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En route to Calais

Pretty nervous, but I’m on my way to join some friends and then we’re going to Calais to volunteer in the self organised, autonomous first aid station in the refugee camp “the jungle”.

I feel like I’m going to be completely out of my depth. I’m a pretty good bank nurse – throw me into any NHS Glasgow ward and I can pretty much cope and be useful. I work in medical, surgical, emergency dept/ assessment units and high dependency and I thrive the more acute it is. But this is not a well resourced NHS setting with familiar routines, paperwork, referral pathways and diseases. I’m going to a muddy, chaotic refugee camp filled with people who have fled and journeyed through god knows what, and are surviving in makeshift conditions with no services whatsoever in one of the wealthiest regions on the planet. They are regularly attacked by both militarised police and racist organisations.

I am incredibly intimidated by what we’re about to do. I’m super glad that I’m going with some experienced friends, also Anarchists/fellow travellers, who are healthcare professionals and have been before. And I just have to have faith that what I might be able to do, might be just a drop in the ocean, but its still a drop. And whilst it is an outrage and human atrocity that the situation exists, and all I will be doing, at best, will be patching up the worst of what European foreign policy, climate change, racism and capitalism has inflicted on the rest of the globe, I still take responsibility to do what I, one individual, can do. Once again I am inspired and steered by the wisdom of Rachel Corrie:

I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly.

I can wash dishes.

(Rachel Corrie, 2003, http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/rachel/emails )

I can so easily be overwhelmed by how much disaster there is in the world. By the ongoing destruction of the environment. By war and poverty and austerity. All this manmade horror that just seems endless in inflicting misery and suffering and death on others. And that can paralyse me with sadness and frustration. Looking out at the world is like watching a train-crash that never ends.

Instead of looking at that big picture, supposing I focus in on the single patient in front of me. The wound I can clean and dress. I mean I know this from basic nursing anyway – walk in to a cubicle with a distressed, sore, cold, dirty patient and break it down. One thing at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed by their suffering but assess what needs done and plan out one step at a time, what discrete steps I can do to help sort them out. Its not saving the world, or is it? Isn’t all major action a series of discrete subactions? Isn’t the internet woven from individual lines of code, each one needing written? Isn’t a space shuttle held together by individual nuts and bolts, each requiring someone to fit them? Wasn’t cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats actually getting through each individual day, up each hill, pushing through each pedal stroke? I do know all this already. Its just hard to see sometimes what difference I can do. Especially when what I am on my way to do is not to alleviate the reasons why these people are in this horrific manmade situation, but literally to stick a plaster over their wounds. Meanwhile continue the cause of these and more wounds: wars and poverty and climate change and nationalism (help “our people” first – who the hell are “our people” if not the entirety of the human race?!)

But anyway, I’m on my way, because whilst I can’t single handedly address the causes of suffering, I can wash out a wound. The only reason not to go would have been my own intimidation at being so far out of my comfort zone, in a situation where I won’t be able to do a great job, where I will do what I can, but that will be vastly short of what is needed, and what I could do given half decent resources. It will likely be frustrating, involving lots of wasted time and energy due to lack of organisation and that everyone is there short-term.

We’re only going for 5 days, because that is all we can spare as individuals. It really is nothing. But those kind of thoughts just lead me back to guilt and paralysis and doing nothing. I will go. I will hopefully help and learn and offer some practical solidarity and not mess up too bad.

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Categories: politics
  1. January 7, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Your efforts will be deeply appreciated by those who receive them.

  2. Heather Rose
    January 8, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Well done. Look forward to reading more of your experiences.

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