CALAIS, JUNE 15-16, 2017
As we arrived in Northern France this week we saw figures scattered around the landscape, people sheltering from the sun under small patches of shade. People are depleted and running on empty. Trying to find places to recharge and find the physical and internal resources to rekindle strength and keep going.
In the Day Centre on Thursday people drifted in seeming fragmented and struggling to hold onto continuity and links. People slumped in corners, a nurse moving around caring for peoples wounds, cleaning and dressing them, reporting to us that more and more people are presenting with injuries. It was moving to witness her quiet and gentle delivery of care.
As people rejuvenated slowly with some tea and coffee we felt a little liveliness coming back into the room and more people joined us to make around the table. Snippets of music were played as people attempt to offer up something comforting, familiar and inspiring to the group. We wondered what is it that sustains and rejuvenates you in situations where everything is being stripped away?
Several people were drawn to the model trees in our materials, saying urgently “I need that”, then creating landscapes by gathering different objects from the table together, assembling scenes that seemed to provide an oasis. These places of abundance and calm bought back memories of homes or dreams of future destinations. A cricket field remembered and the longing to be part of a team again now settling into life in France.
Images from previous week were looked at and used as a reference point to begin buildings from. We were aware of the
levels of energy depletion and exhaustion as one young man struggled with building his home; after it collapsed for the second time and he abandoned hope, the group gathered around to rebuild it, and he returned to the table to sit with it completed and stable.
This week many built compounds, surrounded by walls that shelter. Spaces within spaces, where life can take place inside the protective boundary. People joined together to create these protected spaces with careful attention and effort on the door frames and arches that frame the entrance to these sanctuaries.
Inspiration was found at the last minute in the group, a young man suddenly becoming animated and engaged, keen to share with us the visual tricks he could create with the video replay on his phone. Knocked down buildings, jumping back to life. The creative process offering moments of release, joy and pleasure that seemed to bring people nourishment. The fact that people are able to do any art making in such extreme circumstances is deeply impressive to us.
This week we met both new and familiar faces, and people returning to their home countries, too worn-out by the struggle of daily survival and frequent unsuccesful attempts to reach the UK. We talked about the anxiety that this difficult decision provokes and what scenes might be discovered on arrival. The group quietly talked about the welcome that may or may not be received upon arriving home, having been unable to reach a destination both hoped for and invested in by family. People gathered to say goodbye and offer wise words of comfort and support. What incredible strength of mind it takes to wait in the unknown.
In the week that has passed, images created by newly made friends have echoed each other and have been displayed on the wall, showing us how people have built new connections and relationships through the shared enjoyment of an image. Forms are repeated and new elements added; Forests, mosques, pathways through landscapes.
We sat around the bed to draw and use watercolours. Paint was experimented with by one of the newer group members who commented; “This is risky”! Taking the chance of a new material that loosens the grip on control within the safety of the group and our familiar conversation.
This week we have noticed a return to more diversity in the space, with some familiar faces from other settings and other camps finding their way to the centre. Iraqi Kurds, Eritreans, Sudanese, Afghans and a man from Guinea all joined us today, with a more conversational group. People shared their experiences of learning to identify the different accents from across the UK, Europe and North America. There was much humour to be found in this, a humour that also felt nourishing and sustaining.
Over both days we were joined from visitors from other cities of services; people coming to see for themselves the situation on the ground in Calais. Both expressed their deep shock and upset at the reality of what they witnessed around them. People were keen to provide us with nourishment bringing tea and coffee to the table, we were also included in the experience of care and of looking after each other in this situation.
A gentle end to our two days in Calais this week as we returned to the Safe House and a group we now know well. Conversation centred around music, lyrics and musicians as the art materials were sorted out and postcards explored. A Toulouse Lautrec postcard was carefully copied, the right pen searched for and found to give the right graphic effect. The time was taken to get things right today. Images were checked and rechecked on phones to make sure that things are correct. Large blocks of plasticine were being worked hard to form together and sculpt the iconic church in Lalibela. Art works were left unfinished, but with the sense of security in being able to return to them next week.