Thursday, December 01, 2016

A month on, what am I thinking..?

I'm sitting in a meeting understanding very little, seeing mainly smiling faces which laugh in the way that people do to an in-joke. I wonder if I'm feeling a little of the disorientation that a refuge feels when people are talking about them rather than to them, when they are trying to navigate their way through an alien landscape. Most are talking about the issue from their viewpoint and in the interests of the organisation they represent. And now my translator has abandoned me to make a phone call!

It's strange a month on from the demolitions - this week the twenty-eight day cooling off time is up for the residents shipped to CAOs. I'm trying to gather my thoughts. I have wanted to sit and write to get some reflections down but I wonder if everything is still quite raw. I feel as though my mind is a dam behind which a lake of emotions is rising. Once the dam is breached I have no idea what will come out.

When people ask me about the jungle - often expecting me to say that there's nothing to do now, so I'm not going to Calais anymore - I can feel a river of information like a pent-up flood that will be released as soon as I begin speaking. I find myself having to check my sentences so that I give space for others in the conversation to tell me and the rest what they've been doing. But once I start, it's hard to stop.

I want to talk about the government and how woeful its response has been; I want to talk about the people I don't see anymore because they're scattered across France (and the pain I feel about that); I want to talk about my friends who are in the UK and who I don't see enough. I want to talk about the people I've met and how I've seen Jesus in their eyes and actions. I don't want to talk people into submission or drive them away because they don't know what to do with the feelings that I'm offloading on to them.

So I say I'm still going because of the house (I'm one of the managers of the association that runs the Catholic worker house in Calais). As a follow-up, I say that there are still three refugees in the house who have various medical needs, that we are hoping they will be moving on to the next stage of their journey very soon, into a place where their needs will be more fully met. There were five but one has gone to Paris, the other made it to the UK earlier this week; both need mental health support.

But I can't leave it there. Suddenly I'm railing against the inertia of a system that is only now - only when the twenty-eight day window has closed - beginning to assess people. Suddenly I'm asking in a voice being overcome with pain why the home office hasn't seen any of the kids we were working with who have a claim to go to the UK to be reunited with family, why no Dubs children have left France for the past month, why we think this is an acceptable way to treat people. But, of course, no one in the conversation thinks this is an acceptable way to treat anyone - let alone a vulnerable child refugee. And of course, few know what a Dubs child is or how the Dublin treaty works and they are not sure they should ask me for definitions at this point!

So, I stop. I ask how they are and what they've been up to. But they are looking for someone easier to catch up with.

I find myself asking (myself) if I've become too political, too absorbed in this issue that is complex and overwhelming and leaves so many feeling powerless. I wonder if they are a bit in awe at what I've done over the past year, feeling that they don't know how to engage me on it, what questions to ask. I wonder if I've come across as too bolshy, like a demonstrator ranting at the police for want of making my case to an authority figure who could actually make a difference.

Calmer now, I tell my friends that I've been to see my MP, raised some specific cases with him, urged him to urge the Home Secretary to pull her finger out. I do this in answer to the question I get asked more and more: 'what can we do?' My answer is always 'write to your MP, try to meet them, make a noise, sign a petition.' It's safe but I wonder whether it does any good. I feel I ought to be saying that they should be ripping up paving stones launching them at lines of riot police... I feel the heat rising.

Of course, I don't think that. I believe that we need to raise the issue peacefully, move to learn the way of non-violent resistance to power, find ways of adopting the techniques of civil disobedience to bring the traffic to a standstill and inconvenience the government into pulling its finger out (without, of course, making life harder for the government's many victims over here). I find myself so far out of my comfort zone, I begin to stop talking. Where's Arthur when you need him? A reference to a wonderful volunteer who always talked about mobilising along these lines!

So now I'm asking how I can gather my thoughts and reflections on this year. What can I write? And suddenly I'm mute. I'm back in that place of feeling a dam solidly stopping the flow of thoughts and feelings from spilling onto the page. 

So I wait.

I know, however, that the thoughts won't appear until I sit in front of the keyboard with a blank screen and a free day.

So I wait.