“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the planet Earth’s only Christian-atheist blog! This series of “Practical Christianity” Posts is where Zingcreed pays tribute to those few believers who actually try to live their lives like Jesus lived his. Its former title was “Now that’s what I call Practical Christianity” but that was too long.
When my Belgian friend Johannes, or Broeder Johannes Maertens to give him his full name and title, left the London Catholic Worker house near to where I live, I didn’t expect to see him again. Well, I have just met him again (we had a most interesting discussion about the Liturgical Movement.) This is his account of what happened next in his life. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.
“The jungle is finished but our work goes on”
by Johannes Maertens
Often people ask me how I feel now the jungle has gone and especially how it felt to experience the demolition from so close by again. The answer is that my heart is saddened by the way it all happened: the people I worked with for months have forcibly been moved, a community I belonged to is now no longer. So, all our volunteers and those of our partner Caritas and many others feel sad and angry.
“I am sad and heartbroken not because of the jungle, the jungle is only dust, but because of the people who are broken, because the dust in our souls and eyes. because I love I am heartbroken, but I will always love, as this you will never steal from me.” – A volunteer, 28/10/2016
The demolition happened in about 5 days. about 10,000 people were moved in less than a week to all corners of France. In coaches, they didn’t know where they were being taken, or how long they would be able to stay at these centre and what their legal status would be. The authorities have always communicated vaguely and at the very last moment. People, the ones who have our numbers, are now calling from Marseilles, Vienne, Toulouse, Strasbourg to Langres to let us know how it is.
I am worried about my friend Amaniel who is 16 and waiting to join his sister in the UK. He is now in a centre in the South of France. Or Yamanjé, 16, who had hoped to be on a bus to London by now but who is now in Langres instead. These youngsters are now travelling alone without family or friends.
I had met them in the orthodox church in the jungle and f followed them closely because of their vulnerability. We stay in contact with Amaniel and his sister in the UK and with Yamanjé.
I am worried about Mohammed, an isolated young Sudanese man with serious mental health issues, who lived in the jungle for 8 months. He lost control over his life after losing his young wife while travelling through the Libyan desert. He stepped on a coach with the help of an Eritrean man who took care of him. I couldn’t walk through the camp without Mohammed running up to me, shouting either in joy or anger ‘babba, babba, babba’. He could be so annoying sometimes, taking up all the attention at the wrong moment and scaring people off. But I learned to love him and to put my fears aside. What will happen to him? Will they understand he has mental health problems, psychological pain and not anger?
I am worried for Titi, one of the Eritrean women who used to pray at our house. She called in tears, saying that she didn’t know where the coach was taking her and she had already been on the coach for more than 12 hours. She also ended up somewhere the Spanish border. After everything refugees have been through that is how we now treat them.
In the last months so many people have passed through our house. So many volunteers and students joined us and we had the privilege of being part of so many peoples’ lives, learned from their cultures, customs and languages. The Jungle was a place of destitution, pain and violence but also of community, hospitality and friendship. It was one of the few places in the world I knew where Afghans, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Muslims and Christians lived together, formed community and faced all the challenges this posed.
“It takes a lot of resources to welcome somebody with food and tea. Water needs to be heated on little wood fires, there are wood shortages in the jungle. Volunteers bring it in and distribute it. Making a little fire, bringing the water to the boil, washing the cups with hot water. First the guests are served and when there is enough and there are enough cups the hosts take for themselves. Hospitality in the jungle in all the communities is a big thing. To share what you have with the stranger.” (17 October 2016)
From the very beginning our house focused on the most vulnerable refugees and migrants. In practice that meant that most people coming in to the house had health problems, exhaustion or stress. People came to us from the city or the Jungle hospitals. In a way our house evolved into a sort of hospice. Weekly visits to the refugees in the hospital became part of our work, and transport to and from the hospital.
The Jungle hospital packed up on Friday and emptied its ‘container modules’, the refugees were placed in other centres. ‘Oh, wait, what about Mamoot,’ the nurses must have panicked. It seems the authorities had forgotten about him. Mamoot (from Egypt) is now in our house, he is a young man recovering from bone cancer legally in this country. He will be staying with us until his next admission to hospital in two weeks. And what about Email from Afghanistan who has a broken jaw and stays with us until local government finds him accommodation?
Our house has six guests for the moment, with health or vulnerability issues. There are more refugees coming from hospital who have nowhere to go. The work continues.
Refugees and migrants have been coming to Calais since 1998, since the war in Kosovo. Refugees have lived in squatted houses, beach huts, in bushes, in the dunes and in several jungles. As long as Calais is the main geographical and logistic connection between France and the UK, refugees and migrants will continue to come. And hopefully our work will continue to serve the most vulnerable of God’s children here in Calais.
Often I have met God in the Jungle, in the walking and talking with refugees, in sitting together in silence because we have no language in common, just enjoying a cup of tea, in the joy and the pain of what happens. In these peoples’ lives my relationship with God has deepened and changed me. I now understand for myself more what it means to meet Christ in the stranger.
In the following weeks we will see how we can start working again in Calais with new arrivals refugees and migrants. No, the work isn’t finished but it will change. While in thee Jungle refugees could come to us, now we have to find the refugees ourselves, taking our services to them.
Caritas ( Secours Catholique Calais), Auberge des Migrants, Salam, Medicin du Monde and our house Maria Skobtsova will keep on working in Calais and surroundings. We still will need your prayer and support.
(Maria Skobtsova was a revolutionary turned nun.)
The London Catholic Worker #53 Winter 2016 p.6
TO BE FINISHED SOON