Twenty-four

An unaccompanied minor…no wait, people are bored of hearing that terminology…a teenage boy…yes, a genuine, thirteen year-old teenage boy, barely a teenager really, but wise beyond his years…a teenage boy draws lines in the sand with a broken nail, mapping out his journey. Detained here. Sent back home in a cage from here. A cage. His uncle died here. Belgrade was good. The police in Calais are good. All they do here is teargas you, 30 minutes later the pain is gone. Much better than other police in Europe.

Twenty-four, eh. Mid-twenties. A time for reflection on the year past. Hope you’re doing something fun for your birthday! Well, yeah. Spent it asking men sleeping rough if they want tents for winter. Yes, of course. But are you aware that it might make you a target for the police? It’s fine, the police destroy our stuff regardless… Maybe wait till it’s even colder.

We just don’t want someone to die, and for us not to have tried to prevent it.

I did spend the evening surrounded by wonderful people who made me cake and plied me with wine, though, and it was rather perfect.

Some year though. Are you happier than you were this time last year? Hell, yes. Weirdly.

Nine months since I arrived in Calais, for a week. Full of enthusiasm. Idealism. Putting my money where my mouth was, or indeed where my tweets were.

Everything in between. Not even going to begin to summarise everything. Maybe I’ll do that once it’s been a year. Might aswell do a year at this stage. See it through the long, cold winter ahead.

Nine months on. Driving around Calais at 5am, trying to spot human rights abuses, just missing them, taking testimonies, gathering information that will solve nothing now but when people look back on this time with the benefit of hindsight there will be proof that something was attempted to be done. Learning about the asylum process in the UK – gone are the days of celebrating if somebody makes it across, replaced with trying to help them navigate an utterly inept and broken system. People don’t want to hear how hard it is. Hope is all that keeps people going. I guess it’s what keeps the volunteers going, too.

And next?

Pick up bits and bobs of a language – Arabic, Pashto, improve my French. I can currently count to six in Pashto because of numerous games of dominos and I only really speak French in Lidl, but it’s a start.* Volunteer elsewhere, if it’s useful. Get some sun. Help people through the asylum process in Glasgow. Dip back and forth to Calais. Attempt to use that bloody Marketing Masters for good. Do I need a plan?

Does anyone really have a plan?

*Aaaaand speaking of Lidl… Sometimes, often really, you can normalise the police violence and the stories you hear. It’s constant. It’s daily life. Coping mechanism as old as time. But at other times…well, I’ll just write what I see. A security guard pushes a refugee into a side room of Lidl, accusing him of trying to shoplift. It doesn’t matter if he was or wasn’t. Would be prepared to bet that he wasn’t. I have money. I HAVE MONEY. He then marches him to the front of the queue, in a packed shop, demands that he pays there and then. The cashier handles his money, the security guard holds his shoulders. Once the kid has paid, they both sanitise their precious little hands.

Anyway…

Twenty-four.

May you be as fulfilling and purposeful as twenty-three. And full of inspiring humans. And strong cups of tea.

 

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