Longing and belonging

CALAIS 28-29 SEPTEMBER 2017

HOSTEL On our visit to our friend in the hostel we were greeted by his renewed optimism at some much needed contact with someone from his family. We were struck by how vital it is for people who are far away from any kind of home to have a sense of connection with somebody, particularly with family. He showed us pictures on his phone of his brothers and sisters form when they were children, black and white and quite faded. He also showed us more contemporary pictures of his children and nephews. Although it was sad to see these pictures of people he is separated from we could also see the comfort and pride that these photos represented for him. Phones often with their cracked screens take on a huge importance for people here as they contain so much of the life they have had to leave behind.

DAY CENTRE It was busy at the day centre. The room we run our group in was already quite full with men playing table football, and charging their phones on the long lines of adaptors provided.

There was an interest in our materials even as we were putting them out. When the plaster hill came out that was made last week it was immediately claimed by one young Afghan man who started to work on it, adding trees, figures and buildings. He found some wooden fortress walls which he put round the hill as a way of containing it and then made a number of Afghan flags, one which was put on the hill and the others in the entrance. This was Afghanistan and to him home. He said he could sleep peacefully inside these walls as he would be safe. Just to make sure though he made a guard who sat out side the front gate with a gun and a guard dog. There was a lot of interest in his environment from the other men in the room who added things, helped make flags and took photos of it. It was, though very much this man’s creation. Whilst the model of Afghanistan was being constructed and inhabited there was also a number of men drawing intricate and detailed pictures many of which contained trees, birds, flowers and flags, all of which seemed to have strong connections to their country. There was a sense of people adding to their work gradually and with great thought and attention. There was no sense of rush to get something finished.

DISTRIBUTION SITE In the evening we went to the distribution site to join our partners, Médecin Du Monde. As soon as we put up our large map on the side of their mobile clinic people flocked over to study and talk about where they were from, the route they had taken and how agonisingly close they were to where they wanted to get to. There were many people from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

There was also discussion about the importance of friendship and connection and how difficult and dangerous it is to be without friends in these harsh conditions.

SAFE HOUSE There was a calm atmosphere at the safe house on Friday afternoon. There were two young boys from Eritrea who had just arrived by foot from Belgium and despite how exhausted they must have been they joined in with repairing and fixing plasticine figures that had been made in previous weeks.

Then each of them made a short animation, one with a boy with headphones on dancing and then being joined by some kind of authority figure who begins to tell him off but then joins in the dance. The other film emerged purely out of the process and the things that had been made, it involved 2 men and a dog and a strange unknown creature who they all run away from. Both films end with a surreal ‘rogue penguin on a scooter’ that charges through the scene in a way that adds humour and strangeness in equal measure.

Another man from Eritrea who had been quietly watching all this take place wanted to make his own film and so we made a film of a house being constructed with the bricks. He worked quickly and efficiently and a small house is constructed as if by magic. He then looked on his phone for some music to accompany the film and he eventually finds some Eritrean house building ceremononial music.

Throughout the 2 days we heard from people how they were looking for somewhere to belong and to feel safe where they have friends and family. The desire for this is so strong and this is why there is such a desperate search to find it. We met a man who had already lived in the UK who yearned to get back there because he felt such a strong a sense of belonging. He wrote on his drawing the address he used to live, the postcode and phone number he had memorised even though he hadn’t been there for many years.

Many people talked to us about politics and in particular the situation at home from which they are fleeing, but we also heard about how much they missed their countries… their families, friends, the customs, the animals, the tress, the flowers and the music. We witnessed such extraordinary resilience in the face of such desperate situations and a capacity to still be playful, creative and look out for another.

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