On arrival in Calais we heard that there had been a large fight between groups the night before following a build up of tension amongst those living in increasingly cold, and difficult conditions. A number of people were hospitalised. We were unable to join the Medecins du Monde team as none of the services were operating in the area.
Instead, we spent two days at The Community Table in the day centre, joined by artist Majid Adin to continue using film / stop frame animation. Rather than work with our large maps at the ambulance we also brought these into the day centre space.
THURSDAY DAY CENTRE
There was an atmosphere of charged energy and pent up tension as people arrived into the large day centre space. Most looked exhausted after a night of little or no sleep. People were also hungry as a result of the food distributions being cancelled; and throughout the afternoon Secours Catholique volunteers carried tray after tray of bread and jam, along with urn upon urn of tea and coffee. About an hour into the afternoon a number of the younger men got up and left, tensions still high.
With a globe and a series of new large maps covering the World, we set up a stop frame animation studio on The Community Table. Guided by Majid, a rich afternoon of creative activity followed, with one young man - a photographer by profession who’d joined us two weeks earlier - spending several hours with us, absorbed in trying to get to grips with this new creative tool. His World wrapped and unwrapped was playful and performative and took several iterations - with cooperation, timing and working together as essential ingredients. Friends joined to assist with translation.
Other short animations were produced - a journey across Europe through checkpoints, others about politics. There was delight at the short films amongst those who gathered around to watch, with requests for them to be played back several times. A few older men joined the table to build houses and engage in conversation.
FRIDAY DAY CENTRE
At the Secours Catholique morning meeting there was a long discussion about the meaning of ‘helping’. This included a debate about the infinite cycle of volunteers giving material aid, and police it taking away, creating an existential problem in the face of real need. The reality of living outside in Calais is that there is literally no physical cover.
Rather than a singular focus on material aid, the idea of support should be about accompanying, following, being close to, witnessing. Majid reinforced this idea by thanking the volunteers for the humanity they had shared with him when he had lived as a refugee in Calais three years ago.
The tensions of the day before had all but dissipated and services were up and running again. The atmosphere in the large day centre room was more subdued, with the room soon full, less hunger, perhaps more reflective, even a sense of relief. People sat at tables in mixed groups and set about looking at their phones or quietly chatting.
The Community Table was made bigger to accommodate a large number of shorter, experimental projects with young men and volunteers - several using their hands to conceal and reveal objects of their choice. The young man from yesterday once again became wrapped in the World, which itself transformed into a small ball of map before turning into a rotating globe.