Laila Keeling & Anjali Zyla
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I was 17 years old when I left the Gambia. I traveled alone, leaving behind my sisters and the rest of my family. I didn’t leave to escape a war or anything like that, but rather because of personal problems that made me want to leave. It wasn’t even my dream to come to Germany, but I knew I needed to leave the Gambia.

The journey here was incredibly difficult. I don’t like to talk about it, but I saw so many things happen on that journey. I traveled from the Gambia to Senegal, then to Mali, and from there to Burkina Faso. Then I went through Niger into Libya. The journey was truly awful. It took three months in total, plus another three months that I stayed in Italy after leaving Libya. During my time in Italy, all I could think about was whether I wanted to stay in Italy or try to come to Germany. Everyone has to consider that there, to think about what is best for them. For me, Germany is much better, especially for my future.

However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to take this journey. There are a lot of people who attempt the journey and think they will make it once they come here, but they do not make it. They have a miserable life here. Sometimes I regret making the journey, but I have to trust in myself now that I’m here.

Arriving in Germany

I arrived in Germany at the end of 2016. My first day in Germany was incredibly overwhelming, but overall it was okay. There were a lot of different people telling me I should go here, I should go there, I had to register, etc., but I didn’t have any problems with it. The German people were really supportive, and I truly appreciate what they did for me when I first arrived. I stayed in a refugee home for younger refugees in Freiburg, a city in southern Germany. It was good there. They helped us a lot with everything we could need. It’s a large camp meant for new arrivals, so they try to make life simpler there. They helped me go to school and learn German. I spoke no German when I came here, but now I can communicate pretty well. Learning German is not easy, but it’s the first step to integrating here and being able to succeed. In Freiburg, they had a school that taught us German from the very beginning, and they also helped us with our homework there if we needed it. I also had a large group of friends in Freiburg from my home country, which was nice.

I was later transferred to Jüterbog, which was very isolated compared to Freiburg. You don’t see as many people there because it’s a smaller city, and it’s hard to make friends. Additionally, after Freiburg it was clear that I had to support myself. I had to figure out how to do a lot of things by myself, like go to the doctor. Sometimes there’s support with translating and things like that, but I don’t need any help with translation anymore. After Jüterbog, I was transferred to Großbeeren (where I met my girlfriend), then to Luckenwalde, and now I’m in Rangsdorf. I’ve been in Germany for just over five years now, and in that time I’ve been in five refugee homes already. I have to move back to Großbeeren in six months, as well. Life in the homes hasn’t been too bad so far. Sometimes people have problems with each other, but that’s normal when you’re living with people. You have problems, and then you move forward.


Working in Germany

When I first lived in Großbeeren, I worked at a tech company called Ingram. I knew some people who worked there, and they told me to just go to the fulfillment center and apply for a job, rather than apply online because they usually don’t reply to online applications. I didn’t receive any help from the Job Center with getting this job, but I don’t really need as much help as others because I can speak German and can do most things on my own. In the end, it was a good job, and I did mostly online work or packed the boxes for companies such as ASOS. The pay there was pretty good, and they would pay you based on the hours you worked.

I left my job at Ingram to pursue an apprenticeship here in Germany, because I want to be able to do something on my own and be my own boss, and I think an apprenticeship will help get me there. However, it was hard to find one then, because most people told me I needed to improve my German. But it was difficult for me to improve my German, because most of the workers at Ingram were foreigners, so there were only a few Germans and a few people who speak German. I really wanted to work with the German people so I could practice my German, but it was a vicious cycle of trying to find work and improve my German skills at the same time.

Since I couldn’t find an Ausbildung, I started a new job in Großbeeren at GLS, which is another distribution center there. That job was much more difficult. We worked for the entire day, from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. All we could do in between was sleep and go back to work. That was the main problem: I didn’t have any time to do my studies or learn German outside of work. The pay there was also not as good, even though we worked really hard. Sometimes the bosses would cut off the payments for no reason. I don’t know why they did it, probably just because we were immigrants and they could do it without retribution. In the end, I quit the job because it was too many hours and I wanted to focus on my studies and my integration.

Future Plans

I play on a football team with some Germans here, which is part of the reason my German is so good. One of my teammates, Markus, offered me a job cleaning machines at his company, and I would really like to do it. He’s a good guy, and we’ve talked a lot while playing football. I think I could learn a lot from him through this job. Besides, the job is very interesting because we do something different every day, which is perfect for me. I can’t work there now, though, because I need to get another document to be able to have that job. I have a Duldung status now, so they told me I need to have further proof of my identity in order to secure this document and be able to work. Unfortunately, my birth certificate is back in the Gambia, so I’ve been calling people who are still there to help me get it. It’s not easy to get it if you are not physically there, though. You have to pay a lot of money, so I’m trying to find someone who can help me get the birth certificate. Markus has been helping me a lot with getting the work document and even called the Ausländerbehörde to talk about me, but I’m still waiting for an update. I would love it if I had more help from the government with securing this document, but at least Markus is helping me.

Once I’m able to get that job, I’ll split my time between working and studying. In the Gambia, I finished my education up to the 9th grade, and I’m currently doing a course in online-marketing because I want to run my own business one day. Once I finish that, I may go back to school in 2 to 3 years and study something else business-related, but for now, I want to focus on my work and my current studies. I also want to keep studying German so that I can go to the next level before I start my job. In the refugee home, it can be difficult to study because it gets so noisy. The day is too loud, and I need to rest at night.

When I go back to Großbeeren, I would like to find my own apartment so that I can be more stable and have my own peace of mind. In a few years, I’d like to live in Berlin because you can do a lot of things there. I have friends who live in Berlin who are like family to me, people from my home country that I’ve met over the years, and they are finishing their apprenticeships and working there now. In the future, I also want to help other people more. In Rangsdorf, I used to help some of the younger boys with translating from German and finding a job. I want to do more than that and help others as much as I can.

Reflections on Life in Germany

When I left the Gambia, I wanted to find a place where I could rest my mind and have my own peace. I didn’t want to keep having the problems I was having there; I wanted to find a place where I didn’t have the same worries. If these problems had not happened, I probably would have come here only to study or visit, then be able to go back to my home country. Being an immigrant, sleeping in the home with lots of different people: this was not what I originally wanted. Being a refugee is not something easy that people seek out. There’s no place like home, and being a refugee means you have to leave your home for a long time, if not forever. I can’t even go back to the Gambia now as a result of the problems I had at home. Being an immigrant has brought a lot of stress and pressure, but it was worth it to get away from my personal problems. I’m happy here in Germany.

My time in Germany has definitely changed me a lot. It’s changed the way I talk, the way I move, the way I think. I’m in touch with people from all over the world here—not just Germany—so I’ve learned a lot and adapted to a lot of different cultures. I’ve started to feel like I’m German, like this is my country. I feel at home here. I can speak the language and communicate with people. I play on a football team with German people, I have German friends, I’ve worked different jobs here. Some things about Germany have been hard to adjust to, like how strict German people are about punctuality, but we’re all human beings. There are not any differences in the end.

Despite the connection I feel to Germany, I’ve faced a lot of discrimination here. I know that the German people will come before us, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to do everyday things. It takes me two hours to be seen at the doctor, and I’m routinely passed up at job places. On the train, drunk people will make some comments mocking me because of my skin color. I don’t take any action against them, though. I would defend my life and not allow someone to beat me up, but I don’t have the time to discuss with them or start a fight. I try not to pay too much attention to it or get angry about that stuff. I’m just trying to resettle in Germany, so I’m just focusing on myself and my own work. I don’t blame these people, because it shows they don’t really know about our life, about black people and immigrants in general. That’s the problem: some people are not aware of how difficult it is to be an immigrant here.

I think it’s important to talk with the people who are in refugee homes to better understand their problems. A lot of people just need someone to talk to, to ask what they need. People go crazy in the homes; they drink and smoke too much, but you can’t blame them because it’s the situation that makes them do it. Someone needs to sit down with these people and help them go to school, ask them what they are good at, and provide them with some extra help to succeed here. There are so many young people in the homes here with talents that are going unused.

Now that I’m here, I feel good about what I’ve accomplished since I’ve been in Germany. I’ve had a lot of problems and difficulties here—and still do—but I trust in myself. I feel like I can make it. I know it’s not going to be easy here because I’m not a citizen, but I know things will get better. My dream now is to be somebody in Germany, to be self-sufficient and have my own strength. I want to be able to help myself and to help other people. I know that I can get there, as long as I stand up for myself and don’t give up. That’s the only way I’ll be able to achieve my dreams.


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