Sunday, 26 February 2017
I've always known that I have come from a privileged background, a stable home, food on the table, loving parents, education etc. It's only by doing this that I've realized just how privileged my life has been. Sure there have been rough times, I've slept rough before, I've skipped meals when I didn't have enough cash for them, but there was always a light at the end, and I knew ultimately that things would sort themselves out. I can't quite fathom what it must be like to live not knowing, just trapped in this limbo hell. Even when compared to the other volunteers I have it so much better. We have been doing more safety briefings, and hearing about the experiences of other girl volunteers can be harrowing. I've talked before about how sexual violence is a real problem in camp, but only through speaking to some of my female colleagues am I now starting to get a bit more perspective on it. Most won't use the toilets in camp, for fear that the mafia have keys and it would be easy for them to break into a cubicle when someone was in there, but even going beyond that their days are so much more draining than that of the men. There is a perception that if you were to marry an English women you would get instant access to the UK, that coupled with the fact many of them are quite young, and also very pretty, means they get hit on constantly. It's hard to think about it as there are two sides to the story, one is that if you were a young man, trapped, and you believed that maybe you could charm your way out of that situation, would you not try too? The other though is the fact that it is totally inappropriate. I think most of the girls get why it happens, and from what I have seen handle it amazingly. Some choose to wear a ring on their wedding finger and say they are already hitched, others use fake names on facebook to try and safeguard against someone in camp coming across them there, it must be so draining.
Ok onto some happier news. Yesterday I decided to actually put some effort into spreading this blog about and got some nice feedback, both on Reddit and Facebook. I was also contacted by some people who have a bit of spare time and wanted to come out and help, which was amazing.
If you're reading this and want to get involved here are some ways you can. First of all if you have time, it's really easy. Go to the Refugee Community Kitchen or Help Refugees websites, fill out a small form that will take about 5 minutes, arrange a date, and come over. It really is that simple! That could be for a weekend, week, month or longer, it's up to you.
If you don't have time to offer then we need stuff. One of the biggest needs is shoes, all sizes but specifically mens size Europe 42. All the guys seem to have the same size feet, to the point where it's a running joke in the warehouse about how everyone is size 42, and now quite a lot of staff now have 42 tattooed on one of their feet. Sadly they just don't have enough to supply camp, so seeing residents with flip flops or shoes with the backs cut off is a regular thing. Other big needs are sleeping bags, socks and mens small/medium clothing. There are collection points in most cities, so if you have stuff that is decent quality please send it on. Likewise with food, we do rice and curry every day, if you have items that would go into these, spices, salt, rice or drinks items like tea, hot chocolate, coffee etc, then please box them up and send them over.
The other thing is money. If you can spare some you can donate directly to either charity via their websites or fund a volunteers stay out here.
The final, and most important thing is your voice. We are a temporary solution to a growing problem, more of a plaster on the wound than a cure. Write to your MP, get friends involved and put pressure on the powers that be to do something, it's the only way the problem will get fixed at it's root cause.
Cheers for reading
P.S: look mum, an entire post with no swearing ;-)
Saturday, 25 February 2017
Much love and many thanks
Friday, 24 February 2017
Thursday, 23 February 2017
It started off with cooking 100kg of rice. That's 100kg of uncooked rice which equates to 5 large pots of of cooked rice, or to use the parlance of the day 'a metric shit-ton'. It's literally twice as much rice as I have ever cooked before, and it was mental. It took myself, Kira, and Sandy all morning, and while it wasn't quite a good as normal, it got done and out on time, despite my internal panic of messing the whole thing up. Kira spent so long doing the extra rice for the lunchtime outreach boxes that when she went to go get herself some lunch from the volunteer service area there was no curry left, only rice. She was so fed up of rice at this point she just walked away. The darker side to this is simply, more rice means there are more people needing it. We are now up to 100 boxes at lunch, and 200 in the evening for outreach alone, which is nuts, and the numbers are jumping up daily. At the moment we are coping well as it's half-term and we have lots of people, but come next week it's going to be much tougher when the numbers of volunteers drop off again.
As soon as the rice was ready I went out on hot food distro. We are currently in the midst of storm Doris and to say it was windy was an understatement. This made life hard as the wind would pick up food out of the gastro trays and send it flying down the camp, but we coped with the aid of lots of rocks and some friendly camp residents and kids. Actually the sun came out to for a bit which made it nice, despite it being bitterly cold. It turned out to be one of those days you think you're going to hate, but actually ended up enjoying. I got to spend time with some of the usual faces and made a couple of new friends, even though one of the cheeky lads said I looked like Donald Trump because I have a bronze coat. A refugee called Oscar came down with some tea to warm us up, and then another guy appeared with these sweet, fried batter pancake things, that were just sugar and fat, perfect for a cold day. They have such a sweet tooth it's unreal, every cup of tea has probably 2 or 3 heaped tablespoons of sugar in it.
I want to talk about their generosity a bit. These people have nothing, they live in broken garden sheds and half don't even have proper shoes, but what they do have they share freely and happily. I mentioned to my friend Zee the other week that I had skipped breakfast and was feeling hungry, 20 minutes later he turned up with Afgan eggs, basically a spicy tomato sauce, that you then fry the egg in. I haven't eaten eggs since I was about 6 years old, but out of respect for him I made the effort, I'm so glad I did, they were actually really nice. This is common place in camp. The guys who live in the community kitchens often bring us bits of the food they have cooked with the items we have served them from the free shops, most of it is pretty damn good, not the stewed mackerel though, that was grim. It's truly humbling!
So there was other news in camp today, which was they are going to try and stop people sleeping in the community kitchens due to large outbreaks of scabies, bedbugs and lice. The camp is run by a private contractor, Afeji, who have been given millions from the French government to do next to nothing. I think they are hoping that by stopping the hundreds of people who are sleeping in the kitchens, people will head off to the 'illegal' camps and become not their problem. This of course is the worst thing that could happen. I'm not sure what is going to happen to these hundreds of guys, I'm hoping maybe when they actually do a headcount and see the scale they might actually get off their asses and start addressing some of the real problems there in a proactive way, but there doesn't seem to be much hope of that. Recently we handed over repair duties to them, and day by day the sheds are looking worse, and worse. There is a real worry that because it's a job for them and they aren't invested in the same way volunteers are, that the site will get worse and worse, and it's already pretty awful.
Ok, that's enough for tonight, early too bed as I'm in the free shops again tomorrow so need my wits about me. I'm off to dream of rice.
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Numbers are swelling, and not by a little bit here and there, they are starting to jump up on a day by day basis as the weather is getting a bit better. I've kind of talked in general terms about the setup, but thought I'd take some time this evening to properly focus on it. The main camp we cook for is Dunkirk, and then we supply food to some other organisations who do outreach work. Dunkirk is officially not growing according to the government, they have built a fixed number of shelters (all full to bursting) and then we have to community kitchens which are now home to 100's of men who are unable to get a shelter unit as they are reserved for families, or full already. I'm not quite sure the exact amount of people in camp, a guess would be 1.5k to 1.8k, but there are no plans to build any more shelters, despite the fact they are desperately needed. So that's the camp, it's run by the government and as such has police, security, and some amenities. Away from the camp there are lot's of little splinter camps that have been setup, these are 'illegal', and in many cases just people sleeping in tents, or sleeping bags in the woods. We send food out to these guys via other charities we work with, this is 'outreach'. While the amount of food we send to Dunkirk has remained stable, the amount of food boxes we are producing for outreach is growing, and not just by a little bit. When I first got here a month ago, we were doing maybe 15 boxes at lunch and 30/40 in the evening, plus enough food in a large container for about 30 people who get it via a group called Secour Catholic. Today that number stands at 100 lunch boxes, 150 dinner boxes, and food for about 200 via Secour Catholic, plus then the 500 to 700 meals we send to camp. Those numbers are growing on a daily basis, it's quite frankly terrifying.
Many of the numbers are people who are arriving now the weather is getting a bit better to try and make the crossing, but there's another side to it too. When the jungle was demolished all of the unaccompanied minors were sent to children's'centers across the country, and were told to wait it out there while their paperwork was handled by the UK government, who had agreed to take in 3000 of them. Whilst these centers aren't ideal, they are much safer than camp and at least had hot showers, beds etc. Since Theresa May reduced those numbers to 350, all of these kids, and they are kids, have realized that they aren't going to be able to get into the UK, so have run away from the centers to head back up this way, on the hope of being able to jump a lorry or train and make the crossing. It's pretty obvious this is really dangerous for so many reasons. Number one, the camp isn't safe. Sexual assault, is a real problem, both for men and women, especially if you are young and can't fight them off. Then there is the crossing itself. People are dying trying to jump on trains or lorries. Many of them will get caught over and over, get a beating from the cops, get sent to the detention centers, and then put back out of the streets/camp. It's an endless cycle, with danger at every turn. This also plays right into the hands of the people smugglers, they can now say there is no way you're going to get in unless you pay us, so the situation is getting worse, and worse.
A guy I know, who I'll refer to here as 'H', got badly beaten up last week for being friendly with the volunteers. He used to come and give us feedback on the food, and was one of the happiest guys in camp, but the mafia see this as a threat as he might pass on information which could get back to the cops, and he got smashed up. We had a meeting today about the dangers in camp, and it made me realize that I need to maybe act slightly differently around some of the guys I'm friends with in camp, for their safety. The last thing I want to do is be responsible for getting someone I care about in trouble with the gangs/mafia that operate in camp and put their lives in danger. We were also briefed on what to do if we get in into a situation with the CRS (riot cops). If they CS spray us, which has happened in the past when volunteers have seen them abusing minors, we can get up to 2 years in jail just for putting our hands up to block the spray. Same if they punch us, we can't try and block it or it's assaulting a police officer, and again, that would mean jail-time. Whilst this doesn't happen as much as it did in the Jungle, it does still happen.
Ooooft, this is a long and depressing update, and to cap it off there is a storm blowing outside. Whilst my days are normally filled with happy smiley people, it's times like this when I'm sat in my trailer reflecting that the enormity and helplessness of the situation really kicks in. I've made the decision to stay for longer, and now will just head back to the UK to work some festivals in order to fund me staying out here on a slightly more permanent basis across 2017 (back permitting). As such here's my bi-weekly funding ask, should you be able to spare a few quid, please sling it over at this link:
Monday, 20 February 2017
Lets get some of the bad crap out of the way first. I hurt my back again, not as bad as last time, but four days in bed and shooting pains. Luckily i'm more mobile than last time and have been able to resume light duties as of today. One of the good things about working with so many people, from so many walks of life, is there always someone about to help. This morning consisted of a half hour physio appointment on some pallets on the warehouse floor, followed by some stretching out the back of the tent, and blanket piles. I'm going to try and actually be a bit better about the whole thing, rather than just convincing myself that that wiggling my hips about for a few minutes is actually the physio I should be doing. I'm on light duties this week and hopefully should get back to strength as soon as possible.
Today was a camp day which was ace, got to see a few friends, including my boy Zee. Some of the guys are guys are really funny, and it's nice to get a bit of time at the end of lunch service to hang out with them. Also I spotted 2 NFL jumpers, one Giants, one Jets. That's probably the first time I've seen a Jets top and not shouted Buuuuttttttt-Fumble at them, but their lives are rough enough without me taking the piss. I tried to talk to the Giants guy, but his English was pretty ropey, and my Kurdish is still on a word basis, rather than full sentences. My duty today was managing the line, making sure people don't jump the queue, handing out plates, and generally being welcoming. It's a really nice job, most people are friendly, and up for a chat, you get lots of handshakes and smiles too.
I don't really have that much else to report. Being in bed sucked, but I got an email from my mum with a picture of Poppy which was really nice and cheered me up. I was dreading the thought of maybe having to leave and go back to England to heal, but fingers crossed I'm past that now.
Ugo left to go back to Italy which was a shame, but I think he's coming back soonish, and I have extensive notes on how to cook bulk rice. I wish I had a camera to show you guys, just in case you ever wanted to know how to cook 60kg of rice to perfection in one go.
Tuesday, 14 February 2017
The sun was out today which is always a treat, it's still bitterly cold, but it's nice to be able to have lunch outside of the warehouse, even if it is vegan. On that topic, I haven't eaten meat or cheese two days by accident. Feels weird, won't be doing it again.
So the last two days have been rice (solo, nailed it!), and food prep. I had a conversation last night about what peoples perceptions of what we do are? Do they think of us charging about on the front line slinging 3 star meals to starving people, or a more moderate view. I hate to burst the bubble, but quite honestly there's a lot of peeling, a lot of washing up, a hell of a lot of stirring, and a bit of sweeping. There is the distribution and the free shops, but they are a much smaller fraction of the man hours we put in. Today was a straight up day of cutting veg for four hours, then washing up for the next four, followed by a bit of sweeping, then home. I'm not complaining, we have good music, there's always someone to talk to and the time flies past, but it's far from what you see in movies. I have free shop, and distro duties later in the week though, so looking forward to going back into camp, and seeing the people I starting to know a bit better. It can be quite hard thinking about that. Making friends with these guys comes so naturally, but it's also so emotionally terrifying, as I want to help more, but I have no power. I've caught myself thinking about how could I get this guy into the UK, or how hard would it be to rent a sail boat and get a few people in. It's total fantasy, and wishful thinking, but these thoughts keep popping in there.
Day off tomorrow, cartoons, and peace and quiet, can't wait.
Monday, 13 February 2017
Sunday, 12 February 2017
It's cold, and wet, because of that mood in camp is on a downswing which is never good. When tensions become high, bad stuff happens. I won't go into detail as it's just a few trouble makers, and I would never want to tar the rest of the refugees with their actions, and actually nothing happened today, but there is somber mood around.
We had a safety meeting today just to reinforce a few rules, it's all pretty standard stuff like not going off alone, not entering shelters alone etc etc, but it's something that needs to happen. For more info there was a guardian article today explaining about some of the much darker stuff that goes on, you can read it here.
Anyways, let's get onto happier stuff. Back on onions today, hello my old friend.... Also there was a puppy at the warehouse, I've never seen so many people down tools so fast to go and play with it.
Had a new role today, rice. Rice is really important, probably more so than the curry as it's much easier to mess up, and if you do there will be hell to pay. It's such a staple in the diets of the refugees that they are all very fussy about it. We get more feedback about rice, be it good or bad, than we do about anything else, in fact the recipe that we use has come directly from a refugee who is also a chef. It's a pretty damn good recipe too. Thing is we cook rice for 100's, so it's a huge task, and takes two people working flat out all morning to have it ready in time, today was myself and Ugo. Tomorrow though it's just me alone, which I'm kinda nervous about, but i have extensive notes, and should be ready to roll.
Dropped my phone today and the screen is going a bit weird, so I'm hoping it's not completely broken and I will be able to carry on with the photo updates to the blog, be a bit shit if I can't, still it's just a phone. Had a nice chat with mum too, and got an email from my auntie in the US, which was great. I miss friends, and family quite a bit, it's made easier by having loads of cool people here, but still I have moments when I get really homesick. I also miss fruit squash, they just don't have it here, which means I only drink water, and that gets a bit tedious. Still mustn't complain, there are far worse issues to have.
Off for a shower now.
Friday, 10 February 2017
Warehouse today, so fairly standard bagging up baggies of salt/sugar/rice etc. Fairly easy, but damn cold.
There's a bit of a sombre mood around the warehouse today. Our illustrious Prime Minister, T-May, has decided that rather than take in the 3000 unaccoumpanied minors, they will take in just 350. Are you fucking kidding me! These are kids, they are the most vulnerable, perfect targets for the sex trade traffickers, and she has the fucking nerve to say we should 'proud of ourselves' for taking in such a pitifully small number. 350, think about it, for the whole of the UK, 350 kids, the left just left to rot.
This means that a lot of the other volunteers who do case work with the kids are panicked. An example being a 14 year old boy, who's alone in camp, self harming, and in danger. In his mind he has two options, try and get UK papers, probably not going to happen now, or move to Paris to stay with two Afghan men who have offered him a room. We don't these guys, it could be above board, but using common sense, it doesn't seem likely, so what's this kid to do? Stay in camp knowing full well that the UK doesn't want him, so just exist in this outdoor prison, or go and have a room, maybe. People are worried that he just won't be there one day, which is unfortunately the case quite a bit.
There are more people turning up everyday, the numbers are starting to swell again. There was a family that turned up just last night with 2 kids under 2 years old, one only 6 months. Imagine crossing Europe with a new born, and no money, it's just mental.
Anyways, onto happier stuff. Did my washing last night! None of my clothes smell of onions! That's a win in my books.
Also another little thing that's kinda weird, but kinda sweet, but also totally annoying. There's a custom here for saying 'love you' instead of 'thank you'. I'm still a grumpy asshole and don't do it, but it's quite nice, within moderation. Bloody hippies!
Kurdish word of the day: Spas (pronounced spaz), meaning; Thank You
Weekly link to my donations page here: (http://www.gofundme.com/cooking-for-refugees) feel free to donate if you can. Thanks very much x x
Thursday, 9 February 2017
First let's get the Dam out of the way. It was a lush little holiday, made all the better by having an excellent host and amazing gaff. The girl who we stayed with Josje (pronounced Yosh-A) was totally lovely. We had thought we had somewhere to stay but it fell through last minute, so I put an ask out on a drum and bass message board I used to use when I was 20, asking if anyone had a spare room we could rent. Josje came back and said that 5, tired, dirty hippies could crash out in her spare room. It was very sweet of her, and it ensured we could have a good time on the cheap. Amsterdam is very expensive, but we did a lot of walking and ended up not spending a fortune but getting to see lots.
I sampled the coffee, very good ;-)
Had a couple of drinks in a couple of bars.
Walked around the vondlepark.
Ate vegan food, at possibly the world's only Japanese/Jamaican vegan cafe.
Discovered fries and sauce 'Orloog', which is half satay sauce, half mayo, and then tiny chopped onions, total game changer.
Oh and saw the Patriots win their 5th Superbowl, sort of.
On the subject of the Pats winning, I missed it, biggest Superbowl comeback of all time and I'd left the bloody bar because we were down 25 points with 7 minutes to go, and it was half 4am. So I left feeling dejected, and stayed my walk home only for my phone to start going mental. Managed to catch the last few plays of OT so saw the game winning TD, but I'm kicking myself for missing it. Should have had faith!
On the way back I was pretty tired having been up all night for the football, so decided to sleep in the back of Leo's micra, bad idea. Woke up and my back was grim, so grim I had to take the last two days off in bed. I'm all strapped up now and on the painkillers, so back in work and just taking it easy.
Was back in camp today doing hot food distribution. Basically we rock up with all the hot food, setup trellis tables, and scoop food till it's gone. We had fresh bread today, this causes problems as people jump ahead to get it, but most people got some and I only got a couple of glares asking people not to take more than they are owed. Hot food distribution is really good fun, everyone is happy, and they give feedback on the food which is cool. The kids are a nightmare though, they all want to ride in the van, so they find ways in, and suddenly, boom, the volume on the radio is at full power and you see a little shadow legging it across camp. They are all sweet though, both the boys and girls have some amazing 'sassiness' about them, so it's great fun working around the smiles.
We had a couple of the residents come down and help out too which was both useful and fun. They have infinitely better kurdish than I do so help take the orders and then feed back to me what people want. We had Reza with us today, he's the only other NFL fan I've found in camp. He's a big Redskins fan, though his pride and joy is a Bears top that he was given from clothes distribution. We had a nice chat about the Superbowl and he gave me a huge hug when he found out my team won. It nice having another fan here, even better that he's such a cool refugee. I'm finding the more I work in camp the more friends I make, and it's always nice when you hear 'hey Mr Thom' from behind you when you're doing the rounds.
We lost a couple of people from the house on their way down to Serbia. There seems to be a large contingent of people who kind of live of the adrenaline of the illegal camps, like the jungle was, and chase them around Europe. Serbia and Greece are the big hot spots right now. I ask myself do I maybe want to join them and go do some what's called 'combat cooking', where you just rock up with no documentation and fend off the cops to get people fed. Right now though I'm settled and with Ugo leaving next week it means we are down on cooks.
Have a nice night of doing washing tonight, 9 bloody euros though, for such a shitty trailer park they don't half charge through the nose for you to wash you clothes. Still having stuff that doesn't stink of onions will be a real luxury!
Friday, 3 February 2017
The sun came out!
Everything is so much better when the sun comes out!
The camp even looks more humane than it actually is. Also the sun puts people in a good mood, so the day was full of smiles and people making the best of it.
We had bread, which is a big deal, they haven't had bread in days. The bread is mostly out of date and pretty stale, but it makes a difference for them. The bread hierarchy goes like this; baguette, pitta bread, white sliced bread, brown sliced bread, unsliced bread. There's a big look of disappointment when it gets down to beyond white sliced. We also had apples and peppers as the luxury items, and quite a lot of them which made things even better.
It wasn't all good though, one of the last guys I spoke to, Hamid, had just got to camp after a long travel from Afghanistan, and he said the conditions where inhumane. He's right. There is nothing to do but sit around. It's basically an outside prison of both the body, and the mind. Many of them are still hopeful that will make it to the UK, even though getting caught could mean a beating from the police, detention in the detention center , or having their shoes taken by the CRS (police), a game they play to teach them not to run. You see the stitches, and split lips on a regular basis. It's soul destroying.
Was working with Ugo in the shop today as Viv is in the kitchen. We work really well together, so there was much less of a queue than there has been in the past. So all in all a productive and fun day, despite the horror all around.
I have 3 days in a row off now after working 13 of the last 14. Going to head to the Dam, watch the Superbowl, and relax for a little bit, got 30 euros in my back pocket, a place to stay, and the petrol is covered, so the world is my oyster.
Might update the blog, might not, we will have too see.
Thursday, 2 February 2017
The shower works!
The toilet works!
The sink works!
Good day! Although not for the guy who was fixing it as I hear he got caught in a fountain of shit when the pipe disconnected.
Had a new job today as we have an extra chef. I was doing warehouse stock for the free shops. Basically you know in films about drug lords, there's always a scene where there are loads of hot women cutting coke into little bags? Well basically the same thing, but with chickpeas, salt, sugar etc. They all go out to the free shops to be handed out to the families in camp. It's quite good fun as there are lots of people doing it round a table, so there's plenty of time to chat. Today we had a 16 year old, a doctor, a prison outreach worker, and a student. I'm back in camp tomorrow so looking forward to that too, and I'll learn a new kurdish word too.
Tonight a trailer down the road is having a blanket fort and film night, so we are heading over there with some snacks to help build the fort, then watch aliens. Living in such cramped conditions with so little amenities for fun means you make your own, which is cool.
Another cool thing is I had the weekend booked off for the Superbowl after working 10 days solid, however some volunteers need to go to Amsterdam and my housemate Leo is taking them, so I'm gunna go on a road trip and watch the game in a bar in the Dam. I'd put aside a bit of money to do a Superbowl meal, so will have 30 bucks to have some fun with, maybe a bit of coffee ;-)
Having a good time though my body aches after such hard work and shitty bed, still very happy.
Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Today was long, and now we're lost searching for a decent supermarket to buy some stuff. Gunna treat myself to some bacon to counteract the amount of beans I'm eating. If I never see another chickpea again it will be too soon.
It was a good day though, we had a bit of lamb, and some beef to add to the curry. This is a big treat in camp, and the food flew out with no left overs. We have a new chef in for the week who's been before, Viv, this means I'm going to be doing some more varied work in the next couple of weeks which will be fun.
Life at the trailer park is entertaining, though last night there was some drama when a couple of guys got into a bit of a tussle. Some of the long term people suffer from PTSD, and quite badly. The things some of these guys have seen is mind boggling, and as such there are a few people that have various issues. The good thing is there are services for those who need them, and it's calmed down since the jungle got demolished.
Just a short post tonight, almost home and not actually that much to report.