Monday, 24 October 2016

Calais diary, Oct 14 - False alarms

A school in the Jungle

A cap is being tested in the quality check of the Warehouse

It WASN'T the official date, October 24*. To think that it would be this hard to avoid falling for rumors!...

What had officially happened though, was that all restaurants and shops in the Jungle** had been given a written notice that they have to leave the area, or they will be demolished. Apparently this warning must be given at least 48 h in advance, which means that as from 2:30 pm today, the restaurants and shops could legally be demolished.

When it had almost turned 2:30 today, one of our volunteer leaders came in to us who were in the Belgium Kitchen (the community kitchen that serves free dinner to all the refugees every day, not to be confused with a restaurant) and said rather stressed that there were a great number of police cars on the bridge outside the Jungle and they had two water cannons with them, so it seemed they were going to start demolishing today and apparently they expected trouble. Therefore we had to interrupt our onion chopping and potato pealing and let ourselves be hurdled out from the Jungle, to spend the rest of the day at the Warehouse of l'Auberge.

In the minibus on the way to the Warehouse, I said:
"That was the last time we saw the Jungle as we know it", and felt intensely that I wanted to hug somebody and cry.

I spent the rest of the day sorting donations to be handed out to refugees. When the working day was over, I asked the person who had picked us from Belgium Kitchen if she had any news about what had happened after we left. She had. Nothing had happened... The second false alarm in two days, and I cannot do it!! There was some talk that there had been a demonstration for open borders planned for this day but that for some reason it hadn't happened, and that maybe that's why the police had mobilized, but what do I know... Maybe they just want to break us down? It's working pretty well, in that case...

My great, wonderful partner came and hugged me while passing by, and in his arms I felt how it burst. The crying broke out. Then he walked on, before I had time to communicate that I probably needed him a bit longer, so I ended up sitting in a chair hugging my backpack. After a while he came back and saw that I was sad, so he hugged me again, longer, and now I cried even more... Why, why, why are our societies so cruel? Why don't we remember our Geneva convention which states that people must be allowed asylum from war and persecution? Why can we only demolish and destroy, but not build up and welcome?

Because of course, even if there wasn't any demolition done today, it will still come. Mattias said that it would be a good strategy for them to take down the restaurants and shops first and use lots of force, so that they make an example, while also destroying some of the infrastructure of the camp. Both these things mean that both the inhabitants and the volunteers become less inclined to defend the Jungle later, when they come to demolish the actual accommodation tents. Another volunteer added later that it however was too early to take down the restaurants now. It's better 3-5 days before the eviction, so that people don't have time to reorganise and build up something again in between.

That is, the restaurants and shops will probably be demolished next week. Because there was after all some basis for this date, October 24. This is the date that a big shelter will open in Paris, and before this opens the government has no place to put the thousands of refugees, even those of them who want to apply for asylum in France.

I woke up screaming a few nights ago. I sat up straight and screamed in full panic, just like my 6-year-old back at home. I don't think I've had a single nightmare for 10-15 years, and screamed I haven't done since I was a kid. And hardly like this, even then. I dreamed that I was in the Jungle. I remember what I dreamed, but it was rather abstract. I did not dream about police or violence, rather of ghosts or aliens... But I certainly screamed. Yes, volunteering with refugees without the right to asylum, without the right to be reunited with their families, and nowadays often without shoes, warm clothes or blankets in the ever colder weather, is much, much harder than volunteering with the miserably poor people of Kenya. Sure, the people I worked with in Kenya were quite destitute, and many of them silently hated their lives and longed for a different one, but they were not desperate. And there were, after all, many things in their lives that they loved, and would have sorely missed had they actually made it away from there...

But nobody will ever say:
"Oh, how I miss my time of fleeing! Oh, how I miss not knowing where to go, not knowing where I could turn to so that I wouldn't be sent back to the war in Sudan or Afghanistan or some other place! Oh, how I miss the feeling of never being welcome anywhere! Of that my death would be a relief for them, ridding them of the burden of my life in their countries..."



**By now we know that the eviction in any case started on the 24th of October
*The Jungle = The informal settlement in Calais where thousands of refugees live in tents and home made shelters, many after having tried to go to the UK but failed




(To be continued)

Calais diary, Oct 13 - The official date



And so the official date has finally been given: On Oct 24 the Jungle* will be demolished, the people evicted. They fly their helicopters over us all the time, and the other day everybody who wanted to enter the Jungle had to show ID to them. They collected them, went into their police van and spoke on the phone a lot, and after quite a while had passed, they finally came out, called our names one by one so that we could have our IDs back and carry on. Though I managed to sneak past this ID check and got in anyway... They weren't too attentive...

The ID controls, the helicopters and all the rumors I could handle, but the official date has brought me down. I'm sad and hopeless. I know they're not bluffing now, since they have already demolished the Jungle twice before... Both times it rose again, right next to where it had been. What will happen this time? Because there is no plan! There is no alternative! Of course there problem is not that people are so very keen on living in wet tents in the rainy, windy, 0 degrees winter of Calais, that they do so, despite it being forbidden! The problem is that they can't get asylum anywhere, and therefore have to choose between a tent winter in Calais and something worse!... Their only hope of something better is to make it to the UK and live there illegally. Many even have the legal right to permanent residency in the UK, but don't receive their papers. Some have been granted asylum in France but lost their papers, or they were destroyed in the Jungle, and incredibly they had to start over!... Despite the authorities of course having taken their finger prints to be able to identify them, when they applied for asylum.
Hey, stop this! If you have a wound and think that's bothersome, don't try and rid yourself of it by knives, corrosive acid and force! Take care of it instead, and let it heal! Which it has the capacity within it to do, by itself, with only perhaps a bit of help with hygiene right in the beginning. Force, on the other hand, only makes damage worse!



*The Jungle = The informal settlement in Calais where thousands of refugees live in tents and home made shelters, many after having tried to go to the UK but failed




(To be continued)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Calais diary, Oct 12 - The second day

On the second day here, I went to the Warehouse of the British organisation l'Auberge des Migrants. They receive loads of donations, sort them, check them and hand them out to refugees if they are suitable, and if they are not, but still good, they sell them and use the money to help refugees. We signed a paper, and then we were insured while working with them. They had a little warm-up with us, and then a briefing of what we are doing and why. Everything was aimed to getting as high efficiency as possible in our work, so that as much as possible of our efforts and donations would actually go into a good use for the refugees. I especially enjoyed the advice on toilet paper:
"We've noticed that some volunteers use extra toilet paper to try and cover up what they've done in there. Ehm, we do know what you do in there, it's a toilet, and if you cover it up with paper it only means that they fill up faster so we have to go and empty them more often, and of course buy more toilet paper, and all this eats in to our time and resources."
It creates such a lovely relaxed feeling of community and normal, simple humanness when a beautiful girl with long, blond hair stands there talking like that!

But she also said more important things, like that we only hand out to refugees clothes that are flawless, that is they don't have any wholes, stains, missing buttons etc. This is because our gifts reflect how we think about them, and where they come from, torn clothes are not a fashion thing but a marker of poverty and despair. When later I was standing in the quality check station for clothes, I therefore sorted the best clothes for refugees, and those clothes that were a bit torn or broken but still cool and good-looking, for the charity shop, well aware that the volunteers would buy them and love them. Because for us, it's a choice. We CAN walk around in tuxedo and evening gown, if we really, really want to.

She also explained that we newcomers would not be sent into the Jungle*, the way things were now. In the normal case, some of us would be going there every day, and she said that she realized that it makes it more difficult to be working with the relatively hard physical labor that we are doing here, if we never get to see it for ourselves when the help reaches its destination, but the thing is that president Hollande has promised that the Jungle will be demolished, and since there is some kind of a law in France that nobody can be evicted from their homes in winter time, no matter how illegal this home might be, it will probably happen any day now, and the atmosphere in the Jungle is therefore very tensed and stressed. A number of thefts have suddenly occurred, cars have been looted and fights and arguments break out easily. Therefore nowadays only experienced members of l'Auberge go into the Jungle.

(We in Utopia are of course there daily anyway, picking trash.)

Then she still went through briefly what rules they had for those who did go into the Jungle, just to give us some understanding of how we work. Among other things, she said that the refugees' own organisations (the ones organised by the refugees) had requested that we female volunteers wear clothes that cover legs and upper body, including shoulders and chest. This was partly because they wanted us to be respected as guests in the camp, and not suffer any sexual harassment which might otherwise easily be the case, since bare shoulders, deep neck lines etc, symbolizes something else in several of the countries that many of the refugees come from. But also because if the atmosphere becomes sexual in daytime when we volunteers are there, the sexual assaults increase in nighttime, against mostly the women and children living in the camp, that is, the refugees themselves.

Another rule was that we must never take any refugee's picture in which they could be identified, because if one of those get out, it might jeopardize their asylum process later, and even if we don't have the intention of publishing the photo or hand it over to anybody, it makes people nervous and anxious and they have a rough enough situation already. There have also been a number of journalists here and they generally don't write nice things. The camp is not very popular around here...

I met a German volunteer, Carola, who said that we should focus more on the decisions that our leaders make, bring people's attention to them and thereby try to change them. So I told her how I had sent an e-mail to every single one of our green party MPs, after they had voted through the decision to almost completely close the door to refugees (with the support of the most right wing party Moderaterna and the racist party Sverigedemokraterna and nobody else) asking them how they could stay in a government that did that. How they could claim that it was better to stay and have an influence, after this. I wrote:
"WHAT then, are you going to do, in those two years remaining of the current period, that will have such an enormous impact that it balances up for what you just did?!"
She said:
"I guess nobody answered?"
But oh no, many answered. They answered things like accommodation, trains and green fuels... They just haven't realized that they made history with the decision of closing the borders. (At this point, several other international volunteers around us agreed and said that they had believed Sweden would be the final outpost, those who would never give up on humanism, the living example that an other way is possible that they always have been... and that when Sweden also failed, that's when they lost hope.) You can't make history with green fuels today. 20 years ago, yes, but not today. The same goes for accommodation and trains...

And anyway, who cares! Who cares if there is accommodation and trains! Who cares if the planet survives! What's the point of even being alive, of having societies with people and activities in them...... if this is what we do to people.

I met another volunteer who said:
"They're waisting a good 10 years of their lives, trying to find a home in countries that don't want them"
Mattias told me that he had met a person in the Jungle who was fluent in Swedish. You see, he had lived in Sweden for 9 years, before finally having received his final denial of his asylum application, after appeals, and been deported back to Afghanistan. Now he was in the Jungle to try and get into the UK instead, to live there illegally. No more asylum processes for him!

Another person that Mattias met had lived illegally in London for 6 years, working as a taxi driver, until one day he was caught and deported. Now he was back in the Jungle...

A 14 year old boy died on the highway the other day, run over by a truck, while trying to sneak onboard a truck to England. The driver took off. Maybe they never even noticed having hit anything. Maybe... no, I won't write that. The boy who died had a brother and two uncles in England, thus having the legal right to come and live there. He had started the legal process to do so, but after having heard how very long time that takes, he decided to still try and get there on his own. He was 14! He was marked by war and violence! He needed to be with his family, in a safe environment, to be able to heal and become a whole human being! Now he will be united with his family only in heaven...

How can we be this wasteful with human lives.


And how can we talk about green fuels, while this purely human made, politically constructed catastrophe is still going on?

*The Jungle = The informal settlement in Calais where thousands of refugees live in tents and home made shelters, many after having tried to go to the UK but failed





(To be continued)

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Calais diary, 11 Oct, part 2 - The first day

It was a small adventure just to get here. The train from Brussels was severely delayed, so I missed the last connecting train in Lille. Then the train company treated me to hotel with breakfast! It took them over one hour to set it up, and I was really tired and wanted to sleep, so that was a bit frustrating, but when I finally got my room, it was quite nice.

Because of this, I reached the Jungle the next day at 11:30, in the middle of the work day. The coordinator told me to go to the Jungle by bus, which I was just fine with, and she gave me an address. But nobody knew the address. On the other hand, everybody knew "The Jungle" ("Le Jungle")... although somehow it was as if the mood changed when I said it. And then it seems as if the driver intentionally let me off at the wrong stop! At least it was very far from the Jungle... Now one of the volunteers tried to send a car to pick me after all, but since I was no longer at the train station, they didn't find me. So I asked for directions and started walking instead. A guy I asked said it would be around 3 km maybe, and now that I check with the map, I can see that he came rather close with his estimation! (Almost 4 km) (I can also see that there are indeed bus stops much closer to the Jungle) But after having walked for a while, I asked a group of people again, to be on the safe side. One of the men, who was looking kind of rough-neck, hesitated a bit and then said in perfect working class English, to his mates in the car that he was standing by:
"What do you say, we take her there first and go get gas after?"
It turned out that they were English, who were there to make a documentary in the Jungle, and for the occasion had brought a tandem bike, as a means to make contact with people. They decided that they had time to take me, and one of them asked, kind of as a joke, if I preferred the car or the bike. But I definitely wanted to go on the bike! And so I through my bags, except my handbag and of course my money pouch underneath my clothes, into the trunk, and hopped up behind the Sudanese guy on the tandem bike. My first tandem ride! That I've always been so curious of, when I've seen one go by! On the rod, there was a camera attached, filming my feet. It was great fun!

We reached the Jungle, but the car had not arrived yet. Was I worried? Actually hardly at all! I had already found my kind, and recognized them. They wouldn't steal my bags from me. And sure enough, a few minutes later they showed up. They had just gotten a bit lost on the way.

And then, two Utopia volunteers came and escorted me into the Jungle, and so I had reached! :)



On the first day, I was picking trash in the Jungle. I handed over the two rolls of black garbage bags that I had bought in Brussels, and my young team leader Theo got really happy and cried out:
"Oh, super!" (in French)
One could have believed he had received a finer gift!

There were a few trash pits and trash hides, and there were a few cups and stuff lying around along the paths, but there were also a number of drums with trash bags in, or just a bag tied to a tent line or so, that were full of trash and that we took and exchanged for new bags. We were invited for tea at a make-shift tea house between the tents. We were strictly instructed never to be alone in the Jungle, and never to touch some blue cubes or little sachets with something blue in them, since that was rat poison and very dangerous. Often you would find blue cubes or sachets in the bottom of a trash pile... Where humans see trash, they throw more trash! A flock behavior, for the benefit of the flock. Unless there are bins, and people who pick trash.



*The Jungle = the informal settlement in Calais where thousands of refugees live, most after having failed to go to the UK



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Parts in this series:
Calais diary, Oct 6 - A journey begins
Calais diary, 11 Oct - Some reflections
Calais diary, 11 Oct, part 2 - The first day
Calais diary, Oct 12 - The second day


Calais diary, 11 Oct - Some reflections

Still feeling light and happy at heart. I'm surrounded by a warm, soft and loving bunch of friends and soul mates... It is wonderful.

I met a German yesterday, a bit older than most people here, 28 years, with dreads, who said that in a way she thinks that we who are here are passive. We try and clean up the rubble of what our governments destroy, but we should try and stop them from destroying it in the first place! But I said that I believed many here have done what I have: Tried to influence our governments and populations, but beaten ourselves bloody against the wall, given up and said to ourselves:
"Ok, enough of this. Now I'll just be cleaning up the rubble instead..."

On the other hand, we'll never give up. Because we can't, not until we give up our breath. And coming here, to this massive trail of rubble, that we all know exists but that we otherwise never see, except from a distance, and start cleaning up in the outskirts of it, is a way of gaining energy to keep fighting again afterwards. Because all who are here feel the same way! We may have different thoughts and opinions about stuff, but we feel the same way.



This is the real life. At home it's just pretending. You can go on living and fighting in the pretended life for a while, so long as you remember that there is a reality out there, outside of this bubble! And that that's what you're fighting for.



(To be continued)

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Calais diary, Oct 6 - A journey begins

Traveling is easy, so easy... Everything sorts itself out! It's fun too. You become alive... If I had to do it on horse back, I would still travel around the world.

But I don't, of course, I fly with Ryanair. There are no stables with the apartment I rent, just a parking lot. There are no rest stops for horses along the way, with fodder and water troughs, only gas stations. And no sailing ships to cross the oceans with... Hardly even ferries anymore... There are only airplanes. So I go by airplane. And ruin the planet. But look selfishly forwards to once again living the ancient human dream of being carried by the air, way above the clouds...



Perhaps it's deranged to be feeling this light and happy, when traveling to the deep despair in an illegal refugee camp... but I do. I do.


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Girls outside

This is a text I wrote on helgon.se in 2008.

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Girls outside

In the Muslim correspondence to Sunday school, in some country - I've forgotten which one - only boys sit in the class rooms. The girls sit outside, on the ground, and listen through the window. Education is not meant for girls, only for boys. But even girls need to grow up to become good, Muslim women, and even girls are of course taught to love God, and therefore they come to every class hour, take a seat outside the window, and listen when the boys are being educated.

Some of the things said in there are only applicable to boys. Then the girls can close their ears for a moment. But they have to be alert and open them again, when something is said that is applicable to them too, because there will be no signal to tell when they are included again. Since it isn't actually meant for them. When the male teacher says: “This you'll do good to remember”, they'll have to come to their own conclusion of whether what is said after that is something that applies to them, and that they will therefore do good to remember, or not.

And of course they can never ask any questions. And I wonder if the male teacher ever says anything that applies only to girls? If so, how does he frame it? He probably doesn't turn towards the window and says: “You girls will do good to remember...”. Probably he says: “Girls do good to remember...”, to the boys. As if it were very important for boys to know what girls need to remember! Outside the window, the girls sit and make a note to remember that thing, though nobody told them to. It was never said directly to them, but they know that they are expected to hear it, and to abide.


How unbearably derogatory! What a killer mental abuse to never be directly addressed in this way, but to still be expected to sit there and listen attentively! To sometimes have to realize that 'oh ok, this part actually wasn't meant for me FOR REAL, whereas they otherwise only express themselves as if it weren't meant for me, although it is'! What an awful, contemptuous way this country treats its female citizens in!...



...But are we really that much better? Is it all that different when we talk about businessmen, congressmen, Englishmen and cave men?... Some claim that these words include also women, but do they really? Does really the WORD include women, or is it just the thing it denotes that very well may include women? And it's up to the women themselves to figure out whether what is being said at the moment can be applied to them or not, without the rest of us (us men, whom the words are actually for) having to bother our busy heads with that? 'Sometimes the word applies only to men; the rest of the time we only express ourselves as if it did.'?

I once said to a man, who had just claimed that such words were totally gender neutral:
“Would anybody ever say: 'When a businessman becomes pregnant... what social welfare system applies to zim?' for example?”
Do you know what he replied?... He said:
“...It is very unusual that one would want to say such a phrase.”
Oh. Well I guess the problem is solved then. We never talk about when businessmen, middlemen, firemen or madmen become pregnant, take maternity leave, menstruate or have PMS at work or in treatment, or when they reach their menopause, and therefore it is totally fine that we also in future will never talk about these things, because it sounds so absurdly ridiculous with a bunch of fireman with PMS!... Most likely something inside us will stop us, before we even THINK such a phrase!...

A bit later this man however said that it was much better to say “member of congress” instead of “congressman”, in this particular discussion. For a brief second I felt a bit encouraged, thinking that this might be an opening. Until I learned that he didn't at all think that one EXPRESSION, in itself, was any better than the other. It was only in the discussion with ME that he preferred one over the other, so that I wouldn't have to be annoyed by this fictive problem, and instead could focus on the matter of discussion... Something which could have been achieved just as well by me coming to my senses, and just not getting annoyed by this to begin with... Just like the girls outside the Quran school classroom probably don't sit and get annoyed by the way things are. Nobody built the system to be bad, and it's better to give one's attention to the education, than to pettinesses, such as in what form it is given.

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For publishing the text here, I've been looking for a source of the girls outside the school window and didn't find any. I'm pretty sure we learned about them in school though... And in any case, here's a Wikipedia page that at least confirms that it's quite common (or at least has been) that girls are not formally enrolled in school, but attend anyway, informally: