A Visit To Calais.

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Photographer Cassy Paris collected money to purchase sanitary products for women in the Calais camp. She posted the following account on social media.

 

“I think that the running theme that seems to come out of a visit to Calais’ sprawling new jungle migrant camp is that its a place that verges on being inexplicable in words alone.

I consider myself to be a really strong person emotionally and yet my very short visit there to drop off the provisions that many of you kindly paid for has shaken my understanding of myself to its very core.

I consider myself to be compassionate, I am not compassionate enough.

I consider myself to be informed, I am not informed enough.

I believe that I see everyone as equal, I realise it is not enough to just “believe” this. I think I question everything I read in the media, I now know that I don’t even come close. I always thought that my values rested firmly in equality. I know now that my version of equality is completely wrapped up in my own little bubble of experience. I have proudly called myself fearless, yet I am yet to truly know what fear is. I don’t think of myself as materialistic, yet the safety of my expensive car was predominant in my thoughts as I drove down the dirt road of Chemis Des Dunes. I thought I was fairly worldy, yet I met people who had fled from countries that I didn’t know existed to escape genocides that I didn’t know were happening. I thought so much and one by one my misconceptions and my pre conceived ideas got knocked down like toy soldiers.

I want to thank every single person who so willingly gave me money so that I could drive over to drop sanitary provisions to the women who are in need. I don’t want any of you to think it wasn’t worth it, it was worth it, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful but I do not want or expect thanks from people who are there, they should not have to thank their equal who has so much more when they were not to blame for what has happened in their countries.

Where a person is born is nothing but circumstance, luck, a roll of the dice. For the first time in my life I truly know that we could be them and they could be us, it isn’t like watching band aid or children in need. Its a car crash of realisation that has left me feeling constantly nauseous at my own egocentric motivations and beliefs.

The 3 year old Sudanese girl with the big smile standing in a pile of rubbish who was hungry dirty and cold who still managed a massive grin at me. She could have been my daughter, how did she get here from Sudan? Why did they leave? How many of their friends and family died on the way? I watch video footage of little childrens bodies bobbing in the water and I no longer feel like Im watching something that happened to someone else, with that air of removal from it. For a long time I have chosen not to watch the news because it makes me so sad. I realise how laughable it is as I write that, I chose to stay UNINFORMED because my lack of ACTION about something made me feel uncomfortable.

The sweet and seriously funny man from Kosovo who told managed to giggle with me as he hobbled around on ill fitted crutches typing his name into my phone so I could see how smart he is on his Facebook photographs before all of this happened, with his plastered leg over oil cans, rusty metal, wood, half a shopping trolly. He had nothing but positive things to say about everyone, the doctors at the hospital, the people from the UK, somewhere he called home for over 10 years before he got deported back to somewhere he can no longer build a life.The only time he didn’t smile was when he talked of his friend who got electrocuted and died jumping on the train. “He was so desperate he didn’t think, you have to think first” as he drew me a map in the sand of the Eurotunnels stop points.

The man from Muaritania who gently stroked his chicken by his feet as he wearily told me he had been here 4 months. I foolishly asked why he wanted to come to England. “England, no, no, not to England, France is my home now.” Misconception after misconception after pre conceived media fed bullshit slowly tumbling away in my mind. He showed me his art work, which was not only insanely good but paints a story that no one should ever have to paint. The words on the reclaimed blackboard out his home, by far the most creative and inviting home on the camp simply read in French “ Here sells the vaccine for Racism”

The man from Pakistan who offered me the last of his tea from a battered plastic bottle. The man who asked me to help me get his phone back from the police station so that he could call his family The girl with the pretty headscarf but no shoes. The endless endless endless puddles. The sand underneath my feet of a camp build on dunes and wasteland. The fences, the miles and miles and miles of fences.

You can’t refer to them as “the migrants” as that suggests that they are all the same. As you walk through the camp it is evident that you are walking through different countries, Sudan and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, and on and on and on. The lines are blurred, people have made shops where the smell of amazing food cooked on waste wood fires is sold, but to who and with what money….. Coca cola has found its seedy way into the camp and its blistering red cans are a stark contrast to the bare feet sticking out of the tent made of bin liners. The lack of infrastructure is insane. I wish with all of my heart that I had taken a pitch fork. If I had had a pitch fork I could have spent a few hours putting holes in the ground to drain the puddles. The one bag of rubbish that I took to the skip at the far end of the camp angered a tag team of wasps as I threw it in amoungst a putrid smell. Yeah its all a story that we have heard before, but its not a normal slum. Normally slums are not full of Law Graduates,teachers, people who owned their homes, children who look at a colouring pencil offered as a present by a well meaning woman from middle England on a “mercy mission” as they adjust to life threatening poverty. She got an article in the evening gazette, at the very best they got some media coverage that doesn’t describe them as a swarm.

I nearly wet myself because I didn’t want to use the makeshift toilets there, yet only an hour before I had turned my nose up at my shitty hotel. I am so insanely spoilt.

As I drove to the Eurotunnel I waved at every person making their way to the fences. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph them, just wished with all my heart they make it.

I don’t even know what to write, it all sounds so false and accusing. I don’t mean it that way at all. I just think I realised that I always focused on them trying to get into England and I never gave all that much consideration as to how horrific their lives must have been to have got on a boat to try and escape, and yet the lucky ones are treated as criminals. They are fleeing genital mutilation, religious “cleansing”, unimaginable poverty, slavery, civil war, rape, murder, kidnapping….. but of course, it was all for the £35 a week benefit they “might” get if they don’t die on their way here.

My car wasn’t touched by the way, it sat on the side of the slum all day, shining away. I had it washed by a migrant in luton the day before. I didn’t do enough, I don’t want anyone to tell me I am brave or amazing or selfless, I am cowardly and shallow and selfish. Im just so ashamed of my country and myself and I can honestly say that I will never be the same person. Thank you all for allowing me the funds to go over and get the insight that I now have. [Take a] look at the few photographs that I felt comfortable enough to take.

P.s The man at customs who decided to make my life hell on the way back, Fuck you. P.p.s. David Cameron, you just donated 10 million pounds to help keep some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to meet out of our country. That makes you the most despicable man I am aware of, I don’t know how you sleep at night, that money could have saved so many lives you spineless rich twat.”

You can visit Cassy’s photography page here and her original post with a gallery from the camp here.

You can support Irish collections for refugees here.

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