We arrived to hear that out friend was due to travel for hospital tests in Lille but we were invited to gather with the group around the bed anyway where we spent a gentle hour discussing individual’s bigger journey plans while looking together at old photographic books of migrating birds that we had brought with us. These seemed to resonate with these men’s own stories which we shared together around the bedside.
Because Ramadan has now ended and some of the restrictions on showers, toilets and food lifted, we experienced a little less tension in the space this week. We did hear and later witness however that many individuals are living on a rubbish dump near to the old camp and sleeping remains impossible.
In spite of ongoing challenges with changing dynamics within the main room, we managed to establish our space at the table which was occupied over the afternoon by a number of the more vulnerable or exhausted men using the space. As usual, maps were explored, drawings made and buildings built – the small ceramic bricks still holding people’s interest even after a number of weeks of us introducing them into this work. This week there was immense concentration applied to getting the brick courses lined up, and prepping the roof structure – the need for shelter, an ongoing preoccupation.
Much of the discussion during the Secours Catholique team meeting that took place across the morning centred around the difficulties within the day centre due to the shifting population and the tightening police crackdown at all the French borders. Comments spanned from ‘everyone here is lost’ to ‘we are being scotch-taped down into our roles’ to a lengthy discussion about whether to give out towels to individuals now that showers are once again permitted and who should then wash them? We were impressed by the cooperation between and respect for each other amongst this staff team and volunteers, and the thoughtful responsiveness to an ever unpredictable and demanding environment.
The staff member who runs the Secours Catholique safe house spoke about the difficulty calibrating what’s coming in from the outside with what’s inside, leading to some issues with interactions within the house which is currently full to bursting and in need of more physical space, exacerbated by the fact that these boys are mostly young adolescents. ‘We can’t be all things to everyone’ he said. However this was balanced with, ‘these young people just do community without any question’ and ‘these young people are so resilient’.
Ten teenagers gathered with us around the dining room table. The afternoon was filled with touching moments as the boys played with plasticine, and shared videos, images and love songs from home on their phones. As they did so they told us, ‘we haven’t slept for four nights. Some of the mafia groups are worse than the police who are themselves scared of them as they use knives, while the police chase us with tear gas, take our sleeping bags and smash our phones. Calais is no different from Libya.’
The boys themselves spoke of needing each other to keep safe. Again, in contrast with this dangerous reality we witnessed amazing focus, capacity for laughter, singing together, friendly banter and being able to access the three of us women to make images about Mama. One boy left us with the words he had written: “Lovely days don’t come to you; you should walk to them.”