Saturday, 29 August 2015

Calais Visit 1

I just returned from visiting the refugee camp at Calais and have been asked by several people to tell how it all went and I feel strangely stuck - I think because of the enormity that it touches on, and the immensity of feeling that arises from directly looking into the eyes of someone asking you with such desperation for a blanket, or for shoes and knowing your country's politicians and media are doing their best to erase their humanity. And because the words - sorry I have no more shoes, sorry there are no more blankets left - make me feel ashamed and make my heart hurt.

The first person to approach me was an elderly man who was pointing through the car window, asking quietly for a blanket. And for trousers. I wanted him to wait so that I could get him a blanket and trousers. He was saying 'I came from Pakistan' and was starting to say more, but there were a lot of people gathering and I lost him before I opened the car, distracted by police threatening to pepper spray people. I don't know why the police turned up threatening to spray people. I wondered if it is partly to put people off from bringing aid. I have heard his voice and seen his face in my mind all day today. I really hope he gets a blanket from someone else soon.

Other faces and voices are still being processed in my mind.
Sister, why did you not give me a jacket?
Because you were not in the line, I'm sorry.
But I waited for an hour.
I'm sorry.

Look at my feet, I have no shoes. Please you have shoes?
Lots of people showed me their feet in their split shoes or their flip-flops.
Sorry - I will bring more shoes next time.

Please a blanket, I am cold. Very cold at night, I cannot sleep.
There are no blankets left, I am sorry.

Shoes, please. There are no shoes left.

I took no photo's. I would have liked to, but each time I thought to reach for my phone, it didn't feel appropriate. French TV crew turned up and continued to film despite being asked to stop. A person's dignity. A person's consent. Concepts for the media to reflect upon.

As we were about to leave, a young boy, maybe 8 or 9, came to the car. The car was empty now except for a bag of pots of party bubbles I had brought in case I met any children. I pass him the bag and when he looks inside his face turns into a big excited open-mouthed smile. That moment. I don't know anything about him or what difficulties he had journeyed through to end up living in the appalling conditions of this refugee camp but even if I had brought nothing else that day, it was worth it to see that boy's smile and to bring him some moments of bubble fun.

Despite my car not being a van I had managed to pack in what had been almost a whole roomful of stuff that had been collected in my house, leaving out only a couple of bagfuls. Compared to the need, it felt next to nothing, but when I started to feel deflated by how minimal our contribution, I was reminded that it was not nothing...  Thank you Hayley...Tonight some people will sleep in a tent or under duvets or in sleeping bags that they didn't have before. Some people will be wearing warmer clothes, wearing shoes on their feet, brushing their teeth, eating organic beans... Someone will be playing swingball and some kids will be blowing bubbles.

It's a tiny sticking plaster that leaves me feeling sickened, sad and angry at our politicians lack of humanity, but nourished by the goodness of people who are taking some responsibility into their own hands, however small, and refusing to buy into a narrative that is becoming more cruel, and more wrong each day.