Wherever we go in the world, we end up either by choice or serendipity, in the middle of a protest. Enroute from Bruges to London, not only did we find ourselves in the middle of a protest, it developed into an international incident and world news story.
We were picked up in Bruges on Tuesday by a British car service that shuttles people with dogs from anywhere in Europe to London. In the process of figuring out how to get the dogs to London, I discovered there wasn’t one such company, there were dozens! One offered to pick up the dogs at the airport in Paris in an “air conditioned new Mercedes Benz” and drive them to London for only $1500 – one way! We didn’t use that company. We chose our company by one criteria: cheap.
Our very bright, sweet driver never stopped talking from the moment he picked us up in Bruges to the moment he exited our apartment in London. Nonstop seven hours. The trip was supposed to be five. I know more about him than I do about anyone in my own family.
We made great time on the road. Not only Would we make our train ferry on time, we’d have time to eat. Even the crappies roadside rest stops in France have great food. But when got two kilometers from Calais, we stopped moving. After 15 minutes our driver called back to the company in the UK find out if something was going on. They informed him the ferry workers were on strike. The massive traffic backup consisted mainly of lorries transporting goods to the UK. Finally we began to move to move but only to be diverted away from our exit! We were going to miss our train ferry. By now strikers were setting fires to trucks trying to enter the tunnel. But what made the situation go from frustrating to what the fuck was seeing literally HUNDREDS of immigrants, from countries all over the world and of every age, trying to smuggle their way onto a lorry or into a car.
Because Calais is the only.point in France through which to get to the UK, it has become the de facto home for thousands of displaced, desperate people hoping to find a better life. They live in a roadside encampment in squalor, some having been there for as long as three years. Each day it’s the same routine. Can they find a place to stowaway. We’ve been to a number of impoverished Third World countries but this was the first time we’d ever seen anything like this. A sea of people weaving in and out of the stalled traffic, hoping against hope they can find an unlocked door! Our driver made sure ours remained locked. Mainstream news later reported that immigrants took advantage of the strike to sneak into the UK. Right, these people were just waiting for a French labor dispute!!!!
The outcome for us was a happy one. We got a later train and even had a quick lunch. The outcome for the others trying to cross wasn’t as happy. 350 immigrants were arrested, fighting and rioting broke up between strikers and the immigrants. Trucks and cars were delayed for hours. We only lost two hours.
It was more evidence of how lucky Americans are. We see the enormous challenges that face the world through a long lens telescope. We don’t encounter, in our daily lives, the kind of issues facing the other Western nations. You would think that fact alone should limit our influence and power in the world, but it doesn’t seem to.
SO we are I London, finally settled but without phone or Internet. Thank you, Foxton’s. Theoretically we will have it Friday. Fortunately our friends here managed to find us. Spending time with good friends whom we get to see too infrequently in the course of life makes London feel much more like home.