Calais - February 6-7, 2020
CONTEXT We came to Calais knowing that the day centre would be closed on Thursday due to tensions between groups earlier in the week. We also knew that the mobile medical clinic would not be going out, leaving essential services seriously depleted in bitterly cold weather.
We were joined by Ambra and Yasmin from a UK based organisation working with young refugees and asylum seekers, to exchange knowledge and ideas between services on either side of the Channel, as well as join The Community Table on Friday. Art therapy trainee Kate France from Paris was again with us on placement.
THURSDAY We made alternative plans by working alongside the Refugee Women's Centre and ProjectPlay in Grande-Synthe. The warm, clean community centre room in a suburb of Dunkirk was the setting for the afternoon’s session made use of by a small group of responsive and bright children and mothers, away from their inhumane living conditions in a derelict warehouse just fifteen minutes walk away. Building tall towers and small dwellings reminded us of the TS Eliot line: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
FRIDAY The Secours Catholique team meeting was focused on the recent closure and the need to reopen the day centre with a clarity of purpose and rules that also showed respect and welcome to those using the service. Someone pointed out that inanimate objects are treated with greater respect in this hostile context than human beings.
The service was opened with the reading out of rules in several languages, as well as the request for each person to greet one another with respect. The centre quickly filled, with over two hundred people using the spaces inside and out across the afternoon, and there was evident relief, given the biting cold weather.
We decided to ground our work this week with natural materials on three large wooden trestle tables. The twelve chairs around The Community Table were occupied throughout the session and people stayed for extended periods of time, while others looked over shoulders, offering ideas, or patiently waiting their turn.
Lots of things happened at the table in all four corners. One young man from Sudan had only ever seen a typewriter in a film. An extensive discussion took place about chemicals, physiology and minerals in rocks. One group made a beautiful scene collaboratively, adding figures resting on a sun-filled balcony.
The typewriter became a site for writing lines of verse as well as a prop in photographic montages. With dark humour, one young man built a house large enough to house tents. The fragments of time and experience around the table seemed to help shore people up in preparation for another cold night outside.
Bobby Lloyd, Miriam Usiskin, Kate France