The Sea was a bowl with one too many
She spitted me out on the naked stones.
My arms were shawled by sludge and oil,
A little heart pounding on a pile of soil
I gathered courage to tread inland.
The is Sea behind me,
And so is the world I know so well.
The grey sky above me isn’t inviting,
What else is left but to walk ahead…
It was summer, August, 18 years ago. I took a cumbersome train route from Brighton to Dover, changing trains three times. The sky was overcast and there were no clouds. I was a naive student on a Sussex Uni scholarship paid for by George Soros. European Studies was my subject but unlike my classmates who based their dissertation on regurgerating library books I thought I needed to put some physical effort in, visit some places, talk to some people, experience their hardship and ‘make recommendation for a government policy’.
It was 1998 and asylum applications from Czech and Slovak Roma in UK were at their highest. Albanians, Kurds, Afghans, Iranians & Eritreans continued arriving. The Dover District Council was looking to Kent County Council to pick up the pieces from the impact on the community cohesion and the Government was masterminding the NASS dispersal – desperately.
I arrived that August and never left until 2002. I became a community liaison, interpreter, asylum accommodation manager – you name it, I was it. With my knowledge of East European languages I could communicate with at least half of the residents, possibly empathise with the other Middle Eastern, Persian and North African half. The induction programme we developed in Amsterdam House was later copied by the government and I have some great memories of Folkestone Road that was considered a real ‘shit-hole’ and a ‘hotbed of dodgy foreigners’ by indigenous population but for many arrivals symbolised hope and positive ‘entering’.
Still, the poem I started this blog with describes the unsure and anxious side to immigration. Being from a European landlocked country myself, it took me a while to get used to the idea of having a large pool of water between me and my past. It felt ‘final’ and ‘oppressive’ at times because you couldn’t just walk or take a train like they do inland Europe to bounce from my country to another. And I was a lucky and privileged student compared to the residents of Amsterdam House. The poem is dedicated to those who had a lot more to give up than a cosy floor of a Sussex University library.