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Traversing Landscapes



We started this week’s work by going round in circles in relation to our work in Dunkirk which we visited briefly to touch base with a few residents, being unable to run a session in the Butterfly House due to lack of staff from our partners. We wanted to do right by people without compromising our boundaries and capacity and were relieved to find some robust and cheerful services in place and more volunteers generally on this bright Spring day. The need for joined up thinking between services was once again highlighted in our conversations and something we are usefully feeding back as we develop our thinking and role.


We therefore travelled back to Calais to deliver an afternoon session in the Secours Catholique Day Centre, gathering some objects and grasses from the nature reserve adjacent to the building, adding bricks and clay that we’d brought with us to the table.

Several young people described how they’d gone in the wrong direction on lorries, only to need to walk back the 4-5 hours from the Belgium border or somehow find a lift. With the change of season came memories of home or other places travelled to, depicted in images. People are thinking about home, where to head for or if they should go back – so much traversing of landscapes and continents, while outside sleeping bags had been abandoned, nights still spent being chased and tear-gassed by police.



For a short while we were displaced within the centre, needing to wait, moving back and forth between rooms and the outside waiting area before settling around the bed as usual. Sitting together we made clay objects, building on last week’s collection of pots and utensils and objects from home – Sudan, Nigeria. The need to be patient was acknowledged, progress being so slow like the clay tortoise that was added into the mix.


Sitting around the map with blue skies outside and forty or so exhausted resting individuals inside, we spent over two hours meeting new individuals and reconnecting with others we first met in Calais just under two years ago. The processes of building with tiny handmade concrete bricks or warming plasticine in one’s hands enabled some sharing of heartbreak, and a number of touching memories from home. We were once again reminded of the vital link offered by the mobile phone as one mother in Sudan called her son, and another man could only express himself by playing a love song from Peshawar. The ever comforting grandmotherly presence of older local women volunteers for Secours Catholique helped to ground these young men with their offers of sugared bread soaked in egg and games of drafts.


The poetry of the evening’s session was enabled by the presence at the table of the grounding and trusted Safe House staff. Bringing a lego boat, some ornamental model trees, rocks and concrete bricks onto the table allowed new landscapes to once again emerge, along with some immensely moving exchanges and periods of creative collaboration.

The important Eritrean historic site at Qohaito was created by the same young man who had made the truck two weeks ago that traversed the desert; here after he struggled to find form with the bricks, he produced three towers in a landscape, pulling together a powerful scene, much as he had willed the making of the desert truck.

In parallel, a second young man who had been director of lighting two weeks earlier now directed those around the table, inspired by the lego boat to make his own plasticine sculpture of the boat he had travelled in from Libya to Italy. With humour and yet insistence that the forty or so tiny figures be made to his specification, each wearing a life jacket, he also managed to create a powerful object that embodied his experience.

The two boys ended the afternoon stage-managing their artworks with backdrops, lighting and filters on their phones. We were deeply moved by the fact they had shared with us and the group such intimate experiences, and that the boat was representative for all of them, as had the truck been two weeks earlier.

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