posts » 'Les Misérables' - they are everywhere

'Les Misérables' - they are everywhere

There was an article on the Guardian website this morning about Les Misérables, the film by Ladj Ly. I've purposefully not linked to the article here as it gives quite a lot (although not all) of the story away, and the film will definitely be more impactful if you haven't read anything about it. Suffice to say that is is well worth watching - the description that's going around of a "updated version of La Haine" is accurate. And La Haine, of course, is widely thought to be as relevant today as when it first came out.

Anyway, I wrote a little bit about some of my experiences in France, so thought they were also worth sharing here...

Les Misérables is a great film - I just watched it the other day. I worked in the "9-3" (neuf-trois as it's known colloquially: nine-three, or France's 93rd département), the Seine-St-Denis region just north-east of Paris, for the last 3 years with the ambulance service: going into homes on estates like those shown in the film. The film is entirely accurate, and the poverty and the overcrowding far outweigh anything I ever saw while living in England (where I grew up and have lived and worked). Do not think this is just a story, a glorified exaggerated version of reality, it is the real and gritty truth of modern day life!

I have seen 8-10 (or more?) people living in a tiny 2 room apartment, no electricity and one of the youngest ones burnt because they fell in the hot tub of water that an older child had just boiled up on a gas (camp) stove and was letting cool before having a wash. I have seen the barrenness of no furniture, food and meagre belongings piled on the floor next to the (again) camp stove for cooking and (shared) mattress for sleeping. I have seen children drown in the bath as their mothers were distracted with other children or urgent phone calls; children dropped from balconies, run over by their drunken fathers, die from undiagnosed heart conditions because they are discriminated against and cannot reliably access health care. This is happening in France. Today.

But don't be disillusioned. These kind of problems are also happening in England, the USA, and elsewhere in the western, "developed" world - today and tomorrow. Just because I did not see them does not mean they are not there: I have never visited homes in the UK as an emergency worker, but I've heard the stories of those that have. These are not overseas problems, these are the results of poverty and a world that doesn't care, that turns a blind eye. These problems are reality, and I try to do what I can to stop it, but it's a fight that we need to have together. What are you doing?

[As stated above, I don't recommend you read the original Guardian article until after you've watched the film - you have been warned!]