To Ventimiglia and Beyond

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To Ventimiglia and Beyond

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It isn’t without a certain amount of trepidation that we prepare our trip to the refugee camps in Ventimiglia, just over the border in Italy. We’re travelling in a borrowed blue builder’s van of dubious cleanliness, having failed to persuade the local supermarket to donate of one of their shiny white hire vehicles.  We’ll make quite a dashing sight trundling around the Cote d’Azur in Fred’s van (especially as the clothes we are taking to the refugees are considerably nicer and in better condition than our own).

The last few weeks have been an incredible roller coaster ride of emotions.  First I needed to deal with the fallout after my mother’s death in the UK, then we all had the excitement and tension of getting our son ready to re-enter academic life at the lycée after nearly a year of, what can only loosely be described as, “home education”.  Next our daughter set off to WWOOF for the first time.  She’ll be twenty soon and I’m having difficulty getting my head round that.  Friends too required help, support and medical translations as they worked their way through a battery of medical tests to find out why their three year old can neither walk nor speak.  Yesterday I spent a second day with them in a Montpellier clinic as their translator.  I woke this morning to disturbing dreams of my dying mother in hospital and found tears on my pillow when I finally shook off sleep.

But all these personal inconveniences pale in comparison to the humanitarian crisis unfolding across the Middle East and Europe.  For the last few months, in addition to the normal chaos of our lives, I have been living, breathing and dreaming refugees.  Since announcing to my family and friends that I could not just sit by and watch, it has been non-stop.  Various friends sent money with the instructions to spend it on the refugees; so I have been shopping and stock piling a huge amount of food, medicines, socks, underpants, shoes, toiletries, cleaning products, and camping gear ever since.  I’ve been interviewed for a well known Anglo-French paper and have written articles about the crisis.  As a result of this media activity and my efforts on Facebook, I have been given an amazing array of clothes and other things to take with me.  Not all donations make much sense, to be honest,  so those things have been left behind in the garage until I can work out what to do with them.   I’m talking about the silk strapless ball gowns, bikinis, the high-heeled broken sandals, stained and unwashed sheets and finally the heartbreakingly tiny pair of toddler’s swimming trunks which arrived a day after the photo of little Aylan Kurdi went viral.

For the last couple of days the pace has picked up and I’ve been ruthlessly sorting and re-sorting the approved donations; leaving out any L or XL items, women’s and baby wear and summer clothes of any size.  I’ve also been keeping a close eye on events around the world, but in particular what has been happening down at the French – Italian border.

It isn’t looking good.  The Italian police have bulldozed the ad hoc, “illegal” No Borders Camp and destroyed everything.  Some of the refugees have been carted off by plane to Bari in the south while others made it back to the Caritas or Red Cross camps in Ventimiglia.  These camps are now struggling to cope with the growing numbers of people needing help.

But right now it is late and I’m tired.  I’m also aware that Chris and I are taking our son to a potentially volatile environment.  I’m pretty sure it’ll be all right at the donation drop-off points run by the charities; after all, all the trouble has been on the rough and unforgiving rocks closer to Menton.  But I need to sleep now.  I’ll keep you all up to date as the adventure unfolds.

I feel so small, so helpless in front of this tidal wave of misery.  Yet I do need to do something.  We all need to do something.  We all need to extend the hand of human kindness to our fellows and at the same time we need to prepare ourselves for the changes that are coming.  To embrace and accept those changes and turn them into something positive.  We need a new paradigm to take us forward into a new world.

Ok.  That is the proof that I’m too tired.  Good night.

Source: Rachel

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