Henk Wildschut: Rooted
Following Shelter and Ville de Calais, Rooted is the third and last part of an unintended trilogy on the lives of refugees and migrants. The three books were not conceived as a series sharing a preconceived structure or format, but are at most loosely related in content, photography and book design. The books Shelter and Ville de Calais arose independently, each telling a distinct story in its own narrative style and logic. And Rooted will be no exception. The soft cover book contains 164 pages and 74 images.
Rooted returns to a phenomenon that was already noted in Ville de Calais: the many refugee camp residents who find hope, consolation and dignity in nurturing a few plants. These miniature gardens are often little more than a few tin cans planted with flowers, or of a handful of seeds or bulbs struggling to sprout in a patch of meagre soil. Some residents will go so far as to hammer in a few stakes or construct a makeshift fence to mark off a temporary claim to a bit of territory. The phenomenon is not of course limited to Calais, for almost anyone who has been expelled from their homeland will eventually reconcile themselves to the unfamiliar ground where they have ended up. To me, the herbs, flowers and miniature gardens that they plant symbolize a longing for something resembling a normal existence.
Besides in Calais, I have in recent years photographed micro-gardens in refugee camps in Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon. I also noted the stories of the gardeners. What emerged was not only the importance of a bit of greenery but also the way the temporariness of the camp dragged out into a seemingly permanent state, with little prospect of moving on or returning home. The reality of their permanent displacement gradually dawned on them. They were now stranded, with little choice but to put down roots in a foreign soil. Here they were tolerated although it was not where they wanted to be.
It was no solace to the camp dwellers that they were sometimes a mere 20 kilometres from their original home. The future they once saw as full of possibilities was now barred to them. Caring for herbs and flowers was often all they had to hold onto, to remind them of home, a comforting microcosm in an uprooted life.
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