One of the first things I did upon arrival in Germany last fall was empty my wallet. The Canadian cash was put away the day we arrived; the credit cards once I had German ones.
The day I return to Canada I will put my Canadian money back in the wallet, retaining a few Euros, just in case I need to make an airport purchase. I’ll reverse the process when we come back to Germany. I don’t know if that process makes me typical or not, but I did get a slight surprise in German class last week, a surprise involving cash.
It was a simple exercise. People had been asked to bring in an item from home for a pretend flea market. The idea was we could practice our German on each other, taking turns buying or selling or bargaining. (I forgot all about the assignment until after I left home. When I got off the bus, I picked up a small rock from someone’s rock garden; I returned it after class.)
Most of the flea market items were German-language books belonging to our teacher. That tells me I wasn’t the only one who forgot to bring something. However, in the middle of the lesson, our youngest classmate, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet and put two Syrian pound notes on the table, 100 pounds each. That sounds impressive – but combines they were worth about 30 Euro cents. I’m not sure what you can buy here that cheaply.
Others followed suit, and suddenly there was more money on the table. I knew the rubles came from our lone Russian, and it was easy to figure out where the Eritrean money came from. But I didn’t know we had a Nigerian. And I’m sure we don’t have a Mexican, so who was carrying those pesos?
As I said, I dumped my money upon arrival until I need it again. I don’t see the point of carrying Canadian cash everywhere I go. A twenty-dollar bill doesn’t bring with it an emotional connection to home; maybe carrying money from the homeland provides an emotional boost for my classmates, a reminder of where they have been – and perhaps where they want to return.
I can only assume the young Syrian has had that money in his wallet for the three years he has lived in Germany. I’m sure he wonders if it will ever be safe enough for him to go home again. I doubt he has a home left to go to.
The Russian can, I think, go home anytime she wishes. I’m not sure why she is here, but I think she is an economic migrant not a political refugee. (As a class we told each other our stories at the outset – but my German wasn’t good enough to understand what was being said, and some, such as myself, could only manage the simplest of sentences. I was able to say I was here for work, but there was no way I could explain the complexity of that work. After five months of class I still can’t.)
Most of us have a concept of home, something we associate with place and family. I have lived more in Ottawa than anywhere else, more than half my life, but is it home? I say it is, but an argument could be made that I am more emotionally attached to the Montreal suburb of my formative years.
I am enjoying Germany, but I miss Canada. There’s something about the familiar that resonates. Not to mention that I can speak the language there, usually without butchering the grammar. I may never be able to say that here. In either language. Germany may become my home in casual conversation, but it will never be where my heart resides. So, I understand why people would carry a touch of home in their wallets, even if I am too practical to do so.
I prayed today for my classmates who carry those cash remembrances with them. I prayed for healing, for acceptance and for hope. Maybe they will find it – and they won’t need to keep that money in their wallets anymore.