DAY 187 An unexpected interlude

September 4th, 2016 § 0 comments

I’ll introduce, as it deserves, another fine angry description of the situation in Chios and across Europe from Izzy; but first, you’ll want to know about my own health and debility. Or, ‘decreased mobility and general decline’, as the hospital put it in their well-phrased discharge note (after two days of tests which turned up, basically, nothing of interest). You get a fine view from the Royal Free – I could see the Emirates; and my neighbouring patients, while still mad, were unhinged in a more classy and Lacanian way than those at the Whittington. Can you blame them, with the general decline – their own and that of the NHS? So here I am at home, back to studying Arabic arabicand such. In hospital, I found a diversion reading Dostoevsky’s White Nights, which related almost exactly to my own situation: that of a man who found, in midsummer, that his friends had deserted the city leaving him on his own. (I didn’t get round to seeing the Visconti adaptation, or any of the three others.) And of course the tests – for brain injury, DVT, and such – turned up nothing of interest.

But why am I boring you with this self-obsession? Here’s Izzy: ‘When you wake up this morning please read this story about my two friends, who won’t be waking up in a bed, but inside a tent on the outskirts of an overcrowded refugee camp.

Yesterday we sat together during the evening, as usual I was offered every kind of food and 13912643_10153578589142820_6238926140389419057_ndelicious tea. One has attended an informal English class we setup every day without fail for over two weeks. It’s not an easy task, when so much of your life is filled with uncertainty and the need to join numerous lines for food, pieces of clothing or other things at varying points in the day. ”I’ve learnt over 2000 words.” One told me proudly, after apologising repeatedly for the behaviour of a man who lives nearby him with mental difficulties. Our other friend speaks perfect English, he hands me a business card from Fendi – explaining his previous job at the Italian designer. He tells me he wants to go to England, when I ask why he doesn’t hesitate. ”Maybe you think it’s silly, but I have a dream… I will be standing in the rain, wrapped in a scarf, wearing a hat and pulling my coat around me, clutching a takeaway cup of tea. I will work for a designer brand again like before and I will be happy. I love England” There is no way I can recreate the feeling in his words and the smile they brought to his lips despite the sadness he clearly feels at them not being a reality. As I ran from their tent to assist a family who needed to take their daughter to hospital they were talking of how scared they were. One is planning to leave the camp, the other is both scared to lose his friend and scared to go with him. ”Here I have a tent, and friends… I find it hard to make friends I trust… and my tent is quite big,” he falters. The other insists they must try but his fear is completely visible, too, stoked by the endless stories of prostitution, trafficking, police brutality, disappearances and other horrors that meet refugees on the mainland route. Europeans. What are you doing? Please? When your children wake up in their beds and go to a history class in ten years time… They will ask you why you treated those waking up in a tent, with big dreams and bravery in equal measure with such shocking cruelty and you will hang your head in shame.’ I don’t know what your life is like, reader, but I doubt that you’re living in a tent; so take a moment to imagine what it would be. Week after week, people I know and those I don’t are describing such situations across Europe, contrasting the real suffering and sympathy of thousands with the indifference and hostility of authority – think of Cassy Paris’ witness from Calais a year ago, which I reposted recently.

And, as Izzy points out, the situation is getting worse; more policing, more tensions. There seems to be no end to the misery; and no way in which we, the people of good will, can affect it since, however many people join our side, they will not be the people who affect policy.

As I keep saying, the French authorities are persisting n their futile attempts at demolishing the Calais jungle: to quote: ‘France is to gradually dismantle the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais: ’The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, told the regional newspaper the Nord Littoral he would press ahead with the closure of the camp “with the greatest determination”, dismantling the site in stages, clearing the former wasteland where record numbers of refugees and migrants are sleeping rough in dire sanitary conditions as many hope to reach Britain. He said France would create accommodation for thousands elsewhere in the country “to unblock Calais”. French authorities have made repeated efforts to shut down the camp, which the state was responsible for creating in April 2015 when authorities evicted migrants and refugees from squats and outdoor camps across the Calais area and concentrated them into one patch of wasteland without shelter. Less than six months ago, the authorities demolished a large area of the southern part of the camp, saying the aim was to radically reduce numbers. But this month the number of people in the camp reached an all-time high of almost 10,000 people, aid organisations estimate. The French authorities put the official number of people in the camp at almost 7,000. (It’s actually nearer 10,000.) Authorities have said over the past year more than 5,000 asylum seekers have left the northern French town for 161 special centres set up around France. Cazeneuve said places for another 8,000 asylum seekers would be created this year and thousands more in 2017, saying efforts would be focused on getting peole in Calais to leave voluntarily.Currently a record 1,900 French police are operating in Calais, Calais-jungle-demolitions3 and Cazeneuve said another 200 would be added to their ranks “to reinforce the battle” against migrants smuggling themselves on to lorries bound for Britain. Daniel Barney, of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which opened a health centre in the camp, warned last week that the French and UK governments were turning a blind eye to the growing problems. He said the French authorities’ decision to demolish the southern part of the camp in March had made the situation worse. “Half the camp was dismantled. So now we have double the population living in half as much land, with access to the same amount of water points and toilets. There is an extreme problem of overcrowding. Conditions in the camp5760 are getting progressively worse. With overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, food shortages and a rise in the number of violent attacks on lorry drivers heading to the UK, there is growing tension in Calais and politicians from all parties are seizing on the seemingly intractable problem of how to deal with refugees and migrants trapped in France hoping to reach England. In the run-up to the French presidential election next year, the French right and far-right have increased their calls for hardline action on Calais. Cazeneuve will visit Calais on Friday afternoon, as French lorry drivers, shopkeepers and farmers plan to stage a blockade of the port on Monday to demand the camp is demolished. The Socialist president, François Hollande, who has until now avoided visiting Calais, is to visit the city later this month.’ The only reason for optimism – and it’s reason enough is the determination of the refugees, staying put and learning their 2000 words; and of their friends and allies, that rag-tag army who stubbornly resist the state and its police.
Poetry It seems appropriate to introduce a stretch of Derek Walcott’s ‘Omeros’, poem of sea-travel and empire:
I watched the afternoon sea. Didn’t I want the poor

to stay in the same light so that I could transfix
them in amber, the afterglow of an empire,
preferring a shed of palm-thatch with tilted sticks
to that blue bus-stop? Didn’t I prefer a road
from which tracks climbed into the thickening syntax
of colonial travellers, the measured prose I read
as a schoolboy? That cove, with its brown shallows
there, Praslin? That heron? Had they waited for me
to develop my craft? Why hallow that pretence
of preserving what they left, the hypocrisy
of loving them from hotels, a biscuit-tin fence
smothered in love-vines, scenes to which I was attached
as blindly as Plunkett with his remorseful research?
Art is History’s nostalgia, it prefers a thatched
roof to a concrete factory, and the huge church
above a bleached village. The gap between the driver
and me increased when he said:
                                              “The place changing, eh?”
where an old rumshop had gone, but not that river
with its clogged shadows. That would make me a stranger.
“All to the good,” he said. I said, “All to the good,”
then, “whoever they are,” to myself. I caught his eyes
in the mirror. We were climbing out of Micoud.
Hadn’t I made their povertytrinidad my paradise?
His back could have been Hector’s, ferrying tourists
in the other direction home, the leopard seat
scratching their damp backs like the fur-covered armrests.
He had driven his burnt-out cargo, tired of sweat,
who longed for snow on the moon and didn’t have to face
the heat of that sinking sun, who knew a climate
as monotonous as this one could only produce
from its unvarying vegetation flashes
of a primal insight like those red-pronged lilies
that shot from the verge, that their dried calabashes
of fake African masks for a fake Achilles
rattled with the seeds that came from other men’s minds.
So let them think that. Who needed art in this place
where even the old women strode with stiff-backed spines,
and the fishermen had such adept thumbs, such grace
these people had, but what they envied most in them
was the calypso part, the Caribbean lilt
still in the shells of their ears, like the surf’s rhythm,
until too much happiness was shadowed with guilt
like any Eden, and they sighed at the sign:
HEWANNORRA (Iounalao), the gold sea
flat as a credit-card, extending its line
to a beach that now looked just like everywhere else,
Greece or Hawaii. Now the goddamn souvenir
felt absurd, excessive. The painted gourds, the shells.
Their own faces as brown as gourds. Mine felt as strange
as those at the counter feeling their bodies change.

and, because I haven’t played this artist before, under Music, Beyoncé‘s ‘Sorry‘ from ‘Lemonade’

 

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