DAY 186. One year

August 27th, 2016 § 0 comments

Facebook has been reminding me, as is its wont, of things I was posting a year ago. It’s more interesting than usual, because it was then (end of August) that I became aware -not that there were refugees all over Europe, I’d known that at least abstractly for some time – but that there were thousands of them in a particular camp outside Calais. Being someone who responds to writing rather than ‘the thing itself’, I think my first real understanding of the Calais jungle came from a piece posted (on Facebook, I suppose) about August 19th by Cassy Paris,13654118_1006901159427383_8740376686648782561_n perhaps one of the earliest visitors. (And yet the camp had been in place since the first of April.) The Quakers picked it up and reposted it a few days later; I read at some time after that. I still find it so moving, I can’t resist the temptation to quote:

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. 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, yet 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.cehmindunes
I thought I was fairly worldy, 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.

I want to thank every single person who so willingly gave me money so that I could drive over to drop sanitary provisions to the women who are in need. I don’t want any of you to think it wasn’t worth it, it was worth it, I mean that fro the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful but I do not want or expect thanks from people who are there, they should not have to thank their equal who has so much more when they were not to blame for what has happened in their countries.’

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 11260519_10153076982526526_2310106455521471862_nthat we could be them and they could be us, it isn’t like watching band aid or children in need. Its a car crash of realisation that has left me feeling constantly nauseous at my own egocentric motivations and beliefs.

The 3 year old Sudanese girl with the big smile standing in a pile of rubbish who was hungry dirty and cold who still managed a massive grin at me. She could have been my daughter, how did she get here from Sudan? Why did they leave? How many of their friends and family died on the way? I watch video footage of little childrens bodies bobbing in the water childrenand I no longer feel like Im watching something that happened to someone else, with that air of removal from it. For a long time I have chosen not to watch the news because it makes me so sad. I realise how laughable it is as I write that, I chose to stay UNINFORMED because my lack of ACTION about something made me feel uncomfortable.

[Going back to this blog one year ago, I find I copied almost the identical passage in, which is surely a mistake. But I was remembering the impact.]

It wasn’t just Cassy’s article that changed my life: a lot of us had the same experience around the same time. Of course about a fortnight later came the amazing September 12th ‘No Borders’ demonstration (which many of us remember as a time of elation; as we started off on the march we heard that Jeremy Corbyn had decisively won the Labour leadership election, and at the end he addressed the meeting). It was clear that, while nothing had changed in the way the powerful act towards refugees, there were a very large number of us prepared to challenge them.

Where had we come from – and why? I know the usual left groups were involved; but I started the march with a dozen Quakers standing in silence (as is their wont) by a monument. I met people along the way who had never marched for anything before, but were outraged at the spectacle of governments allowing migrants, men, women and children to drown or die on border fences. (The worldwide circulation of the picture of the dead Alan Kurdikurdi made a contribution, too.)

And, during the weeks following, I (and not only I) felt impelled to do something. It was lucky that I could. Many others formed groups, collected provisions for Calais and drove down, sometimes from the far North; they met the migrants and the volunteers. Some came back, often several times; some decided to stay. I did a bit of ad hoc volunteering, sorting shoes (how many shoes have I sorted in the past year?) at Islington Town Hall with Calaid; and then I heard (how?) that there was to be a ‘solidarity march’ at Calais, bus leaving from Euston at 6 a.m.

Nothing easier, in those days. After a few minutes of doubt I located the inevitable lady with a clipboard, checking those who were booked on the bus. 6 a.m. on September 19th was warm, although the bus was still rather anonymous. And I saw it all for myself – the tents, the fencing,calais-france-19th-september-2015-refugees-at-the-jungle-camp-in-calais-f2j90m

the puddles, the posters, and above all the people.

I suppose this was the beginning of a new life for me – which was convenient, since the old life of meetings in London wasn’t so involving. I have to admit I’d been a Facebooker in a small way for at least three years; but in the next month I acquired about fifty more ‘friends’, twenty of whom I came to know well. On such small chances major changes in one’s individual life depend, it seems to me; and this past year has been a particularly significant one, with new involvements and new friendships. All that, of course, was before the referendum and the farcical developments which followed; and also before my illness and increasing loss of mobility. What I’d give to be scampering along the Chemin des Dunes again!


For those of you who are currently despairing of religion, I suggest that – like my friend Leonore – you investigate the Yazidis, who have come in for a lot of stick, not to say genocide, from Daesh. According to my sources:
‘The concept of Melek Taus (the Peacock Angel) is the most misunderstood part of the Yazidi religion, and is one of the reasons why their community has suffered such historical persecution. They believe that once God created Adam and Eve, he ordered the angels to bow to his creations. While the other angels did so, Melek Taus was the only one to refuse, because he believed that he should submit to no one but the Supreme God. He was then thrown into Hell, until his tears of remorse quenched the fires and he became reconciled to God. He now serves as an intermediary between God and humanity.’

I feel that many of us who subscribe to less sophisticated religions have much to learn from the Yazidis.

To stress the virtue of poverty of spirit (as opposed to what the members of the government have), here’s a catchy little number ’Beati pauperes spiritu’ for string quartet by Franco Venturini, who I hadn’t heard of before, but expect more in the future.




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