By Dan Chadder
In ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, two of the wisest humans ask a stupendous super-computer to calculate the answer to the ultimate question: the meaning of life. Returning in exactly 7 and a half million years, the answer they receive somewhat dampened the jubilant mood of the cheering crowd. It was 42. So there you have it. The official meaning to life, the universe and everything is 42. As if this number were not already significant enough, volunteers in Calais have now developed an even greater personal connection to the number 42 than as merely the meaning of life.
I recently left L’auberge des Migrants after 5 months volunteering in La Liniere refugee camp. My role involved the distribution of non-food items to refugees such as clothes, bedding and hygiene. The team had to work with limited resources so distribution was based upon a strict assessment of needs. In general, we could offer hygiene most freely. In terms of shoes, the available stock of certain sizes was always low so we had a limited capacity to provide for needs. We could only give shoes to individuals with exceptionally poor shoes or none at all. One particular size was notorious for being commonly requested above any other. It was size 42.
Size 43 and 41 shoes were also in high demand, but not at the same level as 42. The discrepancy between supply and demand of size 42 was so great that a handful of volunteers felt compelled to get a tattoo of the great number. Even though my shoe size is actually 43, I too will have to live with that tattoo for the rest of my life. In much the same way, I will have to live with the degrading memories of having to constantly reject perfectly reasonable requests for shoes by fellow human beings during the winter, particularly to children. In an unlikely twist in the tale we, as the volunteers wanting to help, could be made to appear heartless. In as much as the tattoo was perhaps a stupid thing to get, it was in equal measure a statement of desperation.
Having been asked for shoes, it was not always as simple as giving a yes or no. We would also have to decide on the quality of shoe we should offer. If they were for a vulnerable individual, such as an unaccompanied minor sleeping in a communal space, we could not give a brand new pair of Nike (not that we had any of those anyway). That would put them in danger and their new shoes would likely be stolen. In this case, we would opt to bring an ugly but functional pair of shoes.
Most of these complications are due to a shortage in stock. We need size 41, 42 and 43 shoes. It’s quite simple really. A pair of shoes will not change a life but it will make the struggle at least a little bit more bearable. Having moved on from volunteering in Northern France, I can reflect upon a similar sentiment. I haven’t changed much but I have played my part in making small, positive changes in a dark place.
If you would like to donate, please visit http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/en/material-donations/