From Poland to Berlin, and on to Iran, with love

Hania Hakiel documents the loving messages and gifts that have travelled from Poland to the Tempelhof refugee camp, woman to woman, and now on to relatives in Iran.

Today was a very special day at Tempelhof. Sanaz, one of my friends and colleagues is travelling to Iran. Our Afghan friends took a chance to use her suitcase as a messenger. To that end, we will now need to buy additional luggage, but that’s more than ok.

A few Afghan women whose families live in Iran as refugees prepared boxes of memory and love– there are hand-sewed pants for a mother, glittery dresses from cheap Berlin stores for little sisters, medicine, money, scarves. I was really touched to see in one of the packages a Polish face-cream (based on super power milk from Polish goats) and perfumes, objects I brought from Krakow (my hometown) in December. The woman got a little worries that I might feel offended seeing presents I gave them for Christmas being forwarded to other hands. Frankly, I could not feel happier being part of this natural and heart-driven chain of small gifts and big meanings.

In December friends from an initiative Witajcie w Krakowie // Welcome to Krakow wrote personal postcards and collected little presents for the women from Tempelhof, which I later packed into small bags caring for the preferences, needs and wishes of each and every woman I know at the shelter.

It was a little confusing for them: why did I bring so many creams, jewellery and make up accessories from mysterious Poland, gifts from women for women who do not know each other.

Confusion can be uncomfortable. Confusion means vulnerability, and therefore a chance for connection. Confusion can lead to curiosity.

Poland in Persian (which a majority of the women speak) is called Lahestan. Lachen in German means to laugh. A little girl asked, quite logically, whether Poland is a country of laughter. My inner sarcastic gnome wanted to say that yes, there are many ridiculous things happening in Poland right now that you can only laugh about. But looking at the dozens of little presents I realised that my Lahestan is a place of people with open hearts who fight the system with handwritten postcards, perfumes and an invitation to creativity.

Among the things collected by women from Krakow was a lot of wool that women at Tempelhof quickly turned into scarves, sweaters, lifas (traditional washing cloths) and baby shoes.

I love to observe how the simple idea of solidarity travels between minds, hearts and countries. How objects change owners, get transformed, inspire, surprise, get lost and then found.

I know that families of Afghan refugees in Iran support their relatives in Afghanistan, so maybe the Polish cream that fights wrinkles and stress will end up in Kabul? For sure a baby dress knitted out of wool that seemed to be bought in the 70s in Żyrardów but has never even unpacked, is now on its way to Turkey, where a granddaughter of one of the Syrian women was born on Christmas day in one of the camps.

Hania Hakiel runs the GSBTB Open Art Shelter.