Portraits and Folk Tales

CALAIS 9TH AND 10TH NOVEMBER

THURSDAY

Hostel We started off going to the hostel to see our friend. He had just had a conversation which had left him concerned and preoccupied. He kept saying that his head was boiling (like the kettle in which he was making us tea). It was hard to know how to comfort him when we know that life for refugees here is so precarious.

After a while we talked about stories and ones that he had been told by his grandmother. There was one we particularly liked in which pigeons acted as go betweens for a family that has been separated in perilous circumstances. We talked about the importance of animals and the role they play in so many of these tales.

Eventually he said he wanted to make a quick animation film and this is what we did. We made a film of his trainers walking across his room and into the bathroom at Their own volition.. There was much laughing and playfulness in stark contrast to the start of our visit.

We left amazed at how this man had so much resilience and capacity for play even in such difficult times.

Distribution It was quiet when we arrived, the skies grey and drizzly and the air cold and damp. However once we had set up people joined us almost straight away and started drawing. One man drew a portrait (perhaps a self portrait), and soon a number of people were also drawing portraits. A man from Ethiopia who had painted the murals for the church in the old camp drew a beautiful picture that could have been Jesus.

The humanity that was captured in all the drawings was striking in this group of people who are being treated as less than human by the authorities. We thought about how for these men there are no mirrors for them to see their reflection and check on how they look, and no mothers, sisters and family to encourage and give feedback on their good looks and little chance to look their best in such harsh surroundings. The drawings therefore could be seen as a space in which to reflect.

People spoke of how dangerous it was in Calais with continual harassment from the police who had even used their gas at the distribution the day before. They said that they felt like they were being treated as worse than animals. However despite this we witnessed again a remarkable resilience , determination and good humour throughout the afternoon from all those we encountered.

One man drew a lorry that he hoped would take him to the UK, another man an aeroplane with the words ‘welcome to the U.K ‘ written underneath. People spoke about how impossible it seemed to get to there and yet they still somehow manage to cling on to their hope.

When looking at the map on the side of the Medicine du Monde ambulance they chart their epic journey and then point to England and in particular London and laugh, perhaps at the irony of how close it is compared to the distance they have travelled and yet how difficult this final leg is proving.

One man who seemed worryingly isolated spoke about the history of the U.K. In Africa, its colonial past and also about how many boundaries there are and how unhelpful they are. These are unpalatable truths and point to our implication in this crisis that does not often get spoken about.

FRIDAY

Safe House The safe house was relatively quiet this week. However we started making plasticine puppets for a film in which we had no idea of the plot, trusting in the process in letting the story emerge as we went along. We were joined by a number of young people, a psychiatrist who was visiting and people who worked there. We soon had a horse, a rider, a man and a couple of women, a rock, a river, a rat and some buckets and jerry cans.

A backdrop was drawn of a grassland landscape and the story began with little idea of what would happen. The horse started to head for the river to get some water as well as the woman who was there to fill her jerry cans. The rider and the woman greeted each other as girl and boyfriend but his brother became jealous and started a fight. The rat who had been hiding in the bucket suddenly made a dash for safety beneath the rock and that’s how this spontaneous and surreal romantic comedy/action movie finished.

At the start of the process no one knew what would happen and how we would proceed, quite quickly though one of the young men took charge and took his authority as he directed the action in the way he wanted. We gladly acknowledged him as the director of the film.

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