Trailer park life
Tuesday, 31 January 2017
I'm sat in pajamas, it's 2.30 in the afternoon, and I have the trailer to myself, total bliss.
So I haven't done the blog in a couple of days due to them being pretty hectic. Quite a bit has gone on. Did my second shift leading food service, and nailed it. We had a split pea daal, with roasted butternut squash, and cashew rice. It went down a storm in both the warehouse and on camp, with all 600 portions eaten up. Cooking for that many, in only a few pots is pretty daunting. We measure spices by eye, and instead of pinch of this, teaspoon of that, it's half bucket of this and fistfuls of that, there is a constant worry about putting in too much of one thing, and ruining lunch for 100's. So nailing the spices, and getting it right good. It was pretty tasty, though I'm already growing weary of curry and pulses.
I've moved out of Sylvies, which is a shame, but i'm now living with the rest of the long term volunteers here in what can only be described as an exact replica of the park from Trailer Park Boys. Comforts are few and far between, so there is a constant flow of people going between each others caravans in search of a working shower/toilet/kettle/knife etc etc. Our caravan seems to be the worst of them all. The plumbing doesn't work, so no loo, shower, or sink, which means either a trip to the other side of the park, or look for a caravan closer to use. It's so rubbish it goes beyond annoying, and is just ridiculous. Still our heater works, there is ok wi-fi, and I'm not sleeping in a shed, or outside like the folks down the road. In short, it'll do.
I'm staying with 3 guys, Leo, Alex and Josh, though Josh is leaving tomorrow to head down to a camp in Serbia, via another camp in the Alps where a farmer has opened up his land and barn and has a few hundred people living there, but it's swelling by the day and they need help. One thing that amazes me is the turnover of people, some because they come for a week where they can, but also many who have adopted this as a lifestyle. They just up and go where they are needed, be that a 22 hour drive to Serbia, or Greece, or even just back to the UK to earn some money for a week before heading back out. They exist in this traveler bubble, and network, they decide one evening that there is a lift going the next day to wherever, then the next morning they are gone. Our kitchen team seems slightly more stable than some of the other teams though, which is nice. It's a mixed bag of people from all walks of life, including grandmothers, anarchists, business owners, students, oh and hippies, plenty of goddamn hippies. Actually the one's here are pretty lovely, I think because they are actively doing something good, they are less likely to preach about good things they do, they just get on and muck in.
I haven't had much news from camp, the weather has been pretty grim though, lot's of freezing fog and rain, so I imagine it's not much fun right now, well it's not much fun at any point really, but I'm guessing it's even harder at the moment. I'm going back in on Thursday, seems like so long ago that I was last there, but i'm really looking forward to it. It will be doing hot food service, which will be nice as the curry we will be serving will be the one I make on Wednesday, so I will be able to see how well it goes down and get some feedback. The kitchen is really good at getting feedback and using it, Ugo's rice technique came from an Afghan chef in camp, and we have signs on the wall telling us what each of the cultures we are cooking for like and don't like. For example the Iraqis have very different tastes to the Afghans, who have very different tastes to the Eritrea boys. We try and make sure that we cater for each culture as often as possible, which throws an interesting twist when coming up with the menu.
Going to sign off. I have a film to watch, and a stew to cook this afternoon, plus probably another nap.
Sunday, 29 January 2017
Hi, if you're here you probably just saw my share on Facebook. Hope you enjoy the blog, and feel free to leave comments so that doesn't feel like I'm writing it to thin air. The full week is covered if you hit older posts down the bottom of the page.
And as always feel free to chuck some money to the cause you can right here
Hope you enjoy the read.
Saturday, 28 January 2017
I did my first solo service today running the kitchen. By solo I totally mean team effort, with many people involved, but it was a menu I put together and executed. It's was terrifying! Back home if I mess up a dish, my boss gets angry, I probably get sworn at, but ultimately I've just messed up a small amount food for one person. Here if I mess it up, it's 600 people's worth of food, 600 people who might only eat this one thing today. Luckily it came off good. We did a chicken curry main, with potato, mustard seeds, chicken, mint and preserved lemon, with a chicken skin crisp and a tomato and onion rice. It was well received both at the warehouse and the camp, so I'm pretty happy to have to got over that first daunting challenge.
After work today we had a pretty serious meeting about a few things. The biggest is safety when in camp. I talked yesterday about the mafia, and rape etc, and how there can be real danger, well today there have been some new guidelines implemented to ensure volunteer safety, which is really good. The guys who run the kitchen are really on it with regards to things like this, and that's heartening, but there's always that little niggling thought in the back of your mind saying 'what if something happened to a friend of mine'. Still fingers crossed it won't!
OK, onto much happier things. There was a good mood around the warehouse today as news of a refugee who was well liked and had helped RCK setup in camp, had made it to the UK unharmed. The refugees become friends with us pretty quickly, so you worry about them getting hurt trying to get into the country. A young guy was killed in the motorway just last week trying to make the crossing, sadly this is all too common, so when someone people know makes it unharmed it's a big deal, and really lifts spirits.
Last night was my last night in the guesthouse with the Vicente family. I'm going to really miss them all, but I think I'm going to head back and have dinner with them in the next week or two. Sylvie is amazing, and inspirational! She does so much work helping the refugees who want to settle in France, get setup. She loves and cares for so many of them that she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. If this was 80 years ago I can see her being high up in the French resistance, helping smuggle Jews out of the country or helping allied spies, cest formidable! Oscar is a pretty damn cool kid, he's 11 and properly into graffiti, I spent quite a while showing him photos of graf in Bristol, and Sylvie is going to take him to Upfest (a graf festival in bristol) maybe later in the year, I hope she does and I can maybe show them around Briz. Celeste has been so much fun to hang out with, neither of us really speak each others language, but we play top trumps, uno, or with her hoverboard and have lots of fun, maybe it's because we have the same mental age, 8. They have all been so welcoming and it's made my first week here a really smooth transition. I'm going to miss them all very much, but being on the campsite will be cheaper and mean I can stay longer, so it has to be done.
I don't have a kurdish word today, I'm trying not to cheat and use the internet, rather learning directly from the refugees, I will try again tomorrow.
Friday, 27 January 2017
I mean it was a standard 8.30 till 7.30 day, but it felt long as hell.
It started with finishing off the days curry ready for the lunch service. It was a red curry with tomato, fenugreek, and kidney beans, it came out well and had a nice smokey flavour about it.
After lunch we started work on my curry for tomorrow, which was supposed to be a nice simple bombay aloo, with potatoes, onions, peas, spinach, finished with lemon juice, mint, and fresh corriander, then the chicken showed up....
So each element you add to the meal adds hours, and I mean hours of work, and prep time. You want onions at home, that can be done in 20 minutes, you want onions over here, it's 4 people chopping them for an hour, followed by 2 people constantly stirring them, and reducing them down for between 3 and 4 hours, normally me.
When some short dated chicken got donated there was an instant pang of happiness, because the refugees love it so much, followed by a bout a dread due to 70kg of supremes need to be prepped, roasted, and then pulled off the bone to be added to the curry. We were making really good time and on track for an early finish, but the addition of the chicken added a big load to the job, and as such the day became a lot longer and harder. Still I have a giant amount of chicken skin left over, and am going to make chicken skin crisps for the volunteers at lunch tomorrow. Who says I can't get a bit cheffy in refugee kitchen, aye? We were thinking of sending the chicken skin crisps into camp, but it makes big problems if there isn't enough to go around, in the past it's caused fights, and problems with the mafia in camp who would insist they got it, and might take it from others.
The mafia are a problem. Most of the refugees come from very difficult countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan, where all they have known is war. War breeds very hard people, and while vast majority having nothing to do with criminality, when you have 1000's of people caged in a camp, by police who don't like them, the gangs take over. They are mostly very friendly to the volunteers as they know that it we don't do our jobs, then they don't eat either, as they are trapped just like everyone else. However a fight almost kicked today when a guy pushed to the front, and was asked to wait in line. He may have been mafia, he may have just been someone that was desperate, I don't know.
The evening was really good fun, I mostly hung out with Celeste who is mad into unicorns! I downloaded a game on my phone that involved them, and we played that for a while whilst wearing her unicorn hat, then she tried to teach me how to use her hover-board. I wasn't very good, and ended up on the floor more than once, to screams of delight from her.
Todays Kurdish word: Mirisk, meaning Chicken, as in 'you want me to put HOW MUCH mirisk in the curry?'
Thursday, 26 January 2017
This morning started with a really good hip-hop playlist, and sorting out some rice pudding. It was nice, fairly chilled, and just got to play about stirring stuff for the first few hours. Then stuff started to get a bit tougher. Magdelaina, became quite ill after lunch, and wasn't able to stand up, feeling dizzy and being sick. In the end she went to the hospital as she hadn't been through this before. It turned out it was just a really sudden migraine that had swept in. The French hospital by all accounts was amazing, they even did a brain scan, and gave her a photo of her brain to take away as a souvenir, that's pretty cool! It did mean that me, and Ugo got backed up a bit, but we got through it. The flip side of her not being around this afternoon is that I'm not doing tomorrows food, to be served Saturday. We have some mint that needs using, so i'm going to do a kind of bombay aloo with potatoes, mint, peas and spinach, spiced with preserved lemons and chilli. I'm pretty excited that one of my dish inventions is going to feed around 500 people, best not mess it up!
This evening has been very chilled out. I played Adventure Time Top-Trumps with Celeste. She's only 8 so of course I wanted her to win, but being so sweet she didn't want me to lose, so kept picking low numbers when I got low on cards. What 8 year old does that! In the end I had to start pocketing the good cards when she wasn't looking so I could get round to having my dinner.
Diner is tartiflette, with some smoked ham and cornichons, it's almost ready and I'm really hungry.
I didn't do a kurdish word of the day yesterday as I was far to excited about Pammy, but I have one today, and actually a rude one. When I was in camp the other day I thought a refugee was asking for cous-cous, so I said cous-cous quite loudly to check as it not something we have there. I was told very quickly that this word is 'haram', meaning forbidden, as 'cous' means 'pussy', and in the rude way. So there you have it, want some pussy-pussy for dinner?
Now in a sentence: 'Donald Trump likes to grab them by the cous'
And on that note, I'm out.
Just realised I haven't talked about onions....
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Wow, never in my life did I think that I'd meet CJ from Baywatch! That girl on the poster on my bedroom wall when I was boy. She was absolutely my first crush and for as long as I can remember I've been a little bit in love with her.
I think it all comes from loving Saturday afternoons the most as a kid. Saturdays were great, I used get up really early so mum wouldn't see how much sugar I put on my cornflakes. Then I'd head to the living room and watch Trans-World Sport, followed by cartoons for hours. After that would be a day with friends/family, but it would normally end with Baywatch and the A-Team, possibly MacGuyver too. Mum used to joke about how much my dad enjoyed Baywatch, you can guess why.
She has donated $10,000 to L'Auberge and wanted to have a look at the situation in the area, that involved a trip to our little kitchen. She was very sweet, and let me get a photo, plus what star for the help, and making the bloody effort! The warehouse, and the camp aren't the prettiest of places.
Oh we cooked some food too. We finished off the yellow jungle chicken curry, and it went down really well, both in camp, and at the warehouse. Then we did lots of prep for tomorrows service, with is looking like butternut squash, and pan fried carrot curry!It's Magdalena's recipe, spiced with cinnamon, and cumin, it's already tasting really good.
Think tomorrow I'm back out in the free shop, in camp. I'm hoping to see Rebar, as he's no longer at the guesthouse. He was going to stay in France and apply for asylum here, but his family has very little money after ISIS burnt down their bakery. They had to pay the people smugglers to get him away, and now he has to work in order to get money back to them. In France no one will hire him, but in the UK he has contacts, and can go to work right away. His parents are both ill, and the area which they live in is dangerous, I can't imagine a worse situation to be in. He had been wanting to go the UK, but after many times trying and getting busted (this also means a trip to the detention center) he was going to try and stay in France. then the situation changed and again he needed to go where he could get work the fastest. Sylvie had taken him in from the camp for the last couple of days so he could get some time out, and really think what his best move is. For him that move is trying to get to a place where he can get work and send money home, unfortunately this means trying to get into trucks unnoticed, and make it past the cops/dogs etc. I hope he makes it, I really do! He's such a sweet kid, and he's just doing what he can to try, and support his family who through no fault of their own are in danger. I'd hire him in a second!
So that got a bit heavy. Let's end on a lighter note.......
Pamela f**king Anderson!!
Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Monday, 23 January 2017
Today's Kurdish words:
Insha Alla: God willing
'We have no more apples today, but maybe we have some tomorrow, insha alla'
Sunday, 22 January 2017
Saturday, 21 January 2017
Want to say a massive thank you to Helen for putting me up over the last few weeks in hipster central, it's made the whole transition of becoming homeless, to heading to camp an pretty pain-free experience, and allowed me time to properly plan.
Monday, 16 January 2017
Plans are coming together well. I have managed to get a lift sorted all the way to camp on the 22nd, which is great as it's both cheaper, and I won't have to use my limited French skills to try and navigate public transport. Also most of the boring stuff like insurance, medical prescriptions, packing and logistics are done, which is probably the first time ever said things have been done before the morning I leave/in the airport over a G'n'T.
Went home at the weekend to say goodbye to the family which was ace. Little Poppy is growing bigger by the week, and looks be be getting healthier after a pretty ropy start to life, Boo and Rob say she's doing better at night too, which means by proxy they are too! Well needed after 5 weeks in the ICU and zero sleep. I'm gutted I'm not going to be able to see her over the next few months, but look forward to seeing how much she has grown upon return.
My accommodation is now all locked in too. I'm doing a few weeks in a guesthouse, which I was trying to avoid as it more expensive, but after that I'm going to be living in the static caravan which will be cheaper, and I hope more fun as there are a whole bunch of them next to each other, full with other volunteers. My nerves are kicking in big time, whilst I think this will be a hugely rewarding experience, it's going to be tough emotionally. News of refugees freezing to death have started rolling in, and the lack of compassion in the news, and from governments is just horrible, but I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in.
So before I head and the blog takes a turn to cover what I doing, rather than the fundraising and prep, I want to say a huge thank you to each and every person that donated. It's been amazing, and such a humbling experience, so THANK YOU!
Donations are still being taken, and coming in, and the page will continue to accept them while I'm out there, should anyone have been skint in January. Here's the link: https://www.gofundme.com/cooking-for-refugees
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
Had a chat with one of the co-ordinators in camp today and found out a little bit more about my life over there. Looks like I'm going to be joining the long term chefs camp, and will be staying in a static caravan with some of the rest of the team. To prepare myself I spent the day watching Trailer Park Boys, whilst going though vege cookbooks. All feels very real now!
Tuesday, 3 January 2017
So in the first 24 hours my campaign is over 1/4 funded, which is amazing! Still a long way to go but it's put such a huge smile on my face, and I'm raring to go now!
Something has dawned on me this morning though, the next few months of my life are going to be pork free. The overwhelming majority of the people in camps come from a Muslim background, so pig won't be on the menu at all. I guess my body will thank me in the long term for giving it a break, but god-damn if it doesn't wipe out half of my cooking repertoire. Luckily I'm staying with my friend Helen up until the off, and she's veggie, so plenty of time to dig through her cookbooks, and learn the dark arts of meat free cooking. I can imagine the smiles on my vegan/veggies friends faces now, after years of gentle ribbing from me.
Monday, 2 January 2017
I'm starting 2017 by trying to give something back to the world that has been my home for the last 35 years, and travelling to Calais to work with the amazing Refugee Community Kitchen, cooking for the refugees in various camps across northern France.
Right now I'm a mixture of emotions about the whole trip. I'm incredibly excited to challenge myself doing something positive, but at the same time I'm under no illusion that the lives of the people living in the camps is going to be unfathomably bleak, and heartbreaking. I'm hoping that in some small way I can use my cooking skills to improve the lives of those fleeing conflicts across the Middle East, and north Africa. The role is entirely voluntary, and I will be supporting myself off my own back and via a GoFundMe page located here https://www.gofundme.com/cooking-for-refugees, any donations would be greatly appreciated, and allow me to stay there helping for as long as possible.