Friday, December 4, 2015

Please Send Food

In 1995 between White & Case and Skadden I took a month off and my friend J and I flew to El Paso, rented a convertible, drove down the Rio Grande to Big Bend, where we hiked and rafted for week. The first couple days of hiking in the Chisos Mountains were gorgeous, and we stayed in Big Bend National Park, very remote, where chicken fried steak and Bud Light was pretty much our only fare. We would drink Bud Lights and send postcards to our current boyfriends with terrible fictional tales of the excesses of the other. And make prank phone calls. One night we had J's boyfriend believing we were in a Mexican jail.  We sort of deserved to be because after one trip across the border for a lunch break we were questioned by the INS at re-entry. Are you American, they asked. J replied that we were American but the guys in the trunk of the rental car were probably Mexican.

Five hours later we resumed our road trip. I bring this up only because J's signature line came from that trip. She signs off: please send food.

Yesterday I was hanging out with someone who was preparing for their third trip to the refuge camp in Calais. A place without electricity. A place in darkness except for some occasional starlight. And I remembered J's joke missive except now it is horribly not a joke. Please Send Food.

There are families in that refugee camp - a lot of families - families like yours. The people are accountants, or university professors, or farmers. They have left their country because it wasn't safe. In many instances, bombs that were dropped by planes with our flags made it unsafe.

We are implicated. This is our problem. Those refugees are us. I can't stand the boring, banal nature of that sentence and this is about the fourth time I tried to write it. Forgive the banality and see the truth.

Thousands of people are cold and hungry and stateless. They are without sanitation and nutrition, without education for the children (and there are many more children, I now understand, than the media are reporting). They are bullied by police. There are fires. People go missing. There are unmarked graves. Wikipedia says there are six thousand migrants there. People on the ground estimate at least double that.

At this refugee camp, on top of a former landfill and asbestos-ridden soil, people just arrive. Every day. Having walked across Europe. Having had to sneak past barbed wire or riot police. And many Syrians have sent their minor children on after having been stopped in central Europe. See, what I am trying to tell you is that as we sit home and enjoy the wifi, there are stateless starving children wandering across Europe. This is a real thing. It is in my estimation a great humanitarian crisis. In our backyard.

No state is claiming them. The French State is policing them with riot police.  They are there to intimidate. There are reports of incidents of violence.  Fires. Apparently the locals fire rifles into the air above the camp so that the shells will fall on the refugees and make them feel unwelcome. There are two churches and two mosques. the Afghani section of camp had a great ironic sign at their entrance "TERRORISTS", There are town meetings. The rudiments of something like a city have taken hold but people are overwhelmed. The locals are creating a sort of apartheid, where muddied shoes refugees are not welcome, whether or not they have resources.

But winter is coming.

Winter is coming and governments all want to ignore this problem. They have decided instead to drop more bombs which will of course, of course, create more suffering and more refugees. Here in the UK, anyway, this is what they have decided.  And you know what? The head of the  Church of England backs the government and offers a perversion of international law to the papers so they might run the headlines "Just War". It is not a just war. It is not. It is a big mess that is making the military industrial complex a lot of money. It is a nexus of suffering. I feel now sitting in a cafe in Cambridge waiting for my daughter to finish ballet nauseous, because for the first time I face the reality that my church and the state have become evil, Have ignored the rule of law for their own convenience and power.

But there is no time to reform the state while unaccompanied minors sneak across borders or drown in our seas - there is no justice, just us.

What can we do?

We can send food. We can send blankets. And sanitation engineers and schoolteachers and doctors and lawyers. We do not need to wait for our governments to do this, we can and we must act without them.  We are not powerless against the state and indeed the refugee camp is a stateless, starless place anyway.

We can notice. We can talk. We can organize.

The friends I have who have the least are the friends who have been to that camp. People with nothing. I am ashamed. I want to jump in a van and drive to Calais. But I have a certain consumerist obligation in December and builders in and children with expectations. It feels unbearable, actually. For of course I must ask what world I leave for my children (and their blasted Christmas expectations) if children are sneaking over border at night and starving and I have done nothing.

There is a great war looming inside me between creating a good life for my children and being a good person. The rumors of war are here on this blog.

I am going to send food. Please, you too, send food. Send something. Notice. The Guardian website has a great interactive tool to find a charity that can help.