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Calais, coffee and coping

This week we journeyed to France on Friday and spent the day in three settings in Calais. In each space – and against the reality of ongoing psychological insecurity and / or physical un-safety – we were moved by people’s eagerness to share with us in creating a nurturing environment around the bed or table.

The Eritrean coffee ceremony that we learnt about at the end of the day held within it a three staged ritual which mirrored our experiences today, as each stage involved sitting together and sharing – which is how the coffee ritual was described to us – the roasting of beans, the heating of water, the pouring of coffee and appreciation of being with others. A dignity was given to this process as well as a grounding gravitas in each of the three stages of our work.


We watched together the film we’d made last week with genuine delight. We also talked about the high winds of Storm Doris which was experienced on the other side of the channel as Storm Thomas, and about ongoing legal cases and the need to fill in missing pieces of information.

DAY CENTRE The Secours Catholique frame is one of nurture but set against the dark reality of its day centre status, and the fact that all the young people using the centre have to fend for themselves from 5.00pm until 9.00am the following morning. The emergency blanket that we found on our arrival caught in the undergrowth nearby was a graphic reminder of this, in contrast to the healthy, hearty lunch being enjoyed inside the dining room by around 70 young people.

We brought plasticine to the long table which was received with an open playfulness. Within a few minutes of the lunch being cleared, the table was peppered with cooking utensils, a lidded pot on a fire holding vegetables bubbling away, bowls of fruit, animals. One young man made a lorry with intricate, knowing detail, proudly rubbishing the vehicle that one of us had made, educating us.

SAFE HOUSE Many of the young people were asleep when we arrived in the afternoon while three had appointments at the hospital. Around the dining room table one young man started to draw the landscape from home which led to a conversation about home, flowers, food and on to a lovely exchange about Yorkshire tea and Eritrean coffee. We delighted in watching the films the young people had made last week while they in turn shared videos of traditional Eritrean food and coffee. This was a social time, banter about the best way to toast the coffee beans leading to a sharing of the Tigrinya alphabet and an exhibition of all that had been made.

Thinking back now, with all the distress that is present, this human to human engagement revealed to us once again a remarkable resilience. We witnessed the capacity for these young people to cope with the thing that lies ahead, allowing for joy to enter the space and yet allowing for sadness when it comes. “I used to make coffee for my mother when she came home from work.”

* Next week the team will resume work in Dunkirk on Thursday.

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