We arrived in France to catastrophic weather conditions in Calais; strong winds whipping, torrential rainstorms, thunder, lightening and hail, and thinking about all of those exposed in the elements with nowhere to shelter at times like this.
Our first stop was to a meeting with our partners Médecins du Monde to discuss the situation on the ground in Northern France at the moment and the operations of their medical outreach teams. The grave hygiene and sanitation condition on the ground mean that their teams are seeing significant increases in skin condition and small wounds becoming infected.
As we arrived to visit our friends there was much reminiscing about the rituals of food and harvest time at home. We talked of the different methods used in our countries for preserving and pickling to build up resources to see you through harder times.
The discussion flowed onto the memories of the ceremonies and dances for the rights of passage from adolescence to adulthood. As we gathered together we brought out some new materials, an old set of Cuisenaire Rods, sparking the interest of the teacher in the group. He was keen to share this method of supporting children to develop their skills with his colleagues back home in Sudan. Memories of professions, work places, homes and families who are so painfully missed.
This week the room slowly filled up with people with bare feet and wet clothes as people tried hard to dry out their scant belongings in a brief moment of afternoon sunshine. A familiar face appeared at the centre this week. A Syrian man whom we have not seen since the closure of the Dunkerque camp (and whom we had known previously from the Calais camp) joined us around the table to share his dismay at his situation in Europe, feeling coerced into making his claim in France and trapped in a place that has denied him shelter and support for so long.
Many people joining us around the table today expressed their anger at the degrading and violent treatment they are experiencing in their current situation. Talking about the disappointment and resentment they feel that Europe hasn’t welcomed them with the equal rights they promise to uphold for other elsewhere in the world.
There was adolescent playfulness, curiosity and edginess around the building construction going on around the table. Perhaps envy towards those who had been able to build something complex or sturdy; a wish to destabilise others concentration and creations, building being attacked with plasticine ‘bombs’.
Despite these intrusions buildings were very carefully constructed; a randomly rafted roof with precisely balanced bricks, a domed building built from a memory of impressive buildings seen whilst in transit through Italy, a very movingly planned and reconstructed model of the family home in Afghanistan.
At the evening distribution the map went up on the side of the ambulance like last week and became the focal point of the work. Many teenagers approached us to talk with as we stood at alongside the Médecins du Monde team, talking about their homes, journeys as well as how they together work hard to survive in their current situation, feeling exposed in the rain and spending nights trying to hide from the increasing brutality of the police.
A teenage boy described how he had recently arrived in a group of 40 people, travelling altogether all the way from Ethiopia. Singing and drumming at our table by the ambulance he made small plastercine sculptures. We were struck by the importance of community support and resilience that echoed through his personal story. As we returned to the table throughout the evening we found an ever growing collection of small trees, figures and animals had emerged as a number of individuals had added their creations to join those already made.
The weekly coffee time meeting with Secours Catholique was held outdoors in the sunshine this morning, discussions were focused on the slow and limited provision of the basic services ordered by the court ruling. Access to showers is much delayed as the local council tries to sidestep its duties hoping that the NGO’s, associations, and volunteer organizations will fill the gaps. Thoughts were shared about further trying to improve the opinionated coverage of the situation in Calais in the local press to include more nuanced humane and positive perspectives
The boys were at the dinning table when we arrived at the house today, a sense of expectancy for the afternoons activity was expressed from some, as others charged their phones or spoke to friends and family afar.
Cake was placed on the table amongst the art materials and building blocks. One young man initially watched one of us playfully make patterns with coloured shapes describing it as a kind of meditation. From this point he too began to explore the shapes, creating different images, transforming the scenes from a windmill to a Christmas Tree, to finally a Japanese house on solid ground that contained a Samurai combat room.
As well as moments of silence, quiet watching and immersion, discussions flowed around travel across the continents. The frustration of not being wanted or welcomed by any country, the desire to be in the UK, and the risks that are taken because of the desperation to get to a place of safety. The boys shared with us their sense of searching; the overarching wish to have a home, to have an opportunity to access education beyond a language school. The longing for a place where its possible to feel a sense of belonging.