DAY 194: The Fiddler’s Elbow

November 21st, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Continuing the previous theme: it’s surely time to abandon the shallow pools of day-to-day politics in which we’ve been in danger of drowning: and to plunge headlong into the eternal verities of Art, which will hopefully sustain us in the oncoming storm. To recap: last June 25th I was doing my narrow political duty by showing up at a gig in a dim pub in Kentish Town where we hoped to raise large sums for ‘London2Calais’ as a result of the money raised by the audience, and their appreciation for the artists.

How full life is of ironies! The audience was decidedly small, and I wasn’t impressed by the first two acts. The third (Th’Sheridans)13438956_10201574491761765_217113596314999774_n was more mellow and to my taste, and I was getting into the mood when…

A tall woman in a long dress12814670_1117701058261868_7769792526235084374_n strode onto the stage and began to set up (a daunting array of synths and other electronic equipment). This took the best part of half an hour. Did the audience know what was to come? I didn’t, I was getting restive, and when Aphty Khea (for it was she) finally unleashed her repertoire on the pub, I was completely bowled over. That someone who by rights should be performing for huge sums at the South Bank was playing for charity at the Fiddlers Elbow! I hadn’t heard such a dazzling, provocative display of pure art – I’d like to say for years, but I have a duty to my journalist’s conscience (is there such a thing?).

It was beautiful, avant-garde and political!
Of course once finished, Aphty was due to head off to the Greek islands to volunteer with the refugees. I realised that we are part of a much larger, invincible movement, since we have the eternal truths on our side. Chick peas and rice (and cumin) will fill our bellies, and we must be sure that we and our neighbours have enough of them; but Art is what sets us on a higher plane than our enemies. It must have felt much like this to have wandered into a Bierhaus in Vienna in the 1820s and found Schubert hammering out his latest number. I’m too moved to go on at this point. I hope that my birthday celebrations in a month’s time can involve Aphty, maybe a Syrian oud player, and a collection for refugees, naturally. Trump, do your worst! We have Song on our side.12936524_10201313048185839_8670520434824483592_n

DAY 193: Memory

November 20th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

As I’m confronted by my complete failure to comprehend the results of the US elections, it seems to me to be time for a radical rethink of this blog’s policy, perhaps indeed to issue a new mission statement. Having devoted a year or more to refugees and Calais in particular, isn’t it time (particularly after the disastrous U.S. election result) to abandon politics and focus on the things which I do well – Chinese translations of Finnegans Wake or Iranian women mathematicians winning prizes for their work on pairs of pants? Please vote (remembering that popular votes this year have been disturbing in their results):

1. Yes, change course please!

2. No, stick to the same old stuff.

I’ve spent so long thundering against neoliberalism; and now I find that neofascism,b731 which is the current alternative offer, could be, nay is, even worse. But there will surely be plenty of time to consider the Trump programme and the fairness of applying the term ‘fascist’ to it.

In the meantime, you will probably have been wondering, as I have, about how you play Scrabble in Arabic. It’s all very well to say, as my sources do, that the rules are the same, the number of tiles roughly the same the board more or less identical; that for example there are two ط tiles and one ظ tile. But this, in a language characterised by triliteral roots, where كتب means (with modifications) almost any noun or verb or adjective which has something to do with writing, I expect that the scope for messing about with the rules is much wider, particularly if you’re from Sham and are allowed to add a b- to the beginning of any verb.

I’d welcome advice on this (or indeed on Scrabble in Dari, Pashtu or Tigrinya) before I make some rash statement.

Going back to Calais, (just to harp on for a moment) if I told you that the life of the children who have ben removed from the jungle and dumped in centres across France was far from easy, and in some cases akin to forced labour – would you be surprised? In one case, the charity Safe Passage was told that two boys had already run away from the centre and two more were considering fleeing with one saying “If others run away I am not going to stay”.

Many said they felt they did not understand what was happening with their asylum applications and three of them had not spoken to anyone “official” (meaning a lawyer, French or UK authorities or local volunteers) since their arrival.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they had not been given clean clothes since their arrival but all said they had access to showers, hot water and at least three meals a day and only two said staff had not made them feel welcome.

 Calais ‘Jungle’ exodus: Charity boss likens refugee treatment to Nazi persecution

Rabbi Janet Darley, Citizens UK Leader, said: “We are hugely concerned about the safeguarding of children in the CAOs in France.

“The Safe Passage team have had reports of forced labour, and unaccompanied children being made to live with adults.

“Although the CAOs are, on the whole, safe places for the children to live, they cannot be used as an excuse to delay the transfer of children to the UK.

“Every day children are separated from their families in the UK, or the opportunity to be placed with foster families, they are missing out on their childhoods.”

Following the destruction of the camp there was furore among charities and campaigners after it emerged that some refugee children were sleeping in the open air as the safe space accommodation designed to look after them was reportedly full.

French authorities were criticised for not having the reception centres up and ready in time for the destruction of the camp.

So far some 350 child refugees have arrived in the UK out of the estimated 2,000 living in the camp when it closed but charities are urging the Home Office to settle at least 1,000 by Christmas.

The Home Office said it remains “absolutely committed to bringing all eligible people to the UK as soon as possible”.

At times like the present it seems like a duty to fight depression, while at the same time not giving way to mere frivolity. How many people there were, as Fairouz reminds us, holding umbrellas, waiting; but no one would wait for me!

Oh how many people there were
On the corner waiting for others
And it would rain
And they would hold umbrellas
But even on the clearest days, no one would wait for me
Oh how many people there were
On the corner waiting for others
And it would rain
And they would hold umbrellas
But even on the clearest days, no one would wait for me
I’ve been stuck in this small store for about a hundred years
Even the walls are bored of me
But they’re too shy to say so
And I have my eye on his beauty
And he is in the streets
I sing him songs,
But he is too busy with himself
I waited for so many dates
But no one waited for me
Oh how many people there were
On the corner waiting for others
And it would rain
And they would hold umbrellas
But even on the clearest days, no one would wait for me
I’ve been inventing addresses for about a hundred years
I don’t know who they’re for
And I send them news
But someday loved ones will come to me
And the one who remembered everybody, in the end remembered me
Oh how many people there were
On the corner waiting for others
And it would rain
And they would hold umbrellas
But even on the clearest days, no one would wait for me
No one waited for me
Adesh kan fi nas (قديش كان في ناس)
قديش كان في ناس عالمفرق تنطر ناس و تشتي الدنيي و يحملو شمسية
و أنا بأيام الصحو ما حدا نطرني
قديش كان في ناس عالمفرق تنطر ناس و تشتي الدنيي و يحملو شمسية
و أنا بأيام الصحو ما حدا نطرني
صار لي شي مية سنة مشلوحه بهالدكان ضجرت مني الحيطان و مستحيه تقول
و أنا عيني عالحلى و الحلى عالطرقات غنيلو غنيات و هو بحالو مشغول
نطرت مواعيد الأرض و ما حدا نطرني
و يحملو شمسية ما حدا نطرني
صار لي شي مية سنة عم ألف عناوين مش معروفة لمين و وديلن أخبار
بكرا لا بد السما ما تشتيلي عالباب شمسيات و أحباب يخدوني بشي نهار
و اللي ذكر كل الناس بال
This brief lyric seems to sum up much of our current despair; the many people, the boredom of the walls, even the rain.

So let us consider , while we can remember it, the multiple uses of memory

alphabetbig16th century memory alphabet

(or Zochrot as it’s called in Hebrew). This is made the easier by the appearance of Anna Lisa Tota and Trever Hagen’s 570-page ‘Handbook of Memory Studies’ (Routledge, £108.37, may be cheaper on Amazon but not much). In this huge volume (naturally, Anna Lisa and Trever got dozens of toilers in the fields of memory studies to collaborate), I found most intriguing the sections on memory in cells, and quantum mechanics; though I can’t say I’ve got near reading either of them. But if you wanted to know about the cellular memory – which Wikipedia calls a ‘pseudoscientific hypothesis’, here goes:

‘The Cellular Memory is the complete blueprint for your existence. It is the energetic expression of you as a holistic being. The labels “mind”, “body” and “spirit” are artificial labels that exist to make it easier for you to comprehend your multidimensional existence on earth. Each point within your cellular memory contains all the information of the whole. This information is infinitely accessible to each and every cell of your body. If you magnify your cells down to your atoms, you would see that you are made up of subtle bundles of “info-energy.” This info-energy is comprised of physical, mental and emotional data that comes from all of your life experiences, genetic heritage, and past generations. Nothing we experience escapes being imprinted into our Cellular Hologram in the form of a cell memory. What we commonly refer to as “The Cellular Memory” is the collective energy field generated by these individual cell memories. It operates behind the scenes of our subconscious mind.’

I leave you with that challenging thought. Let’s see the neofascists try to monkey with my cellular memory, say I!

DAY192: The end, the catastrophe.

November 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I wasn’t there, though some of my friends were, f0or the final  chaotic desperate ‘last days’ of the jungle. Two of my colleagues were, and wrote so well about it that I’ve shamelessly simply pasted it in.

Last week saw the brutal destruction of the Calais Jungle, Europe’s largest unregulated refugee camp and home to around 10,000 people who have built communities, collective solidarity and even an autonomous economy. The eviction of the camp yet again calls into question Europe’s asylum policy as refugees who have fled war, persecution and destruction once again witnessed their homes and community spaces razed to the ground, this time as part of a “humanitarian effort”. French authorities declared on Wednesday that the camp was empty, but hundreds of people — including unaccompanied minors — remain in an incredibly precarious position, sleeping rough and at risk of arrest.

Unlike most refugee camps in Europe where food and facilities are provided by authorities, the Jungle evolved as a relatively autonomous entity, more like a shanty town than a camp. Restaurants, shops, barber shops and community spaces lined the muddy high street, which served not only as small commercial enterprises, but also as spaces of collective solidarity where people would gather, share information and build their community. Without these networks of support, the experience of being a refugee is infinitely more isolating and confusing.


The day before the eviction a tense, uneasy mood settled among the residents of the Jungle, many of whom decided to leave on their own terms. Rather than giving up their autonomy and freedom for a place on one of the state provided buses to “Healthcare and Advice Clinics” (CAOs) and detention centers across the country, they left before they could be forced to leave, traveling to Paris, Marseille, anywhere they might have friends or hope of finding shelter.

In one of the few restaurants which remained open, people attempted to keep a brave face as they spent the last day among friends with whom they had spent the last few months, years even. Some were resigned to whatever might happen the next day, throwing out light hearted comments to disguise their apprehension, “we’re not scared of the police! We’re Afghan, the police should be scared of us!”

A young married couple had only just heard the news of the eviction; they were frantically trying to work out how they could avoid the risks of separation, of detention, and of becoming locked into the French asylum system which is already crumbling in its own inadequacy to provide aid, security and safety to the vulnerable. Aged just 18 and 20 years old, they had traveled together from Eritrea, fleeing the horrors of dictatorship and indefinite military conscription, in search of safety and a life worth living.

“I just want a safe place for my wife. We want to build a life together; we can’t live in camps anymore, relying on the state for tiny handouts and waiting in line for food,” exclaimed the young man. The only reassurance they received from a British volunteer was that, as Eritreans, they face little chance of deportation as Europe has finally recognized that Eritrea is an unsafe country, unlike Afghanistan.

A middle-aged Afghani man who had been listening in on the conversation interjected at this point, “who says Afghanistan is safe?! You ask your governments how Afghanistan can be safe, while drones and bombs fall from the sky, who sent them?! While your soldiers patrol our villages, who sent them?! Who is responsible for Al-Qaeda, for the Taliban?! Tell me!”




Afghanis comprise a significant proportion of the Jungle’s residents. In light of a recent EU agreement with Afghanistan which means that European aid money is dependent on the Afghani government agreeing to accept 80,000 deportees, Afghanis stand little chance of being granted asylum in Europe. This man highlighted the painful contradiction felt by so many in the Jungle, that the nations responsible for so much of the violence in their country turn them away when they seek protection. So many have already had their asylum cases denied in various European countries and now expect to be deported. Their long journeys of flight and hope will end right back where they started.

The high street, once a buzzing center of activity, was deserted; the closed shops, restaurants and barber shops reduced to empty shells with broken windows lining a muddy street. The police perimeter was already firmly in place, a man cycling past with plastic bags of clothes was pulled over and interrogated. “It’s just clothes! Nothing else,” he insisted as the policeman in full riot gear roughly pulled out the contents of the bags, revealing just clothes, nothing else.


French authorities claimed that 7,500 beds had been made available, that a simple registration procedure would see people onto buses to transport them to three CAOs across the country, or possibly detention centers. Three different lines for single men, families, and minors, marked out by pictograms. This registration would take place on October 24 and 25, with the demolishment of the camp scheduled for the 25th.

woman-protestThis information had been made available far too late to be translated and transmitted to the many languages and residents of the Jungle, meaning that Monday morning began with an overwhelming sense of chaos, disorganization and misinformation that would come to characterize the following days. Scarce scraps of information were filtered down through various organizations on the ground and painstakingly analyzed by everyone, volunteers and refugees alike, in an attempt to understand what was happening.

As Clouchard states, “misinformation is to democracy what propaganda agencies are to totalitarian states”. In the context of this eviction the lack of information felt like not just an organizational slip-up, but a deliberate attempt to misinform and mislead people. In the confusion that ensued, people were unable to take balanced, well-informed and empowered decision about their futures; instead, they were herded onto buses that they didn’t even know the destination of.

At one point, volunteers tried to hand out maps, to enable refugees to decide between the three locations that were supposed to be on offer to them. Officials shouted back, “this is not allowed, people don’t have a choice, don’t give them a map!”


calais-police-registration-linesWith a heavy media and police presence the mood was subdued and access was restricted to accredited media (500 people) and a handful of volunteer organizations. Inside, people packed up their homes and belongings in the cold, gray morning light and headed towards the police lines for registration. The long line of unaccompanied minors waited for their futures to be determined by one woman peering into their face for about 30 seconds to decide if they were under 18.

Inside the Jungle however, far from the complete chaos which everyone had been expecting, there were pockets of relative normality as those who did not want to take the buses busied themselves with their daily lives, cooking lunch for their children, playing guitar.

As for the official demolition, the police cordoned off a tiny section of the camp and invited journalists to watch as they carefully dismantled it. When the real demolition began the following day all access to the high look-out point in the camp was restricted to journalists, where they would have been able to see the bulldozers and cranes destroying houses, and countless fires breaking out across the camp.

jungle-house-on-fireOne of the most noticeable homes on fire was a beautifully constructed two-story building complete with a terrace. The inhabitants had set the house on fire themselves as a symbol of protest; they did not want their home and their memories to be destroyed at the hands of the police. As the smoke climbed into the sky, they laughed and reminisced about their past years in the Jungle. Only three people of a community of more than twenty were left, everybody else had already left, to Paris, to flats in Calais; not a single one was planning on taking the bus.

In the midst of this dehumanizing chaos there were several moments of resistance like this where people, for a brief moment at least, were able to take control of their situation and express discontent. Faced with extreme police repression and no individual rights, these actions were incredibly powerful. Individuals carried flags of their home nations up and down the line of policemen who stood stoic and expressionless in their riot gear. The women of the camp, so infrequently visible that their presence has even at times been doubted, organized themselves and protested against their treatment, calling out for “safety and dignity for all women! Underage, overage, we’re all the same! In [camps in] Paris we sleep on the streets!”


At about 3am on Wednesday morning a huge fire started, burning all the homes and possessions left behind. A fire which quickly spread out of control throughout the camp and razed it to the ground, leaving the high street looking like a devastated ghost town.

Later, the registration area quickly descended into chaos as people were told that the last buses were leaving that afternoon. The line for minors closed early and hundreds were told to come back the next day. In the midst of this chaos and confusion the destruction of the camp continued in full force as the bulldozers and cranes moved in.

jungle-burning-scene“It’s exactly like the scenes we have run away from, it’s just like watching our homes being burnt by the rebel forces” gasped one young man from Sudan as he gazed upon the desolation and destruction before him.

After the last buses departed, the French authorities and some media outlets reported that the camp had been cleared and the eviction was a success, ignoring the hundreds left behind. Having been turned away by the authorities for the third day running, children were ordered back into a Jungle which by this time had become an apocalyptic scene of burning buildings, toxic smoke, exploding gas canisters. They had nowhere else to go but the streets, with no information about what options are open to them, if any.

This eviction may have been dressed up as a “humanitarian effort” but the blatant contradictions between the official line of events and the reality on the ground reveals gaping fault-lines in Europe’s refugee policies. With unaccompanied minors left sleeping on the street, then by no stretch of the imagination has this been a successful operation. Rather, this is nothing but a complete failure on behalf of the authorities who are responsible for their protection. If the eviction was planned with the best interests of the Jungle residents in mind, then it would have worked out in a different way.

There has been a refugee camp in Calais since the early 1990s, and after each eviction people have returned to rebuild. Long term residents of the Jungle believe that there is nothing that the authorities can do to stop people coming and trying to reach the UK; they are confident that before long, small camps will spring up again, but without the facilities and systems of mutual cooperation and aid that people have built in the Jungle their survival will be even more precarious.

In lie of a poem I’ll give you (more theft) Izzy Tomico Ellis‘s most recent thoughts:

My heart, my prayers, my everything with those forced from the place they made a home: ‘The Jungle’, where a heart beat so strong conquered the evils that tried to strangle it.

Every can of tear gas, was matched by thousands of meals prepared with kindness, hugs shared in bitter cold, chats over fires set by French authorities.

Our brothers and sisters here have endured unimaginable torture, of the mind and the body. They have been beaten by thuggish police and fascists and their minds driven crazy by horrific governments.

Having bore witness to the last demolition, it is with tears in my eyes and a stomach full of worry I think of the days to come; the fire, the teargas, the arrests, the heartbreak – total terror.

This is on top of what these people fled; 1000 minors among them, once again bracing themselves for the unknown.

During the last demolition, a Syrian friend said to me, watching French police hurl teargas at us while we sat amongst friends playing cards as the authorities set fire to their homes:

”Here is not jungle, outside is jungle.”

There are no words more fitting to describe this camp. Humanity prevailed, amongst mud and desperation there was always a helping hand, a kind ear and a friend to be had.

Outside is bloated by capitalism, greed, selfishness and ignorance. The people of the jungle and many other refugee camps are the strongest among us; the name was coined by the people living there in reference to how they felt they were treated like animals.

It’s true, they are.

Yet, still they managed to retain a humanity, a purity, a strength I have only encountered in other refugee camps.

I love you, residents of the Jungle, I wish you the best of luck, the strongest of hearts – you’re the best of us.

My own heart breaks for your seemingly endless pain but simultaneous resilience, courage and love.

I am so incredibly sorry.

Heart, heart, heart – yours are golden, your camps will never be forgotten; those of governments and people intent on causing you pain is blackened with evil.


To continue improving my Arabic (and my promotion of Fairouz): I thoughtI’d give you her song about the misery of waiting in the rain for a lover who’s abandoned you. I hope you find it educational.

Where am I?

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