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This Small Corner of the World

CALAIS - DECEMBER 12-13, 2019

CONTEXT We arrived slightly later than usual after voting in London, to be greeted by cold and windy weather in Calais. The unfolding drama of the election ran alongside the work on both days.

Secours Catholique team members recently attended a meeting with the prefecture to discuss the dire situation for refugees on the border. Their aim was to have a voice and keep dialogue open, but they were met with a distortion of reality. The prefecture says there is no problem in Calais from looking at the numerical figures, for example there are working showers for refugees to use. But the reality is that the water is cold and so the showers are unusable in winter weather.

THURSDAY AMBULANCE We now have a very large map in three parts that covers the entire globe which we took with the mobile medical team to the edge of the town. It was the first time that we put up the map in all three parts and in the harsh cold and driving winds we managed to create a shelter at one corner of the gazebo.

At first the gazebo was placed at an angle which caused it to be lifted up by the wind. The team repositioned it closer to the ambulance to create a windbreak. We have often imagined a map that literally provides shelter and on this day it did just that. It first acted to protect us all from the weather and then later from the police who ordered the anxious group of young men to collect their tents from the wood behind the ambulance and line them up on the exposed edge of the road.

We huddled in a corner of the world. We looked together at the north of Canada, some of which is uninhabitable at certain times of year. And in real time people were trying to negotiate how to survive in flimsy tents, wet clothes, exhaustion, showing immense tolerance in this unbelievably inhospitable place.

It was painful witnessing this deprivation and also heartening sharing in a playfulness and quizzes about population sizes. There were small moments of collective imagining about ‘somewhere’ on the map. We witnessed pride in where people came from and a thriving discussion about Africa that took place independently of us. The shelter was supported by the large team on this occasion with two interpreters, ongoing serving of coffee and cake, and two doctors and a nurse attending to wounds.

FRIDAY We began with an early morning meeting with the heartwarming Project Play team. We discussed skills-sharing and how to help them hold the very important work that they do with children in this border area.

In the team meeting on Friday there was discussion about how to impact on the prefecture’s hardline policies towards refugees in the area. When people talk about other people as human beings there is opportunity for change. Small things on an everyday basis can lead to change. You never cry in front of numerical figures.

At The Community Table we set up a landscape on the map peppered with bricks, magnifiers and mirrors. These were worked with gently throughout the afternoon, the table feeling busy but not crowded and the men having space to uncynically play with the materials. Something would be built up and left, another building taking its place or occupying an adjacent area.

There was play with scale and magnification and distortion. Small changes with the mirror could show a different perspective. The angles and move in and out of scale somehow seemed to resonate for us with the dawning reality of the implications of the UK General Election result.

Miriam Usiskin and Bobby Lloyd

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