“I live in a hidden object”, Juliane Zitzlsperger warns visitors to her house in Regensburg. And when you hear what Zitzlsperger has experienced in recent years, your head is already spinning. The 440-year-old quarry stone house, just a football field from the Regen river, shines bright green in the middle of the foggy soup. Colorful lanterns hang from the weathered plum in the garden, a grinning obelix greets you at the entrance, the garden gate is painted cobalt blue and adorned with fuchsia-colored fabric flowers. In the garden there are porch swings, deck chairs and a small covered pool.
Zitzlsperger, 59 years old, lives here, full-time carer for the Noor and Hasiba siblings from Afghanistan. She is actually a photographer, but for a number of years now she has had beautiful pictures of clients on her computer less and less, but more and more photos showing deformed feet and hands, a house destroyed by fire, the dead uncles of the siblings. She needs them to prove that the two of them couldn’t stay in Afghanistan.
Zitzlsperger looks down at herself, she is wearing a cozy beige sweater dress, fluffy house shoes on her feet. “I accidentally drove them to physiotherapy with them.” It wasn’t her own therapy. But the one for 18-year-old Hasiba.
Hasiba’s feet and hands were burned in a bombing raid
Hasiba sits on her bare feet in the small room by the warm tiled stove. They are – somehow – the reason Hasiba is here in the first place, more than 6000 kilometers away from their home. Hasiba’s father worked for the western troops. That is why the Taliban dropped a bomb on their parents’ house almost ten years ago, and Hasiba’s feet and hands were badly burned. In 2015, the father first sent her brother Noor on the run, then Noor wanted to get his sister. The parents stayed in Afghanistan, they almost never leave their house out of fear of the Taliban.
Hasiba has her cell phone in a plexiglass stand in front of her. Her German teacher is holding up small cardboard figures on the screen. “This is a woman,” says Hasiba, looking sideways at the screen and her teacher. Zitzlsperger peeps out from behind the door and grins. She points to her eyes with two fingers and then to Hasibas: “In Germany we look each other in the eye when we speak, Hasiba.”
It’s been about half a year since the global public took a brief interest in something other than the corona pandemic. In Afghanistan, the withdrawal of western troops was in full swing in August 2021, while the Taliban captured Kabul. Aid organizations warned of what this would mean for Afghan aid workers and their families. At this point in time, Zitzlsperger and Noor had been trying to bring Hasiba to Regensburg for medical treatment for almost three years.
She feels left alone by politics
Images of Afghans clinging desperately to planes taking off, babies being held out to soldiers to rescue them, are remembered from that summer of 2021. Bundeswehr machines that start almost empty, and on the other hand planes from private aid organizations that bring hundreds of Afghan aid workers to safety. There is often talk of “everyday heroes”. But Zitzlsperger feels less heroic. “Rather left alone.” Above all from a policy that hardly supports private engagement.
Zitzlsperger has applied for a visa for Hasiba so that she can come to Germany for medical treatment. That sounds succinct, bureaucratic, German. A clear leaflet can be found on the Internet. In reality, the process took “forever”. Until Hasiba was on the plane to Germany, Zitzlsperger had to pay thousands of euros. On his 85th birthday, her father Leo asks his friends and acquaintances for donations. 12,000 euros come together. Zitzlsperger fills out tens of applications, sometimes waits six months for an answer, has to beg for help from politicians and ministries, and get confirmations from an Afghan clinic that prove that Hasiba’s burns cannot be treated in her home country. Find a specialist in Regensburg who will operate Hasiba and advance the operating costs. She has to take out travel health insurance from ADAC for Hasiba. Organize adventurous trips from Kabul to Pakistan to the German embassy, where Hasiba has to show her hands and feet as proof. When the decision is finally there, there is chaos in Kabul. Zitzlsperger booked her a place in one of the last civil aircraft to leave the country.
“I love your tomato light.”
Zitzlsperger shakes her head, as if sometimes she couldn’t believe what she was actually doing. She spends most of her time being there for others. She doesn’t even ask why. “They just need my help.”
First of all, Zitzlsperger needs a coffee. She switches on the Italian portafilter machine. Hasiba gets eggs, tomatoes and two cloves of garlic from the pantry. She is now getting along well with the gas stove. When she got here, she could barely move her fingers. The scar tissue deformed the hand so much that the fingers grew together. The left hand and foot have already been operated on. With one hand, Hasiba opens the eggs on the edge of the pan and lets them slide into the hot fat. When the eggs harden, Hasiba sprinkles herbs and spices over them. “What’s the name of the dish?” Asks Zitzlsperger. In Dari, Hasiba speaks something into the translation app on her cell phone. She spits: “I love your tomato light.” Zitzlsperger starts laughing out loud. Hasiba looks puzzled at first and then laughs too.
In a chat, Zitzlsperger exchanges almost every hour with Hasiba’s teacher, physiotherapist, physiotherapist. Coordinates the visits to the hospital, brings Hasiba to the corona test station beforehand. She is a taxi driver and change of dressing. And the paperwork continues, because Hasiba does not yet have a permanent residence permit.
Sometimes Zitzlsperger gets the whole responsibility over his head. What if the next important application is not approved or you run out of money? And Zitzlsperger worries what that does to Hasiba and her brother, that they depend on them in almost every situation in life. “It’s not good for a person to be constantly indebted to someone else.”
Zitzlsperger has washed up and is meanwhile with the cigarette when Hasiba’s brother Noor, 21, comes through the door. Zitzlsperger is a little pissed off because he’s half an hour late. “You can expect that you will remember the departure times from the bus.” Noor looks at his black boots, from which the soles are a little loose. “Take them to the shoemaker. But to the right one. Not to those chains in the mall who also make keys.” Noor grins and avoids her gaze. Zitzlsperger strokes his cheek. “He’s my boy!” She escapes. And most of the time you worry about children, sometimes bigger ones, but at least smaller ones.
“I’m a loner,” says Zitzlsperger. For years she has practically never had her house to herself. When she’s struggling with bureaucracy through the jungle, she usually does it alone. “I would do everything again,” she says anyway. Her eyes glaze over when an alarm goes off on her cell phone. “Hasiba, we have to go to the physio!” Zitzlsperger looks at her slippers and grins.