CUSTOMS AND COMPANIONSHIP / by Jess Linton

CALAIS
 

On Thursday morning we visited the inpatient hospital in the Calais camp for a series of moving and gentle encounters with a small group sitting outside in the wind and sun, made up of both inpatients and friends come to visit. These regular visits are much appreciated on both sides, and there was a lot of getting up for others to sit down and looking out for each other across ethnic groups.

An Afghani man we do not know felt able to show us a series of stab wounds across his body, caused after he'd intervened to break up a fight in the camp; and how he feels safe in the hospital area and intends to claim asylum in France but settle elsewhere, away from the dangers of the camp. The Sudanese teacher we have got to know well over the months joined us this time in a wheelchair, accepting the supply of art materials we'd brought for him as a gift to share with others.

The Medecins du Monde tent was busy all afternoon with about 35 people coming and going, but again in a gentle companionable way with the table laid out with pared down materials of paper, tracing paper, postcards and pens across the map surface, and the usual kite-making to the side of the tent.

At a table placed in the channel area, three members of the Sudanese group that had made t-shirts a few weeks ago returned to get on with their project. They carefully and methodically set about stencilling their emblem onto cotton bags, getting ready for a dance celebration for Eid in mid September. They worked with commitment and immense courtesy, offering four bags as a gift to us while the other four would hold ceremonial objects and fruit. 

In the evening we ourselves searched the landscape for discarded objects - from current residents and past histories - to take back as a resource for the tent on Friday. Serendipitously, we discovered a line of found objects that the neighbouring Sudanese residents had themselves gathered, painted blue and placed in a line in the sand. 

On Friday morning we led a short training session for Medecins du Monde volunteers focused on found objects as a medium to work with. Interestingly all chose objects that referenced both the violence and hope that is present in the camp. These objects were spread across a table as a backdrop throughout the afternoon - an underbelly of the camp present in the space. 

Throughout the afternoon there was once again the gentle comings and goings of people which spoke to us of community, the importance of habit and consistency, and the known as anchors particularly for some of the most vulnerable residents who return each week.

There were small and informal discussions on issues of freedom, education and politics, with favoured lectures and readings cited. It was also a good couple of days for good news stories with someone gaining asylum status in France and another enrolling for a university course in Lille. Proud moments, companionship, community. 

"If I trust myself I can change ideas inside me, and then I believe I can do something, and then we can do something. We need to face the problem, sit and talk and find a solution."

Anna Kälin, Sarah Robinson, Jess Linton