We arrived in Calais to blazing sun and clear, blue cloudless sky. Calais beach was full of families and people paddling, going about their normal holiday rituals. On a hot day with sun scorching skin it was hard to find shade. This sense of bright light and exposure set a theme for the day. There seems to be two narratives; those looking for the exposure and those looking for shade.
We visited our friends in the homeless hostel, while we waited to be let in outside we sat in the baking heat, we felt unprepared and overdressed. We were involved in conversation about transactions, how to pass incongruous gifts across this border… A pair of wellington boots that will be taken to Mecca via the UK to meet family and then onwards to Sudan, gifts for friends and family who are thought and cared about across borders.
Once inside, the discussions were focused around the preparations for Ramadan. Careful care and attention was considered towards what food to prepare, how to store it and what spices would be needed. It was a gentle heart warming conversation, which felt homely with familiar rituals, but tinged with a huge sense of loss. We were mindful our friends were once again without their families in unfamiliar settings during this festival.
We arrived at the day centre in the fiercest heat of the day, there were people waiting in the shadows for it to open. Obviously fatigued, people waited patiently until the centre opened. We have our own ritual here, coming in, getting out the boxes, laying out materials and settling down.
Around the map tablecloth buildings were erected, there were houses carefully constructed with roofs, but no windows and doors. Here was the shade so desperately needed, but there was no access in. Once this was noticed adaptations were made, rebuilding to find ways in and out. Those around the table helpfully offered advice and architectural design. Trees became a key part of the scenes; everyone wanted to have foliage near their buildings to offer a cool shady respite and maybe a sturdy and protective sense of shelter.
There was a group of young boys; we were shocked by their youth. Once again we were reminded as to actually how young some of these unaccompanied minors are. However they were looking after each other well, with a sense of camaraderie and community. Many of the group asked about the situation in Manchester, sharing sadness and fear about the attacks this week in both the UK and beyond Europe.
Towards the end of our time at the centre the building work became frenetic – at odds with the scorching weather. It felt hard to leave the day centre when there was such a sense of potency in the building works. The completed roofs were professionally tiled an observer commenting: “he used to be a builder in the UK”. However the last structure made, was left without windows or doors.
We were welcomed by the cool calm of the safe house. Slowly structures were made – a castle emerged as well as a number of buildings in situ with the surrounding landscape. Dramatically lit tableaus emerged from our now familiar box of props, strategically placed by one of the makers in front of a dark blue sky. He took time to enjoy exploring the best angles with which to photograph these scenes.
Endings across the day felt hasty; the heat, although welcome, also debilitating and limiting, making us aware that comfort is so hard to source. Preparations that you may make for one environment may not be right for another. Particularly poignant in a context where circumstances quickly change.