Refugee Tales: Interview

 

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Pilgrims and Refugees:  The first collection of stories inspired by Chaucer and the journeys of displaced people today.

In March we began the second leg of our journey in Canterbury by walking around the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey with David Herd.

David Herd is a Professor of Modern Literature and Head of the School of English at Kent University. He is also a poet and critic and the co-organiser of Refugee Tales, a literary and cultural project that links the experiences of contemporary refugees with the tradition of pilgrimage.

Refugee Tales campaigns for an end to the indefinite detention of migrants, a practice which the U.K. Government is almost alone in pursuing, one which has extreme consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

In 2015 and 2016 Refugee Tales organised a walk from London to Canterbury in solidarity with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigration Detainees.  Taking Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a model, they coordinated and published a book in which famous authors co-operated with former detainees to tell their powerful stories.  The second book has just gone to the printers and will be available soon.

“Listen, Friend…

It’s where we start out
That people might
Simply circulate
Not stigmatized
For seeking asylum
In this straunge stronde
But listened to
As they tell their tales
That hearing we might
Shape
A polity –
Tender
Real
Comprehending welcome.”
 
(Extract from Refugee Tales Part Two, from The Prologue by David Herd)

On July 1st 2017 Refugee Tales will commence a week-long walk from Runnymede to Westminster.  Runnymede is the site of the signing of the Magna Carta, and the walk will include a series of talks on ‘due process’ and the breach of human rights which is manifested in the practice of indefinite detention

Go to their website to sign up to walk alongside refugees and hear talks and readings by authors such as Ali Smith and Shami Chakrabarti.  We are planning to dust off our walking shoes to join them for a couple of days so we may see you there!

We were delighted that David took time to walk with us at the beginning of our own pilgrimage, when he told us about these amazing projects that intersect so neatly with our own.  Click on the link below to hear our interview.  If you listen carefully you will also hear David’s happy labrador Marcie as well as the bells of Canterbury Cathedral ringing out for evensong.

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St Augustine’s Abbey as it appears now.  St Augustine arrived in Britain in 597, the same year that St Columba died.  Like Columba, he was instrumental in bringing Christianity to these lands, the abbey he founded became his burial site and a centre of pilgrimage.

 

Listen to our conversation with David here::

David Herd, Refugee Tales

 

World Refugee Day Special: Dumfries

To mark World Refugee Day we are posting a bumper blog of audio and photos from our visit to Dumfries on 25th-26th May.

We hope that by sharing the stories of the folk we met others will be inspired to emulate their examples of courage, pragmatism and generosity.  If you would like to support or contact any of them just click on the links.  Read to the end to learn about an opportunity to take part in a fantastic community engagement project that involves cycling and soup!

Travelling South-West to Dumfries meant diverting from the straight route to Iona, but we had a friend who would accomodate us and thought we could see an interesting path up to Glasgow from there. As it turned out Dumfries gave us some of our most inspiring meetings: for a small town it boasts powerful communal, artistic and charitable impulses.

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Morning yoga

We were welcomed by a woman called Jill who had heard about our walk and offered to put us up at her house. Her kindness to strangers is inspired by her Buddhism, and she gave us a comfortable room, a delicious dinner and a free Yoga lesson to ease our aching joints. Jill has been trekking in Nepal and knew how much walkers cherish the opportunity to rest, eat and wash clothes. She and I had both visited the Langtang valley in the Himalayas, which was devastated by an earthquake two years ago. Jill has worked hard to assist the people who had been affected, undertaking a sponsored series of sun-salutations to raise money for a shelter for the elderly.

Jill took us to meet another inspiring local woman called Moxie. In 2015 she set up a charity called MOOL, which stands for ‘Massive Outpouring of Love’. Like many others Moxie had been appalled by the media coverage of the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers. She was moved to ‘put her head above the parapet’ and set up an online forum requesting donations which she intended to drive to Calais in a small van. It seemed that people had been waiting for somebody to take the initiative and the response she got was overwhelming. A local church offered her space to store the thousands of donations that came flooding in but even this proved too small. Two years later MOOL is still collecting and redistributing donations from a warehouse donated by the local council. They now send trucks direct to camps in Lebanon and have also helped with disaster relief closer to home, supplying donated blankets to the victims of flooding in Carlisle.

You can hear the remarkable story of MOOL in Moxie’s own words here.

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With Moxie, third from right, and MOOL volunteers
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Hand-knitted hats, jumpers and baby blankets donated by a local knitting group and destined for children in refugee camps

In the afternoon we visited the Allanton World Peace Sanctuary by the River Nith. Set up in the wake of the Atomic Bomb attacks on Japan there are many of these centres spread around the world, with the aim of spreading peace. Their motto ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’ is inscribed in different languages on pillars in the grounds, one for each nation. You can hear the story of the European Peace Centre in the words of its founder Caroline hereIMG_0688

On the day we visited the centre was hosting a group of refugee families who had been given the opportunity of a weekend break from Glasgow by the Red Cross. Women from a dozen countries were staying alongside each other, sharing meals and participating in craft-based activities while their children played together under the supervision of volunteers. We joined a group of them for a walk by the river. While Christy skimmed stones with the children Isabel interviewed Gesya, a former refugee now working for the Red Cross. You can listen to what Gesya had to say here.

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The group enjoying the sun at Friar’s Carse on the River Nith
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Gesya

IMG_0681Later we were able to repay Jill for her kindness with a private tour of some remarkable gardens thanks to a connection we have we the owners. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is occasionally open to the public to raise money for Maggie’s cancer centre. On this brilliantly sunny day we had the place to ourselves. The garden was conceived by Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick, it has evolved with the help of Alastair, the head gardener, ever since.  It is inspired by the worlds of cosmology, physics and nature, and has to be seen to be believed. Alastair carefully explained the narrative of the garden to us: the water cascade of steps recounting the story of the universe; a terrace shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole; a “Quark Walk” takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter and a series of landforms and lakes recall fractal geometry.

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To round of a busy day we visited The Stove, a community hub in the centre of Dumfries set up and run by Matt to create a safe place for local residents to explore art and exchange ideas. In an interview with us Matt explained how Dumfries town centre had been gutted by out of town supermarkets and international chains, and how he hoped to bring life and creativity back to the heart of the community. Matt also kindly invited us to speak about our pilgrimage at the spoken word event ‘Brave New Words’ that evening, our first attempt to speak about our journey on stage. You can hear what Matt has to say here.

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Dumfries bathed in May sunshine

That evening we stayed with family friend Alice. She had lots of experience volunteering in ‘the Jungle’ in Calais and spoke about the value of simple grass-roots action. She herself has designed and built a mobile soup-kitchen which she hopes to deliver to Glasgow, London or Calais. A bike with a trailer that folds out to become a covered table and benches with stove and cooking pot, the contraption is known as ‘Stone-Soup’. The aim is to provide free meals to those who are destitute, be they asylum-seekers without recourse to state provisions or others who have fallen through the net of social care. The name comes from a parable that has variants in many different cultures:  some travellers arrive in a village and by persuading each villager to add to the ‘soup’ they are making (initially just a stone is some boiling water) they create a nutritious meal to feed everyone.

The parable teaches us that if many people make a small and practical contribution, something wonderful can be achieved. A valuable lesson in the context of a crisis that can seem overwhelming.

If you would like to cycle the Stone-Soup kitchen on a leg of its journey from Dumfries to London and on to Calais, please get in touch with us on info@listeningpilgrimage.org and we will connect you with Alice.

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The ingenious mobile soup-kitchen designed by Alice

 

 

 

Arrival

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We have completed the journey that began in Dover.  In two and a half months we have walked more than 650 miles through 14 counties of England and 7 shires of Scotland.

In the latter stages we used ferries to reach the islands of Bute, Islay, Jura and Mull, arriving at last on Iona, an island off an island off an island.

Each day we met new people, saw new sights and slept in a new bed. We have listened and looked and learned all the way, and have documented just a fraction of what we’ve experienced through photography and audio recording.

So far we have shared a portion of that in the blogs below, but it’s been impossible to put into words all that we’ve seen and heard, and our journal is lagging a little.

In the days and weeks to come we will take time to reflect and organise our findings and will be sharing those reflections here. For now we just want to express our gratitude for reaching this point safely, for all the wonders we have been witness to, and for all the kindness and support that people have given us every step of the way.

First and foremost thank-you to Katrin Macmillan of Projects For All for her confidence in this Listening Pilgrimage and for the unflagging enthusiasm and support she has given us from day one. She has been inspirational and caring in equal measure.

Thanks also to Monika Hubbard from the same organisation for helping us to create our blog and for being our London rock and our chief advocate.

Thanks to Scarlett Maguire for editing and posting our audio recordings and to Iain Rawlinson of Crowdcaster for giving us a platform to share the voices and sounds we have recorded. Both have been enormously encouraging and Scarlett has spent many hours listening without all the benefits that we walkers have had.

Thanks to those who walked with us some of the way. Your company was precious.

Thank-you to the kind people who have spoken to us, giving their time and their stories with openness and generosity. We couldn’t record and share them all, but we listened to every one. Many have endured some very bad times, but none have been diminished or defined by their suffering, instead they live and speak with dazzling strength and optimism.

Thank-you to the many family members, friends and strangers-turned-friends who gave us accommodation, food or drink. We will write a full list in due course, in the meantime you have our undying gratitude. We hope we lived up to John Adair’s phrase ‘every guest brings a blessing’. You will all be welcome to stay with us any time you are near Horsham. Thanks to those who have listened to us when we needed a break from listening.

Thank-you to those who made financial donations to Projects For All: Alex Humes, Pat Wilson, Lowdy Brabyn, Bim Riggall and Stewart MacNeil.

Their contributions will be invested in future projects designed to help refugees and asylum seekers as they continue their journeys towards better lives.

If you would like to donate, you can still make a contribution here

Lastly thanks to all who have read our blog and our posts on social media, especially those who have sent us encouraging messages. Please keep reading and sharing, we’d love to spread these stories far and wide. They are stories of hope and resilience and generosity; stories of ordinary people rolling up their sleeves and doing something small to make a big difference in other people’s lives; stories of extraordinary people transcending their trials to keep hope alive.

When we set out on this listening pilgrimage we didn’t know what we’d find. What we found could take a lifetime to articulate, or it could be expressed quite simply. If you walk out of your door and go somewhere you have never been before, if you speak to strangers and listen to what they have to say, if you open your heart to new experiences and ways of seeing the world, you will be inspired.

Happy walking, and happy listening!

Christy and Isabel
Iona
June 17th, 2017

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