Puppies and Madness

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We have been on the Isle of Lesvos for a few days now, sorting out aid, unloading and loading and unloading and loading, distributing aid and generally doing what needs to be doing. A contact had managed to find a warehouse to rent for a while and all of the stuff is piled high in there in categories that make things easy to find and easy to distribute. All of this takes time. There are some people who, as ever, are the ones who are very quietly just ever present in these situations. People doing the incredibly unglamorous work of manning a dusty warehouse in the middle of an industrial estate that could be anywhere rather than on a beautiful Greek island. These people do this all unseen and unheard, young people who have given up whatever they were doing and have chosen to man dusty warehouses to their bit for the world.

The situation in Lesvos, and Greece in general, changes by the hour. These people are pawns in the game of someone and are at the whim of rules that make no sense and can change like the weather. As it has been so cold many families have been housed in hotels and homes for the duration of the cold period. Apparently it is a particularly hard winter. There is, however, a camp called Moria Camp, the conditions of which defy belief or it should do anyway. I realise that my threshold of shock has been raised somewhat over the past couple of years.

The Moria Camp was an old prison and still has fences and razor wire to remind everyone that they are in a prison and some brand new razor wire and fences thrown in for good measure. People are LOCKED IN to this place and the conditions are less than savoury. Some are in the prison accommodation which is a Greek prison that has lain disused for some time so it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to picture the level of luxury. Many are on the outside in tents. I know I’ve gone on about the cold but it really is cold and people are quite literally freezing to death. Yesterday we heard that there had been another death at the Moria Camp. I went there with some others and was talking to one young man who is stuck there. He was saying how frightened he and the others in there are. How terrifying it is to be treated so inhumanely, to know that they are now in the hands of a Europe that does not care about them. In the last week two young men, previously fit and healthy young men, have died of the cold. Actually and quite literally frozen to death in a small tent designed to be slept in on a balmy summer weekend with friends and family. Not for someone to live in in these bitterly cold conditions and especially not someone who is seeking a place of safety. Suspend all judgements and imagine that it was your child/brother/father/cousin/best friend who has frozen to death because the relative authorities are too busy booting the political football about to give a damn about whether they live or die. Only two large NGO’s are allowed inside this camp and the authorities, i.e. the NGO’s allow them just one blanket. One blanket in this cold! A tent in this cold! I can very well imagine not being able to survive in this. It is shocking.

Yesterday morning another 4 young men died inside the razor wire fences of the camp. Apparently asphyxiated from a some kind of heater trying to stay warm. I don’t know whether that is a gas heater or from burning plastic or what, it’s hard to know what is what. Tensions are rising understandably and the authorities are rapidly trying to find places for people to be. Places miraculously materialising where previously there were none. The conditions defy belief or I wish they did at least. I have begun to realise that there are no depths to which the ‘authorities’ will not sink. Just the actions of Trump within one week of being ‘in charge’ is an indication of what is possible.

Yesterday 3 of us went to a hotel where there are 100 children with their families and we did some face painting which was chaos but at least the children were laughing for a bit and it made me feel better anyway. The parents got a little bit of a break. I see a change, though, in the eyes of the people. Before people were desperate but there was hope. Some of these people have been here for a year waiting and waiting for their fate to be revealed to them by an inefficient and inhumane system. People waiting to be reunited with loved ones, to start their lives, children waiting to go to school. I don’t ask people where they are going anymore because it is almost unbearable to see the quiet shrug of shoulders that is the reply. A reply that before would have been full of enthusiasm for a potential life that lay ahead. Now what I see is lack of hope and that kills people more than any other thing because it kills from the inside out. Without hope there is nothing. Even the darkest story has to have a thread of hope running through it. I’m starting to lose hope about all of this.

It is hard to remain buoyant in all of this. It is hard to feel that we are making a difference and are not part of the problem. I guess we are all part of the problem. It is hard to know where to vent all this stuff and what could be better than being buried under a pile of puppies. There are 9 puppies at the warehouse from different litters who were found by the side of the road without a mum. They are bouncy, very very cute and need lots of cuddles. Being buried under a pile of puppies should be prescribed, I reckon it would cure loads of conditions. The trick now is to not actually take most of them and stick them in the now empty truck and bring them back home…

 

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Mind The Gap…….. between expectation and reality

 

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What happens in any group of people is that there is a general forming of the group where people show their nice sides, find commonalities and agree that they are going to pull together as a group. When I used to work in youth work we used to call it ‘forming, storming, norming.’ (We also used to say that if, by the end of the first day, you don’t know who the wanker is then it’s probably you but that’s a whole different matter). The next bit is storming when people start to get a bit pissed off with one another, they get tired and are no longer able to hang on to the spiky not so nice bits of themselves and the spiky not so nice bits of themselves start to poke their heads out of the cave. Then it is norming when everything settles down again and the cycle starts all over again.

As I write this we are currently sat at the Hungarian/Serbian border and it is safe to say that the storming bit is the phase that we are going through. Coming up to the border we lay bets on how long it would take us to get through the border. I, optimistically, said 1 hour and 47 minutes. Pffffff what a fool. Chas, the organiser of the whole thing, then revealed that the record for the longest delay was actually 3 days. As I write this it is starting to feel like we might actually top that record. Bureaucracy, that we all know and love, is rearing its ugly head. Apparently, on the last convoy in October, there was a blip on one of the road tolls with one of the trucks in Hungary and, apparently, this is not an easy thing to sort out.

To say it is chilly is a massive understatement. I think it’s slightly warmer than yesterday’s -16 but not much. It’s character building anyway. Different aspects of people’s reactions to delay are starting to emerge, some of them funny and some of them not quite so funny. I’m not sure that I have ever had a straightforward journey in my whole life so I do feel like I have an unfair advantage in the managing delay department. But, to everyone’s credit, we are in a situation where ten strangers are thrown together in an unusual, requiring slightly above average managing skills, situation so it could be a great deal worse. Humour, as ever, wins the day.

Which brings me back to Mind The Gap. I am starting to realise, and truly believe, that all of the ills of mankind can be put down to the gap between expectation and reality. I expected the journey to have some sticky bits and the reality is that it does. I expected it to be cold but the reality is that it is f*****g cold. The journey I can cope with and the cold I really struggle with. The difference between expectation and reality.

Take a very simple situation like a trip to the shops. You expect to drive to the shops, park the car, do what you need to do and come home again. If the reality is that there is nowhere to park, just that slight alteration in the gap between expectation and reality can be a day changer. If we relay this theory to the refugees, which is the whole point of this trip, then the whole gap between expectation and reality becomes a cruel gulf.

How people are managing to survive, and I suspect that some are not, in tents in this cold is beyond me. Why anyone on this planet expects it to be alright to expect people to survive in tents in this cold is beyond me. My expectation of our governments was that they showed some humanity to anyone in need if it is within their power to do so. The reality is that our governments have shown themselves to be of a cruelty that I had hoped never to see. It should be no surprise. I have an image of World War 1 in the trenches where a whistle was blown and young lads with surnames, say A to G, were sent ‘over the top’ to an almost certain death. It is an image that has stuck with me that shows the stark reality that we are just pawns in someone’s game somewhere. Our governments have never shown compassion. I don’t know why. I absolutely cannot understand it. I can understand the fear of an individual who shows prejudice towards that which they are ignorant and fearful about. I don’t agree with it but I can understand it. I cannot understand why whole organisations are capable of outright cruelty towards people. I just don’t get it.

Something like this convoy is an antidote to that which we are being fed and led to believe is the way to behave towards our fellow humans. It is only ever alright to show compassion and humanity towards others at a time of need, regardless of the reasons that lead to that need being a need. It could be argued that a convoy like this is not necessary in the grand scheme of things but there is a whole chain of events that lead to a convoy being possible and necessary. Every single person who has contributed towards the aid, to shops donating food, to the person knitting a blanket, to another person donating a fiver, is actually saying that they give a shit and do not adhere and agree to the way that refugees are being treated. Not In Our Name you don’t. A whole line of people who talk to other people, who inspire others to use their courage to act against what is rapidly becoming the norm. If the reality is becoming that people are numbed to the cruelty and inhospitality being shown to others then we need to change the reality. This convoy is a small, but important like all small things, drop in the ocean towards that happening. Rather than change our expectations to meet the reality of the changes going on in this world, we actually need to change the reality.

Meanwhile, we shall sit and wait at this border waiting for our reality to become slight more mobile and animated…

 

Parachute Packers

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I am writing this from somewhere in Germany where it is very cold. We have trucked our way through France, Belgium and now Germany. We have lost one another a few times, radios have failed us a few more times than that. Only one minor incident with one truck reversing into the prized massive truck of a big Polish bloke who turned out to be extraordinarily good natured. Ten very different personalities trucking their way along but with one common cause between us.

I had a very proud mummy moment yesterday. I have many proud mummy moments because I’ve been blessed with a real dude of a boy who gives a shit about the world. Chris, my boy, has set up a charity (see picture above) to deal with festival waste. He gathers tents, sleeping bags, clothes and all manner of other things and instead of it all going to landfill, which is what usually happens to it, he gets it to people who need it. It’s hard work. It’s massively unglamorous work and he needs a lot of help to do it.

I am travelling in a convoy of 5 trucks with various aid on board to go to the camps in Greece where desperation abounds.Amongst that aid is also some 200 plus sleeping bags that just happen to be the very same ones that my son gathered at the V Festival in Chelmsford last year. He gathered them and, by a combination of fate and strange circumstances, I’m delivering the very same sleeping bags to where they need to go. A proper personal delivery service. How cool is that?!

Which brings me to the parachute packer story. Apparently, so my co-driver Suleman tells me, there was a WWII parachutist who was being awarded a medal for his acts of bravery. When receiving the medal, he reeled off a long list of names of people to thank. The following day, he was contacted by th parachute packer to say that he had not been thanked. A parachutist is seriously stuffed without the dedicated, precise work of a parachute packer.

Which also brings me to here and now. Yes I’ve just spent the night (and about to spend another night) freezing my nads off ‘sleeping’ in the back of a truck. Yes, I’m driving a few thousand miles to deliver aid to where it needs to go, but I’m not the hero here. The hero is my son who traipsed round a post apocalyptic festival field gathering sleeping bags and is also looking after my dear Tom dog. The heroes are the people who drive up and down the country sorting and delivering aid. The heroes are the people who, in all good faith, donate money to make this kind of stuff happen. There are people making phone calls, answering emails and I could go on and on.

I’m just driving a truck. There are so many people who give a shit in order to make this happen. There are people who quietly get on with stuff and don’t get any recognition for what they do. I could name names but I’m not sure how much those people appreciate being applauded in public. So to all you people out there, all you parachute packers, a deep heartfelt thanks. All of you are what is stopping us from going under at a time when a tsunami of ill feeling seems to be washing over the world. If you want to be not just a parachute packer but a van packer then do get in touch with Chris. If you have a van to lend Chris for the summer to actually pack things into then that would be even more heroic. You can have fun packing away tents, sleeping bags etc after festivals and it is way more fun than it sounds. You get to meet lots of give a shit people who are the best kind of people.

There are so many parachute packers and, like the parachutist, we’d be royally stuffed without you.

The diary of a Mother Trucker

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Today is turnaround day for many people all over the world. For many more it is the same old same old unseen injustice but today there are people stepping up and using their voice.

It is the first day of Trump being president of America and there are so many wrongs with that, I think that most sane thinking people will agree with that. I guess his wrongness is way more blatant than previous people and it makes it a great deal easier to rally against than the subtle wrongs that have gone before. What will come of it we don’t know but there are people rising up to say their piece and that can only be a good thing as long as it is done in way that is intelligent and fruitful.

There is much talk of free speech. I know that whenever people have cornered me about refugee speak and I have said that their views are not acceptable then the age old ‘But everyone is entitled to free speech’ sentence is hauled out of the unimaginative box. Of course everyone is entitled to free speech but that is not the same as hate speech. One is legal and the other is not. To wish death and ill upon another fellow human based upon their place in this world is hate speech. It is vile, disgusting and, quite frankly, terrifying. To have an exchange of differing views is useful, this is free speech. I know that I tend to move in circles of like minded people out of choice and it is interesting and a wake up call to be called into a discussion that shows different views. Not an argument, a discussion. An argument is about who is right. A discussion is about what is right. There is a fundamental difference. It is never right to wish bad stuff on a person, or a group of people based upon religion, colour, place of birth etc. It’s just ignorant. There may be reasons and those reasons are often personal i.e you were mugged by someone. In which case it was one arse of a person doing something wrong to you, they do not represent a nation or a religion or a group of people.

I have no idea what will happen from today, as do most of us. Trump is one man probably having his puppet strings pulled by a whole load of other crazy people. Putin is one man. Assad is one man. None of them can operate alone, they require a whole team of people and whole nations to be behind them. By going on a march and using our voices we are openly declaring that we are not part of the team driving all these insane actions, that we are prepared and ready to actively oppose. By keeping quiet you become part of the team driving the Trump et al chariot. As Desmond Tutu said, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

Another quote recently shown by my dear friend Hilary and written by Naomi Shulman says: ‘Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than ‘politics.’ They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbours were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.’ So a whole bunch of not nice people are marching across the world today and having their voices heard.

I am setting off today to meet with my fellow truckers and am driving a truck to Greece. I did this in the summer and was the only woman truck driver that we came across in Europe so I gave myself the title of Mother Trucker, which makes me sound slightly more badass than I actually am, which pleases me. There is another woman on the journey this time and that pleases me too. We are driving a few trucks full of aid to the 65,000 plus people still stuck in Greece. I first went to Calais in August 2015. I first went to Greece to volunteer with refugees in November 2015. The narrative has changed considerably during that time. I was called a volunteer in 2015 and now I am introduced to people as an activist. I’m doing exactly the same thing but it is now seen as an act of rebellion rather than an act of charity. That is the narrative that is happening around our ears. The frog slowly getting boiled to death in his own water without even realising.

So, apparently, I’m one of those not nice people. Thank heavens for that and I have so much and so many people to thank for that. A long long line of ancestors who were also not ‘nice’ people, I have some well worn footsteps to walk in. I thought I would try and write a bit of a diary of mother trucking across Europe over the next couple of weeks or so as internet and everything will allow. So, dear fellow not nice people, keep marching and shouting and writing and drawing and singing and doing whatever and I’ll keep trucking…