NORTHERN FRANCE, 16-17 MARCH 2017
We were joined this week by an old volunteer from Médecins du Monde who was happy to be back visiting the camp to catch up with those he worked with for a long time, and to connect with us, familiar with our work from the Calais camp. A Belgian intern from the Children’s centre joined us in the work for the session, she will continue to be with us weekly, supporting children and families they identify in the centre to access the space and further the psychological and emotional support available to them.
Increased security in the camp following disturbances in the camp earlier in the week has led to tighter security controls. Red striped tape extends around the site as preparations for more fencing are underway, cordoning off further areas of restriction and enclosure.
This week saw particularly high numbers with over fifty people dropping into the space throughout the afternoon. This included lots of new arrivals to the group, needing time to settle in the space and become familiar with the activities and culture of the group. Many individual adults wanted to find time for one-to-one conversations with us, continuing to narrate their personal stories to us.
The space felt slightly fragmented, as if the disturbance earlier in the week on the camp had temporarily ruptured the safety of the space. The children found it hard to settle and become absorbed in their image making, instead running compulsively in and out of the space. This was compounded by an increased presence of other agencies who interrupted the group with busyness and noise. Moment of calm were created when we suggested some of these conversations were moved outside into the sunshine.
People gravitated to the art making space in the room and there were moments when we felt stuck and hemmed in by all the activity and heightened movement in the room. This was compounded by a sense of rivalry for our attention, fragmented conversations and moments of connection were frequently intruded on, highlighting the difficulty in sharing space and resources. These experiences left us feeling like we couldn’t give enough and a strong sense that there is generally not enough of any resource to go around at the moment. We worked hard to hold together some of the dislocated parts this week, supporting people in inhabiting and protecting a space for their art making:
A boy came in quietly, moved around the table and settled into drawing, using the large expanse of paper to make a drawing of his garden at home, washing hanging on the line in the sunshine. Memories of a place and time that felt far away, but somehow brought present by the bright sunshine outside. A new arrival, unable to draw spoke of his journey into the camp and his frustration and shock of being deported away from the UK; a country he had lived since a teenager.
Children in witch costumes ran around the room casting spells with pencils/paintbrushes. Another child who came into the space towards the end of the day produced a painting with deftness, as if not to waste the brevity of her time before we finished for another week. One man taking time to find an image of a monkey, choosing just to paint the face, transforming a blank canvas into a portrait that seemed to emerge out of dark forest. A man took time making an almost translucent drawing of an image from a postcard; a boat moored on the sand, stuck and prevented from moving, the image so lightly drawn it could have floated off the page.
Friday began with discussion with a member of the team from the warehouse and Help Refugees about the asylum case of a young man we have been supporting for many months. This week we received great news that he has been granted safe passage and asylum in Ireland. He arrived this week, and is excited about the new possibilities that are opening up for him in his new home.
Visiting with our friends at the shelter we talked of our shared experiences of gardening and the planting season in Europe and Sudan. Our friends told us of the time to sow seeds that will then wait until the rainy season to germinate, the harvest and grinding of sesame bringing memories of home. A phone conversation with family and children in Sudan made us reflect on the growing the connection and of a life lived between two places.
As the group gathered they discussed the difficulties in accessing clear information about their cases. False or conflicting information brings huge anxiety about the stability of current situation and what possibilities are ahead in the future. There was a sense that important information and paperwork easily gets lost between agencies, bringing about fears of deportation. The tremendous anxiety of not knowing in whose hands your future lies.
Good news about the successful asylum claim was shared and celebrated by this small group. The knowledge that safe passage and safety is possible seemed to bring hope but also shared happiness in the fate and future of fellow countrymen and friends.
Placing the map across tables drew the group together instantly with curiosity. People were quickly engaged in searching for their home countries, comparing journeys and sharing knowledge and interest in the other countries around, seeking out the location of places known and heard about, places seen, and places imagined.
Friday’s felt like a lively group who needed no introduction to the art materials, many familiar faces returning to join us and immediately engaging with the materials, settling down to work together around the table. Lots of time was spent looking through postcards, interest was sparked with many questions about the places, the people, the artists and the artwork on the cards. Images of journeys, home, flowers and springtime were drawn and painted. A much needed space and time for potential growth, the possibility for new beginnings and hope.
Alongside figures of horses and camels making their journeys across the map, cobra’s crocodiles and nests of snakes were placed in dangerous places. A French policeman barred the way to the UK. Standing on the spot marking Calais, guarding the border.
A Muslim man drew a Christian church, and a discussion emerged exploring what religion meant to different members of the group. Together we reflected on the important images carried with people on the phones, images of home, family and familiar religious symbols.
Following our group at the Day Centre we moved to the Safe House to find it closed for the day. We briefly touched base with a young person we have begun to work with here, recently returned from a rewarding day spent fishing with local fishermen who had welcomed him to join them for the day. A heartening exchange before beginning our journey back to the UK reflecting on the richness and diversity of our conversations and connections across the two days.