Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shipped Off to Who Knows Where

Last year, I didn't live in the prettiest section of Lyon. The neighborhood had abandoned lots, freshly demolished buildings, and plenty of commercial space for rent. It didn't take long before I noticed that there was a little shantytown in one of the vacant lots, tucked behind a 7 foot tall barrier plastered with concert posters and other publicity.

All the people coming in and out of the shantytown had a very distinct look. Olive skin, often green eyes, a particular bone structure. And they spoke a language I had never heard before. They often carted around large amounts of personal belongings wherever they went in town the same way the homeless folks in the neighborhood would. These people, however, had a home: the shantytown.

I remember the first time I peeked through the hole in the entry to the shantytown. The ground was all dirt. It looked worked, as if a million people had walked the main path lined with lodgings on both sides. Their housing was built from metal, cardboard, wood, plastic, whatever did the trick. One of the little houses even had a satellite dish on it. I wondered how they got power piped in there.

Once I put it all together, that these distinct-looking people carting all that stuff around town were a community with a legit settlement just up the street, I started to notice them everywhere. They were on the bus, on the subway, splitting up and begging for change on dozens of street corners at the same time.

Then I went back to America for a few months starting in June. When I returned to France in August, the lot was empty. I have yet to see any of those familiar faces walking around town. The shantytown people appear to be gone.

I wonder how it went down. Did the cops just show up one day and put them out on the street right then and there? Did anyone bother giving them warning? I noticed on several occasions that there were pregnant women in their community. Were pregnant women forced into homelessness? What about the young children?

I wonder where they are now and how they got there. I wonder where they come from and if they will ever make it home. I wonder if home even exists, or if home is, quite simply, the community, condemned to wandering this continent with linguistic and cultural barriers so great that they might never have even a shantytown to call their own.

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