Day 89: Where are we?
An invisible bird flies over,
but casts a quick shadow.
What is the body? That shadow of a shadow
of your love, that somehow contains
the whole universe.
A man sleeps heavily,
though something blazes in him lke the sun,
like a magnificent fringe sewn up under the hem.
He turns under the covers.
Any image is a lie.
A clear red stone tastes sweet.
You kiss a beautiful mouth, and a key turns in the lock of your fear.
A spoken sentence sharpens into a fine edge.
A mother dove looks for her nest,
asking where, ku? Where, ku?
Where the lion lies down.
Where any man or woman goes to cry.
Where the sick go when they hope to get well.
Where a wind lifts that helps with winnowing,
and, the same moment, sends a ship on its way.
Where anyone says, Only God Is Real.
Ya Hu! Where beyond where.
A bright weaver’s shuttle flashes back and forth,
east-west, Where-are-we? Ma-ku? Maku.
Like the sun saying Where are we?
As it weaves with the asking.
Andy was already waiting for me at Dover when I arrived on the bus at 10am. He had set off from Norwich at 5am, as he had been told to arrive at least two hours early to avoid delays boarding the ferry. We set sail at midday, both already sleep deprived at the beginning of our journey.
Once disembarked at Calais we set out for our first stop, which was to take two bags of brand new underwear to the distribution centre, known as L’auberge de Migrantes. These went straight onto the pallet for the next delivery as these are such needed items. Refugees are crying out for basics like these: clean clothes, shoes, bedding, tents, food staples, fuel and many more items. Later in the trip I would meet Jan from Montpelier, a volunteer for Utopia 56 (the Breton charity we were there to volunteer with), who told of her work checking 50 tents day to make sure they are complete before they are distributed to those who need them in the camps in the area.
There are two main camps. One in Calais, the famous Sangatte, popularly known as ‘Le Jungle’ – which was bulldozed in March of this year, only to rise from the ashes again, like the mythical phoenix, a little bruised and battered but dignity and hope intact.
The other is in Dunkirk, which was being established around the time the jungle was being razed, paid for by the by the Mayor of Dunkirk. This newer Dunkirk camp, known as Grand-Synth replaced the previous Dunkirk camp where the conditions were the worst, beyond awful. Here are mainly Kurdish men, (Syrians, Iranians and others) in clean and regimented purpose build shelters. But the atmosphere is one of boredom and thinly veiled despair. Grand Synth is very well equipped with kitchens, building workshops, a laundry, a few shops, and a sort of communal area, half indoor, half outdoor where there are electrical points for charging phones. The men gather here, charging their phones, chatting and waiting, and nearby a group of children play with a ball, and look for fun and mischief, the older ones looking out for the younger ones, just as children do the world over.
At the jungle things are very different. The place is vibrant, like a city, with, several restaurants, shops, many mosques (As many as nine by one account), a church, a school and a library. Each night it’s the same story: refugees go out to the port to try and get aboard a ship to England and every night they are beaten back by the police.
There is also a thriving black market (some say the police are in cahoots) and a strong Mafia presence, but I never felt for a minute that I was in danger. Everyone you meet is so friendly and open and warm – everybody wants to talk, to ask where you’re from, to hear your story. The genuine human connection you experience with so many people, and in the face of all they have been through is truly uplifting.
Despite all the hardship, and hard as this is to see, the camp seems to run on a mixture of hope and the sheer will to survive that keeps people going despite the odds. and despite regular raids by the police in which they will not hesitate to use tear gas even on minors, and the fear and suspicion with which they are treated by many local residents. But one can’t help wondering – how long for? How long before despair takes the upper hand?
I have to remind myself of the words of Vaclev Havel:
‘The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that seem particularly hopeless like prisons) I understand above all to be a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope inside us or we don’t …Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; Hope in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.’
But I’m getting ahead of myself: in my story, we’ve arrived in France and delivered some donations to the warehouse. We head to the Carrefour to buy food supplies and find our way to the caravan site which will be our home for the next six days, where Utopia 56 has numerous static caravans for the volunteer team. It is still daytime so we wonder if anyone will be around, since they will mostly be still working. Luckily two girls from Edinburgh are about, having worked the night shift and they allow us to hole up in their kitchen to shelter from the rain and wait til the rest of the team arrive back. I sleep little that night from excitement about what the next day will bring.