It was a quiet afternoon in the day centre, many people resting on the cushions charging their phones and making phone calls. The weather was cooler than it had been, but still sunny.
We set up our space for animation and started making props and puppets in preparation for whatever stories that might be told. We had a showreel of animations made previously which we displayed and of which a number of people enjoyed and were interested in. A man from Cameroon who had a particular interest in animation came and made a camel and from there a story developed in which the camel gave a man with a watering can a lift so he could water the cactus. The cactus then bloomed into flower. Then a dog and a rat were made and they ran across the set. The process piqued peoples interest but many were not quite ready to get involved but said they would come back tomorrow.
A day of torrential rain so a very different atmosphere in the day centre. There was a family of Afghanis including 3 small children. They immediately gravitated towards the building blocks, building shelters and homes. They brought a great deal of focus and energy to our table and the centre. Other people joined in making puppets of animals and humans that we started to make a film from. There was a constant fresh supply of puppets and props that were brought in and needed to be assimilated into the action. There were a lot of snakes and lizards made and mostly they got along peaceably until there was a yellow snake eating a red one.
One little boy started making flags, an Afghan one, then a British one a French one and Greek one. This partly reflected their journey but perhaps also where they hoped to go. A number of narratives evolved from the action. We met a number of men all soaked from their journey to the centre in the rain, men from Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan.
Part of the team went off to the distribution area to meet with the Médecins du Monde team arriving to a very bleak, cold and desolate scene. Earlier in the morning the police had done their weekly dismantlement of the area of all the tents, bedding, clothes and belongings leaving people only in their shirts and flip flops in the heavy rain. There were just a few disheveled young people waiting for the last appointments with the doctor, and searching for plastic to cover themselves.
The situation was too fleeting for the team to offer activities on this occasion, but we stayed for a while to talk with our partners from the medical team and hear more about huge increase in numbers of refugees in Dunkirque and the distressing and precarious conditions that this is forcing people into.
The team returned to the day centre to join the final hour of busy activity at the day centre. As we packed up our stuff the 2 small boys helped us by organising the puppets and props they had all made into a carefully and tenderly laid out arrangement ready for the next days activities. We all found this hugely moving and reassuring that there was a ritual of tidying up and containing all that had been so enthusiastically made. They also practised reading and writing their English numbers in a way that implied a huge hunger for learning.
The day centre was busy today and full of activity. The Afghan family were still there and were making jewellery when we arrived. Someone had added a plastic model of Big Ben to the animation table so we incorporated this poignant symbol it into another set for today’s work, using the cyanotypes from a couple of weeks ago in the background. At first it was quiet around our table but gradually young men from Eritrea, Ethiopia and an extraordinary Kurdish musician joined us curious about the process and tentatively adding their own input. One of the men told me that he made one of the cyanotypes we had used in the backdrop. The stories that emerged in this process were not neat or ordered or have any sense of continuity but they had an enormous amount of energy, humour and relevance, a mixture of process, ritual, chaos and situations beyond control, that is so much a part of so many of these peoples current lives.
Videos to be edited and coming soon!