CALAIS OCTOBER 5-6 2016
The trip this week felt like an in between space where questions and queries were raised rather than answered.
The day centre was shut, and we were unable to run our group. This meant adapting our normal routine, reminding us how easily the context changes from week to week.
We used the time to touch base with our partner organisation Médicine du Monde – making plans for the on-coming winter. This seemed crucial as the bitter winds were once again blowing in Calais. There was discussion about the times changing for the food distributions, with plans to make everything earlier in preparation for evenings getting dark. Seasonal change has such a profound effect for those we work with; we all had concerns about the long dark cold nights ahead, emphasising how one is so vulnerable in the natural elements when you have no shelter.
The afternoon was spent with our group of friends in a apartment, the cosy domain of someone who has recently gained asylum. We sat sipping tea, us sitting with a group of men who were chatting about the importance of equality for women particularly with reference to education and driving. One friend reminisced about reading Jane Eyre in school, quoting parts of the book and discussing the characters, seemingly an unusual choice for an African school boy, but equally important in understanding why so many identify with wanting to come to the UK.
We noticed the relocation of familiar clay and plasticine figures that had been made in previous groups at the hostel and moved to a safer home where they are cared for and also bring comfort. They seemed to bring identity into the space making it personal, allowing it to become a home being filled up with friends literally and figuratively. The friendship circle formed, the group sifted through postcards choosing images and creating an impromptu exhibition.
There was a real value in the significance of culture, arts, and literature and how important it is in enabling humanity. The images had portraits, made connections from around the world linking different people and cultures. The exhibition allowed those unable to use language to express themselves by sharing images.
In the chill evening we went to the food distribution where there was a sense of depletion of resources and volunteers. One young man sat isolated – overwhelmed by the loneliness of the situation. There was a feel of depression and low spirits.
The morning began by meeting with Secours Catholique. Real concern was raised by the team as to how best to meet the needs of people with the oncoming winter. There was debate as to what, how and how much to give or respond to for those in need, when the State is not providing what is acknowledged as basic human rights. These moral and ethical dilemmas are about immediate survival and are painful reminders of the excruciating situation the people we work with are in. It is also a testament to the immense care and concern showed by those working and volunteering for the organisation.
The lunchtime distribution was livened up by a local group of students performing hip hop dance. This developed into a show of international dance moves, for once the young intermingling, dancing together, having fun as they should be. The sun shone giving some warmth and a brief respite to all.
In the afternoon, the safe house was full of bustling activity. There was a busy atmosphere with plumbers sorting out a flood in the basement and lots of comings and goings of young men. However within this, there appeared pockets of genuine interactions; even with limited language there were deep personal conversations, family photos were shared as were photos of the difficult boat journey from Libya. Great pride was taken in creating the Ethiopian flag. A house was built and again a selection of postcards looked at and shared.