( they were in their early teens) playing a game that looked so much like arm wrestling but in the air. It was a brilliant ice breaker, everyone in the building must have known that we were there. I used this opportunity to show off my only card trick but it was a big failure, but they were patient enough to wait till I got It right (Yay!).
We took our favourite board games and settled down. I was there playing monopoly after ages with Stephanie and Abdullah. Omar and Abdullah are siblings, they were a deadly team mocking me all the time and were not shy at all. I tried to take a few pictures of Omar, because I thought he might like it, but he took the camera off me and insisted that he took pictures of me. He also added that he has a Canon with a lens five times bigger than mine at his home (That big shot did impress me). Stephanie spoke French very well and she got into conversations with Abdullah (lucky her), it was fun to try to decode all that French, though I didn’t get much.
I had to feel ashamed about my language skills, when Abdullah said that he came here 6 months and already knows Arabic, Turkish, French and bits of English. I did French for two years at high school, but never got good at it. Somewhere in between the monopoly game, Abdullah started doing this Indian gesture which we use to say sorry (Something like this) and I was surprised that he knew that and he said that he had watched it on TV. He used it to make it sound funny that I was from india (He never stopped). It was almost time to end the evening. Just before the end we got to play some ‘four in a row’, I kept winning the games against him for which he mocked with the sorry sign to indicate that I won because I am Indian. It was quite surprising to see how much he knew about cultures and popular stereotypes, I found out later that they had to take the boat to Europe at some point too, he is from Iraq and he is here with his siblings and family. When I asked Stephanie to ask Abdullah, what he does. He said that he used to ride a taxi, and that now he is studying languages. I still cannot drive a car (yeah I felt quite small, haha) and he beat us at monopoly or At Least he was leading when we left. He asked for Stephanie’s iPhone and started recording a video and fast forwarded the whole thing and showed us which looked really cool, it reminded me of the days when I used to transfer images to my uncle’s phone and he used to think that I am a genius. I could see it happening to me now 😀
Just when I was about to leave I met a guy from Afghanistan and he could speak Hindi, I spoke with him briefly and he was happy to see me. He said things are getting better in Afghanistan and that he was glad to meet us, and wanted to meet us next week. Most of them here don’t know that we volunteer, many of them whom I have met her have asked me if we work there or if we get paid. Most of us were there for ourselves, It is always nice to see and feel innocence around with children and you get to see some really grateful faces.
Life is simple like that for me, just go, be happy and if you can make a few more people happy on the way. Why not?
Meanwhile Paulina was speaking with two people (one man and one woman) from Russia, apparently they came here at different times and they met here, while they both were from the same streets back in their hometown (Yeah! Crazy right?) and the woman’s brother knew the guy or something like that, they were really happy to speak with Paulina, because this was probably when they could talk in their language after a long time, though Paulina said that she could speak enough to just communicate.
After that both Omar and Abdullah thought that I was way too precious being the only guy around there and they started tickling and holding me to the ground, making me laugh so hard and attacking me at the same time, Phew! Reminded me of the old times running around with my brothers and cousins. After the long rib tickling games with these guys, they finally pitied my situation and gave me a hug, which meant that I had made two friends.
They asked us to come again and we were touched like always and headed off to a bar nearby to have a drink before we all headed back home.
If you want to support the organisation that volunteers with the refugees you can make a donation here.