Wednesday, October 12, 2016

refugees welcomed into french communities

Yesterday afternoon, newspaper headlines caught my eye as I visited a press kiosk on Place Clemenceau to buy some postcards.

Communities in my part of France--Béarn--are preparing for the arrival of refugees, as France prepares to dismantle the ill-reputed and controversial "Jungle" in Calais, where refugees have taken up camp in hopes of escaping over to Britain, and moves the camp's residents to temporary welcome centers around France.

During both 2015 and 2016 as the refugee crisis engulfed Europe, I've intentionally looked for opportunities to volunteer with refugee aid in France, but there have so far not been any easy-to-find opportunities where I've been living in the south of France (in Marseille in 2015 and now in Pau in 2016).

Yet today I've learned that a community on the edge of Pau will be welcoming 50 refugees. Perhaps I can finally get involved! But in addition to an article detailing how that community is preparing for their arrival, the mixed reactions of community members, etc., a smaller article caught my eye yesterday as I read the newspaper (a too-rare pleasure to read the news on paper!) at a new-to-me café that smelled delectable inside (I had to content myself with only a coffee rather than the lunch menu deliciousness wafting from the kitchen).

Here's that article and the results of the translation exercise I've given myself today.

“A huge wave of solidarity in Baïgorry”

Jean-Michel Coscarat, the mayor of Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry, a Basque town that welcomed 48 refugees from last November 15 to February 15, says of this experience: “I made the choice to welcome them. There was a huge wave of solidarity. It couldn’t have gone better. I saw in their eyes, as soon as the first refugees arrived in the dark of night, that they had experienced painful times. More than 80 volunteers helped out. They had interpreters, French language courses. Heads of companies called us to offer refugees employment...There was a little apprehension at the beginning, because they arrived just after the November attacks [in Paris in 2015]. We very quickly reassured the community. The intercultural festival organized when it was time for the refugees to leave was fabulous. Some of them come back to see us still, especially those living [nearby] at CADA [the center for people requesting asylum] in Pau. This experience was really great. No one regrets it.”

November 3 update: Media reports of the emptying of the Jungle don't totally match this on-the-ground account from a person volunteering in Calais: "The Jungle" Calais from our own correspondent.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

fairy wonderlands do exist

An open door with a fringe of dangling flowers begged me to pause my errands and enter this church I'd not yet seen inside of. I stepped into another world, one of wonder and delight, a city church become woodland church. Turns out that area florists decided to decorate the Eglise Saint Jacques in Pau this past weekend for the Festival of Saint Fleur (there's really a saint named Flower...except in English she's called Flora of Beaulieu). For now it was just a one-time thing. Today's Tuesday and the flowers have been there since Friday when there was a concert inside their perfumed midst. If ever there were a time to literally stop and smell the roses, today was the day. What could beat a flower chandelier? Magnifique!! 

See a few images of the installation in progress in this article from the local newspaper.