This collection of stories relates naturally to my challenge: they connect writing, and walking and refugees. The framework is adapted from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, with a real walk and real stories told each night. The walk took place in June 2015 and took a route from Dover to Crawley via Canterbury. At any time between 80 and 150 people were on the walk.
The purpose of the Refugee Tales project is to change the language used about refugees,
That by the oldest action
Which is listening to tales
That other people tell
Told by other
We set out to make a language
That opens politics
Where a person dwells. (Prologue pv)
And of course, to change the language is to change the meaning of refugees’ lives.
The collection was produced by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group with stories and other contributions from writers such as Ali Smith, Chris Cleave, Marina Lewycka, Jade Amoli-Jackson, Patience Agbabi.
So we have a prologue and a series of stories, modelled on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The Migrant’s Tale, The Lorry Driver’s Tale, The Arriver’s Tale, The Detainee’s Tale and so on. So many different stories, underlining the fact that we are all implicated in the experiences of refugees in this country.
The writers are retelling stories, experiences of people who often are unable to retell such stories in public places.
And the tone is welcoming
And the tone is celebratory
And the tone is courteous
And the tone is real
And every step sets out a demand
And every demand is urgent
And what we call for
Is an end
To this inhuman discourse. (x)
I am going to pick out two of the fourteen Tales.
The Lorry Driver’s Tale by Chris Cleave.
This tale made deepest impression on me. Chris Cleave’s capacity to surprise as a story teller is evident in his novels: I was shocked by The Other Hand, and surprised by aspects of the less convincing Gold. This tale begins when a leftie journalist joins the narrator in his cab a hundred kilometres away from Calais. The opening paragraphs set the scene, the cab driver as common man, sporting a UKIP decal on his rig.
We learn about the practicalities of dodging the illegal migrants.
If immigration is a horror film then Calais is the scene where the zombies are massing. (26)
The leftie journalist is doing an article on the burning social issue of immigration, although he is mostly a restaurant reviewer. He serves to show us how ignorant we liberal lefties are, ignorant of what happens in the ports and the areas around them, what it means to try to drive to the UK with no illegal passengers.
All is not quite as it seems, however. Our lorry driver has a lyrical streak.
At the end of the Customs queue I stopped the lorry and it made those hissing sighing noises – as though it was powered by sadness under unbelievable pressure. (32)
The tale manages to tell us a great deal about what it means for some humans to risk everything to stowaway, and what it does to others who are required to stop them. It is a profoundly moral tale.
The Appellant’s Tale
The Appellant’s Tale was told to David Herd near Crawley. It tells of the appalling experiences of a man from Nigeria, who had been living and working legally in the UK for 30 years. But incompetence and lying in the UK Border Agency resulted in the most appalling sequence of events, a nightmare when he was detained as an illegal immigrant. He was only saved from deportation by someone’s accidental failure to dispose of a black plastic sack containing his essential papers.
This Tale is long, and slow, and reflects both what happened to the man and the way in which he speaks. It is narrated in the present tense and the second person. The reader feels appalled that someone can suffer so many awful injustices in this country, that immigration practices do not have the legal safeguards, for example to defend against lies. The UK Border Agency come out badly from this tale. So does detention and deportation.
… the question of indefinite detention, a cornerstone of UK immigration policy, has remained almost entirely absent from the debate. The principal intention of Refugee Tales was to help communicate the scandalous reality of detention and post-detention existence to a wider audience and in the process to demand that such indefinite detention ends. (From the Afterword p143)
The purpose of the collection is to alter the discourse around refugees, to make English ‘sweet again’, as in Chaucer’s time, sweet so that we can listen, write it down, make stories, so that people cannot say, we didn’t know.
My blog/walk challenge has similar purposes, to draw attention to the responses to the immigration crisis, and to tell human stories.
Refugee Tales, edited by David Herd and Anna Pincus. Published by Comma Press in 2016. 150pp Profits go to Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and Kent Refugee Help
My walk and challenge.
I am raising money for Freedom from Torture, through sponsorship of a monthly walk and blogpost. This is the seventh post in the series. You can read more about this on the page called My Challenge (click on the page title below the masthead).
At the time of writing I have achieved 60% of my target. Please help me reach my full target which is £1800 by making a donation.
February’s walk could be called the ‘good name walk’. It was a beautiful but muddy day in the second half of February, for a circular walk that started at my front door, took in Coombe Fishacres, Tanyard Lane, Trigwell Lane, Ipplepen Road, Aptor Lane, Butterball Copse and Berry Pomeroy Castle. Round here, lane means very muddy track! The walk was about 12.5km (7.5 miles).
You can sponsor my walk/blog here, by clicking onto my Just Giving Page.
Related posts and websites
A Country of Refuge Ed by Lucy Popescu, walk number 5 in January 2017.
Dartmoor, Hay Tor and Freedom from Torture, an extra walk in December, supported by about 20 walkers.
The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby. My fourth walk in December
Do Refugees need holidays? My third walk in November
Breach by Olumide Popoola & Annie Holmes, the second walk in October
Lost and Found, the first walk in September
The next post about the challenge will appear on this blog …
… in March
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