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Travelogue I34

November 11, 2016

Our room’s curtains and drapes proved less effective against the morning light than we might have hoped. Nothing else for it, we wiped sleep from our eyes and stumbled down the stairs to the basement kitchen and dining room where the guesthouse offered breakfast. We had arrived towards the end of the breakfast hours, with a number of others, and so waited some time in one corner before our order was taken: two Scottish breakfasts, tea and coffee. This left us considerable time to observe our neighbors, who seemed of all kinds and backgrounds.

Before us, a well-to-do white, English family had evidently just finished, leaving nought but crumbs and crumpled paper napkins. To the right, a black mother with two children tried as best she could to convince her son to eat what lay before him but was inevitably forced to give way before his fit and boldfaced lies about his order. In the end, she had to bring the waitress back and forth twice with new plates before he touched anything.

To my left, a small group of Middle-Eastern men had occupied one side of the dining hall, having trickled in one by one to seat themselves alone or in pairs across several tables. In time, a waitress came over but had difficulty both understanding and making herself understood. In the end, one of their number managed to order hardboiled eggs and coffee without the various pork sides normally found at the breakfast table. As G. and I watched on, it became clear that they were neither natives nor tourists but, as best I could guess, migrants or refugees housed, for the time being, in the guesthouse. Still, the English family’s sudden departure had taken on a less innocent air.

Likewise, I saw their seating arrangement as with new eyes. If their spreading out and loud conversation had at first irked me, I could now detect in their tone and body language their unfamiliarity both with each other and with the social context. These men could not rightly be considered close friends but companions of circumstance between whom certain bonds had come to be merely by constraints of place. In the same way, they could not rightly view the guesthouse as their own space; the hotel room retains the impersonality of an in-between place which houses all but is home to none.

Their plight made me think on that of migrants in my own city, which I illustrated for G.. Over the course of a year, they had established a shantytown, lodged between a park and the railway embankment, not far from my apartment and before which I passed with some frequency. Initially a simple double-row of shacks, built from pallets and tarps, certain modern amenities began to appear: a water hydrant, a single electricity line, city collection bins for waste. The last in particular puzzled me, for it showed that city authorities were aware of the migrants’ situation and, despite knowledge thereof, had chosen to leave them to fare as best they could without proper facilities, services or support.

I found it all that knowledge more troubling, given that various towns in the region had, for various reasons, empty homes and apartments which could easily have provided more suitable shelter for the displaced. Some months later, peering into one such apartment building in an old castle-town, I would find its only residents to be a murder of crows come through a broken window to rest on the exposed wooden beams.

All of this, I attempted to convey to my companion, yet it was of little help in making sense of the scene unfolding before us. The waitress returned, the men sent her back, she turned to leave, they called her back, she threw up her hands in frustration. At a loss, we tucked into our breakfast, once again, nothing else for it.

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