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Perspectives On Shelter, Water, Eid and the World Cup


This week was dominated by a festive air of anticipation alongside the urgent need for water, the changing weather and different perspectives on things.

We discussed with colleagues the need for us all to constantly adapt our work to take it into the harder to reach parts of Calais where 600 or so people are living outside in this complex place with ever shifting challenges.


HOSTEL We’d brought a book with us on Natural Architecture from across the world which we looked through together with our friend in a nearby cafe. New rules say that he has to be outside the hostel during the day even though he was fasting for Ramadan and the weather was cold and grim. The hope that he was able to draw upon as offered up by the ingenuity of the structures in the book was striking. It was also ironic in a context in which his own shelter is being eroded.

DAY CENTRE It was busier than we have seen it for some time with young men arriving to watch the World Cup, a group of Eritrean teenagers carrying the French flag and dancing and singing in the courtyard. The map tablecloth provided a playful backdrop for discussing borders and personal journeys with several of the Day Centre staff and volunteers. Following our first Arts-based psychosocial training session two weeks earlier, these interactions seemed to hold a greater depth of both creativity and content.

This led into a gentle hour around the table with individuals joining in a challenge to see who could build the tallest tower, watching together with enjoyment as the structures crashed back onto the map’s surface. The rhythm of building and falling, building and falling brought simple pleasure.

DISTRIBUTION The weather had turned to drizzle and blustery winds by the time we got to the distribution point which itself was pretty much deserted. The organisations had decided not to set up their tables in the inclement weather.

Our instinct however was to attempt to create a temporary habitable space in response to the bleakness of the setting. Individual refugees were drifting into the area. Bringing out the world map seemed worthwhile to bring some colour and focus into the bleak roadside patch of land, fringed by fencing and a scattering of tenuous looking tents. Getting the map onto the fence required several pairs of hands and some ingenuity with bodies flattened against the surface in an effort to pin the map to the fence while it was fixed with gaffer tape and string.

The map inadvertently provided temporary shelter from the wind, accompanied by a lot of laughter. Even so the Calais winds got the better of us all and we collectively admitted defeat, not before we’d learnt that our companions were from as far afield as Iran, The Gambia and Eritrea.

Fetching our map tablecloth with its rivets for attaching it to surfaces, two men stepped up to help, deciding where it needed to be placed on a fence out of the wind, and using tent pegs to hold it in place. Now the map could be viewed and journeys discussed from a sheltered and different perspective.

FRIDAY Much was discussed at the Secours Catholique meeting about the desperate lack of water and the need for this to be documented and reported upon as a basic human right is being daily infringed. Water bottles are handed out in an attempt to fill a gap but this isn’t enough. Also discussed was the offer of a large screen for the World Cup, and the start of Eid with cakes and mint tea shared around the table.

SAFE HOUSE The house was full of young people and volunteers, football discussion, internet issues, baking and good humour. The table itself was occupied across the afternoon, the box of trucks and cars particularly compelling – propelled across the table, examined, led on invisible cotton thread into new brick dwellings.

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