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The power of imagination: Four hours to walk the earth as a refugee

Fear, rush, bewilderment, stillness, despair, and relief – they felt it all. Our participants at the LEAP Meeting 2019 took part in the Refugee Awareness Game – “Passages” to confront the plight of refugees and reimagine their life. Janina Hoffmann, one of the participants, shares her feelings and thoughts in this blog. 


Imagine you need to leave everything behind – all your belongings, the place where you grew up, the culture you love, and above all, the people you love.

Where would you go? That’s not even up to you to choose – it is totally unpredictable…

…It is foggy, noisy, I barely hear my own voice. I search for my other family members, my brother Peter, my sister Melissa and her two lovely young children Daniel and Melinda. I feel so alone, disoriented and helpless. No matter how loud I scream I can’t find them. A glimpse of hope – all of a sudden, I hear Peter’s voice. I lose him again: “Peeeeeteeeeer, Peeeeteeer”, I scream will all my might, but nothing echoes back. I am so scared for them… it seems like hours when I finally find familiar hands, and I feel a flash of gratitude.

However, this is quickly over. We, Gandhi family, need to rush to a temporary shelter – but where shall we go? Will there be enough space? Nadja, another refugee approaches us, but she also doesn’t seem to have a clue what is going to happen. Where is she coming from anyway? When we finally reach the shelter supervisors don’t give us any information. How long can we stay here? We are ordered to sleep, but I don’t feel like sleeping. Peter calms me down. He keeps the watch nonetheless on what the supervisors are saying. The lack of transparency and information makes me suspicious, angry and frustrated.

The next day we already must leave. We have decided to leave our country – it is hard and unknown, but it’s the only path we can take. Bandits have taken over our farm – our home. So, we have nowhere to go back. The worst part is that we have nowhere to go to either.

We are sent off from the shelter by screams “head north” – but how are we supposed to know where that is exactly? After some seconds, my phone compass comes to my mind – this finally  makes me determined to lead my family and the other family in the right(?) direction. The other families are insecure as well but don’t seem to trust what I say. Why is everyone so isolated in their little family units? I think we will feel more powerful if we connect more, but it is hard enough to keep an eye on all your family members.

We leave the shelter relatively resolute, but our children want to go back home – how to tell them that there is no going back – that we will find a new home? 

“Booooomb – there is a Booooooomb, don’t go in this direction”, shouts the supervisor. She has just told us that we have to head north and the direction is north… where shall we go?  

In the end, indecisively, we follow the others towards the border. We line up as we reach the cluster of people. Then we are ordered to shut up, otherwise, we will get in trouble. No information, again. I am angry and worried at the same time. It takes ages to get to the border – what if we get separated? I tell the kids that we are playing a game and the first person who says something will lose the game. I meet Nadja again and she asks:

– ”Have you seen my mother – are there still more people coming?” 

-“No, we are the last ones.” – I say. 

I feel so sorry for her that she is all alone and lost her family. Last minute I ask her to join our group. She is so grateful. We organize an order for crossing the border – Peter is the first, then Daniel, my sister, little Melinda and I go last. I am afraid that we get separated. The worst feeling is crossing the border as the last person. My whole world is on the other side. The crossing takes so long because I don’t see a thing. But suddenly I feel the hands of my brother and I am relieved. We get ready to head-on, but we wait for Nadja to cross. Hopefully, nothing goes wrong now. We manage to leave together and after some confusion, arrive at the control station. The ticket inspector almost makes me lose my temper. How can she ask us to give away our last possessions that we have carried all the way here? After handing her over one of our belongings, she greedily demands, without any explanation, Melinda’s backpack as well. The most dreadful thing is the way she patronizes us. 

Then we are sent quickly to another room and somebody hands me over some papers and gives me a pen. I cannot read this language. How are we supposed to fill this out? I hope I won’t make a mistake. Numbers okay, I suppose we write our names here. Maybe there the date? The location? I don’t know. Anyway, how can they read whatever I am writing? This seems like a text field… “Here I need to write the reason why we had to leave our country” – I convince myself just in time before the other inspector takes the paper. He hands it over to his colleagues who have total control over our future. This is so frustrating. Maybe they won’t let us through because they don’t have information. But we just don’t know where we have to write it down. This paper decides our fate and we don’t have a fair chance to explain our circumstances. We have to leave…

But we are so lucky, we can go with Nadja, our newly adopted family member. Once more, the greedy inspector wants one more thing before she lets us pass. What ferocity! 

We pass and arrive exhausted in front of the UNCHR. I have hope – they seem like I can trust them. We will get help here. A woman comes out of the building saying that there is one spot free. “This can’t be happening, here are at least three more families“, I think in disbelief. Then she disappears again. We agree not to split. Then the woman comes back, again speaking a language I cannot understand.

Is she doing that on purpose? I hate being unwelcomed wherever we go. Then another supervisor comes and shouts, three more people. We are baffled and discuss if Melinda should go inside with the kids. They are exhausted and hungry… But we decide to stick together. Finally, there is someone else coming – the first person who seems to care for our wellbeing. She promises to help us. I have hope again that there is a tiny chance to meet people who care, people who see us as humans like we all are – just living and moving on different coordinates… 

Can you imagine what people go through when they leave their home behind? Do you realize that borders only exist in our heads? We are all humans scattered around this planet. You have the power to imagine a different world– “imagine there’s no countries, imagine no possessions, imagine all the people living life in peace, imagine all the people sharing all the world.” You might be a dreamer, but you are not the only one.


A huge thanks goes to Adriana Troxler, Kathrin Zirn and the other eager helpers who made this an unforgettable learning experience for all LEAPers. Contact Adriana at adriana.troxler[@] to replicate this emotional experience.