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…