Saturday, 19 September 2015

My First Trip To Calais- By Cassy Paris: SEPTEMBER 2015

I think that the running theme that seems to come out of a visit to Calais' sprawling new jungle refugee camp is that it's a place that verges on being inexplicable in words alone.

I consider myself to be a really emotionally strong person and yet my very short visit there to drop off the provisions that many of you kindly paid for has shaken my understanding of myself to its very core.
I consider myself to be compassionate: I am not compassionate enough.
I consider myself to be informed:I am not informed enough.

I believe that I see everyone as equal: I realise it is not enough to just “believe” this.
I think I question everything I read in the media: I now know that I don’t even come close.

I always thought that my values rested firmly in equality but I know now that my version of equality is completely wrapped up in my own little bubble of experience.

I have proudly called myself fearless, but I am yet to truly know what fear is.

I don’t think of myself as materialistic, yet the safety of my expensive car was predominant in my thoughts as I drove down the dirt road of Chemis Des Dunes.

I thought I was fairly worldly, yet I met people who had fled from countries that I didn’t know existed to escape genocides that I didn’t know were happening.

I thought so much and one by one my misconceptions and my pre-conceived ideas got knocked down like toy soldiers.

Where a person is born is nothing but circumstance, luck, a roll of the dice. For the first time in my life I truly know that we could be them and the following people could be us:
The 3 year old Sudanese girl with the big smile standing in a pile of rubbish hungry, dirty and cold but who still managed a massive grin at me could have been my daughter. How did she get to Calais? Why did they leave? How many of their friends and family died on the way?

The sweet and seriously funny man from Kosovo who managed to giggle with me as he hobbled around on ill fitted crutches, and type his name into my phone so I could see how smart he is on his Facebook photographs before all of this happened. As he sat with his plastered leg resting on oil cans surrounded by rusty metal, and half a shopping trolley, he had nothing but positive things to say about the doctors at the hospital, and the people from the UK (the place he called home for over 10 years before he got deported back to somewhere he can no longer build a life.) The only time he didn’t smile was when he talked of his friend who got electrocuted and died jumping on the train. “He was so desperate he didn’t think. You have to think first.” he declared, as he drew me a map in the sand of the Eurotunnel stop points. 

The man from Mauritania who gently stroked his chicken by his feet as he wearily told me he had been here 4 months. I foolishly asked why he wanted to come to England. “England, no, no, not to England, France is my home now.” He showed me his art work, which was not only insanely good but paints a story that no one should ever have to paint.

 The words on the reclaimed blackboard out his home, by far the most creative and inviting home on the camp, read simply (in French ) “ Vaccine for racism sold here”

The man from Pakistan who offered me the last of his tea from a battered plastic bottle.

The man who asked me to help me get his phone back from the police station so that he could call his family.

The girl with the pretty headscarf but no shoes.

As you walk through the camp, it is evident that you are walking through different countries:Sudan and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, and on and on and on. The lines are blurred. People have made shops where the smell of amazing food cooked on waste wood fires is sold, but to who and with what money? Coca cola has found its way into the camp and its blistering red cans are a stark contrast to the bare feet sticking out of a tent made of bin liners.

The lack of infrastructure is insane.

I wish with all of my heart that I had taken a pitch fork. If I had had a pitch fork I could have spent a few hours putting holes in the ground to drain the puddles. The one bag of rubbish that I took to the skip at the far end of the camp angered a tag team of wasps as I threw it in amongst a putrid smell.

This may seem to be a story that we have heard before - but this is no typical slum. or shanty town. Slums are not full of Law graduates; teachers; people who until recently owned their own homes; children who merely look at the colouring pencil offered as a present by a well meaning woman from middle England as they try to adjust to life threatening poverty.

As I drove to the Eurotunnel, I waved at every person making their way to the fences. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph them, just wished with all my heart they would make it. I realised that I have I never given much consideration as to how horrific their lives must have been for them to have got on a boat to make their escape. They are fleeing genital mutilation, religious “cleansing”, unimaginable poverty, slavery, civil war, rape, murder, kidnapping and still people insist they are merely in search of benefits.

P.S: To the the Customs Officer who decided to make my life hell on the way back "**** you! "

PPS David Cameron, you have just donated £10,000,000 pounds to help keep some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to meet out of our country. May you sleep easily in your bed at night!

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